One of my (Ben’s) favorite classes as to teach to undergrads is our New Testament Theology course. It’s one of the first upper level courses that majors/minors will take, and I get to expose them to the breadth, depth, and variety among these great texts. My focus in that course is two fold: 1) give them a deeper knowledge of the different texts and genres and 2) expose them to different hermeneutical approaches and voices (patristic, historical critical, postmodern, theological interp, etc.). Last year I taught Theology of the New Testament on the masters level for the first time. Wanting to provide a unique approach (for the rare student that might have had me as an undergrad but as much for my own benefit), I was looking for a something different to do.

My colleague, Jason Maston, suggested George Caird’s approach in his New Testament Theology. I did end up following that model, but Caird’s book is difficult to find since it’s out of print and it didn’t really give enough details about each author to warrant the size of the book. So, I wasn’t really satisfied with the book, but I loved the approach I took in class. Each student had to become “the expert” on their text, and as we worked through a variety of issues each week, they had to represent the voice of their text. I would first assign them to meet with others that represented their same genre: Gospels/Acts, Paul, and Catholic Epistles. Then they would mix genres in another group. It was great interaction that really helped them see the unity and diversity of the NT.

9780830851485As I’m looking forward to the next run of the course, I’ve kept my eyes open for a replacement, and I’ve definitely got one I’ll try: Derek Tidball’s The Voices of the New Testament. 1) It’s manageable in size–I’m a big fan of fairly short textbooks so I can either assign good seminar readings of the best thinkers or just get students to dig into primary texts. 2) It doesn’t over-do the topics. That is, Caird attempted to give a more complete discussion of various texts, but couldn’t given the format. Tidball’s treatment of each text is shorter and gets you to the big picture issue, so that (for my purposes) students can then go digest the text more fully on their own.

Not having used it, I can’t speak to how well he manages the conversation, but it seems to have a good dose of the Gospels and Paul, so the CE (broadly conceived) may get less attention, though Hebrews seems to show up a bit.


I see that the REF 2014 results were released today, so I was very interested to see how the various departments around the UK performed for Theology and Religious Studies. (For those that are not aware, the UK rates the research output for each of the university departments to help determine funding.) For some reason they don’t provide a weighted ranking of the departments, so I’ve done a quick assessment based on the overall percentages given a 0-4 ranking based on the recognized excellence at a national vs international level (see description at the bottom). I was surprised by some of the overall rankings especially given the previous results (see below), but I’ll reserve commentary here and just provide the results. The GPA is the weighted average of the 0-4 ranking. You’ll see that Durham is the top ranked department, just as it was for the most recent previous exercise: the 2008 RAE.

2014 REF Overall Results for Theology and Religious Studies Departments

% of the submission meeting the standard for:
University GPA 4* 3* 2* 1* U/C FTE
Average (FTE Weighted) 2.91 28 40 27 5 0 12.5
University of Durham 3.34 50 35 14 1 0 24.8
University of Birmingham 3.26 51 28 17 4 0 9.0
Lancaster University 3.15 42 33 23 2 0 22.3
University College London 3.15 37 41 22 0 0 7.0
University of Leeds 3.15 33 49 18 0 0 10.8
University of Cambridge 3.12 34 46 19 0 1 24.4
University of Kent 3.11 38 37 23 2 0 7.9
University of Edinburgh 3.09 34 44 19 3 0 26.6
King’s College London 3.08 39 37 18 5 1 26.0
Cardiff University 3.06 33 43 21 3 0 8.6
School of Oriental and African Studies 3.04 29 49 20 1 1 14.3
University of Oxford 3.02 34 38 24 4 0 32.7
University of Exeter 3.01 21 62 14 3 0 11.2
University of Nottingham 3.01 30 44 23 3 0 15.7
University of Manchester 2.97 28 47 20 4 1 14.5
University of Sheffield 2.93 21 51 28 0 0 4.0
University of St Andrews 2.93 31 31 38 0 0 14.0
University of Aberdeen 2.88 29 39 24 7 1 19.0
University of Bristol 2.85 21 45 32 2 0 8.6
Heythrop College 2.82 22 40 36 2 0 15.8
Open University 2.71 18 35 47 0 0 6.0
University of Wales Trinity Saint David 2.64 14 48 26 12 0 8.2
University of Glasgow 2.56 11 44 35 10 0 10.9
Canterbury Christ Church University 2.52 6 47 40 7 0 9.0
Roehampton University 2.47 16 27 45 12 0 6.8
Liverpool Hope University 2.37 9 37 38 14 2 14.9
University of Chester 2.35 8 27 57 8 0 11.1
University of Winchester 2.33 6 36 43 15 0 8.4
University of Gloucestershire 2.21 3 30 52 15 0 5.3
St Mary’s University, Twickenham 2.2 9 26 41 24 0 4.8
York St John University 2.07 2 23 57 16 2 7.0
Leeds Trinity University 1.99 0 34 32 33 1 3.5
Newman University 1.79 0 26 28 45 1 2.0

