April 2012

In 7th grade I had a teacher who tried to make me learn the name of every country, river, mountain range, capital, major city, minor city, etc. We learned the modern world as well as changes throughout history. I did okay with the countries and USA stuff, but never got the rest and I have struggled with geography ever since. Yet, some awareness of where cities and towns were and how far one would have to travel between places is important to understanding the Bible and the ancient world. I’m grateful then for Carl Rasmussen’s Zondervan Atlas of the Bible (and Josh at Zondervan who sent me a copy).

The book is filled with high quality photos, maps and timelines. Rasmussen has provided notes about the places and people, a historical narrative of sorts. With the narrative, the book becomes much more than a book of maps.

I know this volume will be useful for me, and it could work well as a supplementary textbook to an Old Testament or New Testament Intro class.


As with all forms of media, the eye catching title or blurb garners the most attention.  During my last few months in the UK I did some editing work for the Voice translation that just recently published the OT and NT together for the first time.  Due to some catchy titles like the one of this post, the translation has garnered some attention that might be unnecessarily negative.

One of the goals of the translation is to take terminology in the biblical text that didn’t have a specifically religious connotation at the time and use modern terminology that isn’t specifically religious.  For instance, ἀπόστολος is translated in the Voice not as “apostle” which is really only a transliteration and only has religious connotations today, but with “emissary” which does not.  Also for χριστός, rather than merely transliterating it like apostle, the translation goes with Anointed One.
When discussing this on USA Todayand other outlets the media has picked this up as taking Christ out of the Bible, when a better way to phrase it might have been taking “Christ” out of the Bible.  I’ll not take time to reduplicate the efforts by Daniel KirkLarry Hurtado, and Greg Garrett.
If you are interested in a copy to see what the translation first-hand, let me know and we can get one to you.

I managed to get a copy of Ben Witherington‘s new book A Week in the Life of Corinth (IVP, 2012). It is a novel (about 150 small pages) centred around the life of Nicanor, a former slave of Erastos. Basically Nicanor has secured his freedom and is now an up-and-coming businessman. The novel tells of his business adventures and his encounter with the new religion, ‘Christianity’.

I won’t give away the details of the story because it really is a good story. I don’t read a lot of fiction and especially not during term time, but I found this story engaging and well written. I was intrigued and wanted to know what was going to happen.

Beyond the story itself, Witherington has managed to sneak in a large amount of history. One is introduced to the city of Corinth, key historical figures, what life was like for both the wealthy and the poor, how people travelled, and other things. Alongside what comes out in the story itself are short sidebars, ‘A Closer Look’, that provide explanations and historical details about things mentioned in the story.

The book is ideal for church goers and students. It can help to bring the ancient world to life in ways that a lecture or academic book simply can’t.

As reading the book, though, I wondered if we are perhaps seeing a different way to teach history and theology. This book, along with Bruce Fisk’s A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus (see here for my thoughts on this book), move in a different direction than standard academic textbooks. Rather than point by point arguments and reviews of scholarly positions, they teach by bringing the reader into a story. Both are, in my judgement, very effective at introducing a reader to the topics. Anyway, I just wonder if this more narrative, story-type book is where the future of textbooks might lie.

Several days ago HBU’s growing philosophy department hosted a conference on divine and human agency.  It was a really good event.  There was an eclectic group of scholars in attendance and an eclectic group of papers, which were widely stimulating.  I reconnected with some old friends and made several more.  William (“Billy”) J. Abraham came down from SMU and was the keynote speaker.  He’s an engaging speaker, and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with him and a couple of other friends on Saturday.  I’ve not read widely in the areas in which he writes, but he mentioned that one of his favorite writers is St Symeon the New Theologian, a byzantine writer whom I’ve recently been reading, which brings me to the paper I gave.

I finally took the opportunity to write a paper that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple of years now: “Situating God and Humanity: Theosis and the Creator-Created Distinction”.  My abstract:

The recent interest of westerners in the patristic and Eastern Orthodox idea of theosis, or deification, has forced theologians to reconsider the divine-human relationship. While many are positively inclined towards this model, when discussing the idea of believers being ‘gods’ from a western perspective, two questions repeatedly arise: does this break down the Creator-created distinction and does it entail absorption. Even those sanguine about the idea of deification are often unsure about these issues. For example, one recent theologian who argued for a form of deification in Calvin spoke of Christians who understood deification to be ‘literal’ rather than ‘hyperbolic’. In response to this lack of clarity, I argue that several key aspects of patristic and Byzantine deification theology reinforce the Creator-created distinction and make the issue of absorption unthinkable. Among these are Creationism, Trinitarianism, the essence/energies distinction, the hypostatic union, contemplation, participation/image language, and synergism. Orthodox Christianity follows a model of ‘attributive deification’ rather than ‘essential deification’. Both entail an ontological transformation, but the former is a transformation of attributes (hyperbolic), and the latter, a transformation of essence or nature (literal). As a result, the loss of human identity in the divine-human relationship has no place in orthodox discussions of deification. Other non-Trinitarian theological systems did/do not maintain these distinctions and therefore reflect ‘essential’ instead of ‘attributive’ forms of deification and are open to the charges that western theologians are concerned about.

For this paper I moved a little further on in history–moving on from early patristic writers to later patristic and byzantine writers–to substantiate my case, so I returned to Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas.  I expect to send it to a theological journal like Modern Theology or Scottish Journal of Theology later this summer.

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A gem that I learned about when moving to Houston is the Lanier Theological Library.  Mark Lanier is graciously building a great academic resource for Houston by establishing a Tyndale House-style library by slowly purchasing the libraries of scholars when they retire/die.  In addition to the library, Lanier also sponsors speakers and conferences.  I had the pleasure of attending a recent conference (March 16-17) focused on the Philistines as part of the wider movement of the Sea Peoples: “Recent Research on the Sea Peoples and Philistines”.  On Friday afternoon, there were several presenters that presented historical and archaeological research on the Sea Peoples movements (mostly around 1200-800 BC), and then on Saturday evening Sy Gitin focused specifically on work at Ekron (around 700-500 BC).  Most lectures are open to the public, but the Friday conference was specifically limited to local scholars, which were drawn from a variety of faculty of graduate and undergraduate programs around Houston.  Though the topic wasn’t a particular interest of mine, I learned a lot relish opportunity to participate in other quality events in the future.

I’m woefully behind on blogging, so I’m doing a few short posts on recent conferences that I’ve been to over the past month.  The first was SWCRS (Southwest Commission on Religious Studies, aka “swickers”), which  was combination of the NABPR (National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion), SBL, and AAR.  This was the first regional conference of this kind that I’ve been to (aside from a couple of International SBLs, which have a different flavor).

The NABPR meeting on Friday night and Saturday morning allowed the opportunity to catch up with some old friends and to meet others.  HBU was well represented:  David Capes was helping run things, and Randy Hatchett gave a paper on theological interpretation.  There were other papers on the future of theological education that were interesting, and if you are interested, David Capes set up a blog to house the papers: NABPR-Southwest.

The rest of the weekend I focused on the SBL side of things, but I slipped into an AAR session or two.  Notable sessions were on: Hazon Gabriel (the Gabriel Revelation), Participation in Paul via Yoder’s Politics of Jesus (David Cramer, Baylor), and Early Pentecostals on Pentecost (Acts 2) (Mikeal Parsons and Peter Reynolds, Baylor).  Another, very recent Baylor alumn (that is, he just successfully defended his dissertation) and HBU colleague who presented was Tim Brookins.

Incidentally, I’m fortunate to have a good set of colleagues at HBU, but with Tim who’s in the thick of things Pauline and also Chad Chambers here, we have a nice set of Pauline scholars around.  Chad did his work at Duke and is now doing his PhD at London School of Theology part-time while here in Houston.  He’s doing a participationist reading of Galatians, which you’ll know is near and dear to my heart.  Good conversations all the way around.

The biggest aspect I noted about SWCRS was how much Baylor is the big dog on the block in these meetings.  Their PhD students are by far and away the largest cohort, and they presented several very interesting papers.  I had the pleasure of meeting several of them, a couple of whom came to Baylor out of Duke Divinity’s MTS program, and from conversations there appears to be an informal link between the two.  I was surprised to see not much participation from SMU, TCU and the like.