For a quick comparison, here are the top 5 of the 2008 RAE Results:

% of the submission meeting the standard for:
University GPA 4* 3* 2* 1* U/C FTE
University of Durham 3.00 40 25 30 5 0 19
University of Aberdeen 2.95 15 65 20 0 0 18
University of Cambridge 2.90 35 25 35 5 0 32
University of Oxford 2.90 30 35 30 5 0 41
University College London 2.90 30 40 20 10 0 7.2

GPA – Weighted average of the % of the submission meeting the standard for:

  • 4* Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • 3* Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
  • 2* Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • 1* Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • Unclassified Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

FTE – Full Time Equivalent faculty members who rated

St. John’s College, Nottingham, has a number of great You Tube videos on theological topics. I found this well-produced, 14-minute clip of Tom Wright summazing his view of Pauline Theology. I think I’ll air this in my summer school Romans course next week when I introduce my students to Wright. (I’m trying to do more of these kinds of things in class so it’s not always just me representing other scholars, but allowing scholars to speak for themselves).


Since I regularly teach book studies in the Pauline epistles to students who have no knowledge of Greek, and I generally dislike assigning lengthy commentaries as textbooks, I am always on the look out for non-/less-technical, affordable academic resources focusing on individual NT books. A good example of what I mean is Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians (Abingdon, 1998). Although Longenecker’s volume provides a focused reading of Paul’s letter and engages various scholarly debates, the book itself is intended to be accessible to non-specialists and does a fine job of showing how one scholar interprets all/most of Galatians. Additional examples include Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity Press, 2010), and Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (InterVarsity, 2004). Similar, though in certain ways quite different, is Joseph Hellerman’s Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today (Kregel, 2013), which, dispite its title, is really a distillation and more practically-oriented version of his SNTS volume Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum (CUP, 2005).

I’m seeking to identify additional titles belonging to this genre. If readers know of similar resources, please do share in the comments. Thanks!

I presented a paper yesterday at the SBL Midwest Regional Meeting hosted by Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Despite the rather small presentation screens, it was a fine venue and in all a successful event–though, sadly, I could not stay for the entire conference. I presented in the Paul Section and my paper  was titled “Sold under Sin: Echoes of Exile in Romans 7.14-25.” Essentially, I argue that just as Paul alludes to both Eden and Sinai (though mainly the latter) in Rom 7.7-13, so he alludes to the Babylonian captivity in 7.14-25, echoing Isa 49.24-50.2 in Rom 7.14 and 23-25. In short, I try to do for Romans 7-8 what Rodrigo Morales does for Galatians 3-4 (cf. The Spirit and the Restoration of Israel: New Exodus & New Creation Motifs in Galatians [Mohr Siebeck, 2010]). There were about a dozen other people in the room (neither the best nor the worst turn out I’ve had), and I even recognized one quite respected scholar in the back. What struck me, though, was the fact that, at the end of what I felt was a fairly well-executed paper, nobody asked any questions.

Now, this has happened to me before, and I’ve seen it happen to others as well. And while it is somewhat of a relief not to be raked over the coals in front of your peers, it is also quite anti-climactic for there to be total silence at the end of a 25-minute talk–given the time, effort, and nervous energy that goes into the entire process. I mean, you wrack your brain for a paper idea, craft the abstract, submit it, wait for its acceptance, get funding, write the paper, travel to the event, and finally after months of anticipation courageously share some of the most creative thoughts you’ve had in your life, only for nobody to make a single comment or ask a single question. What is one to think about such an empty reaction? Have my ideas simply been accepted uncritically, or was my thesis so uninspiring and unambitious to be undeserving of constructive feedback?

Well, after a period of pondering the implications of my silent audience, I reached the following conclusions:

  1. If, in the future, I truly desire feedback and it doesn’t seem to be immediately forthcoming, I should break the ice myself by asking the audience a question about one or more elements of my argument. Changing roles like this can be awkward, but I’ve done it before and have found it beneficial for getting things going.
  2. If I truly desire feedback, my paper should intend to provoke, pushing my evidences to their limits. Sometimes scholars require intellectual bait. That’s what it takes for my students to be interactive in class; it shouldn’t surprise that many professionals require the same. Indeed, unpublished conference papers should be bold, and mine can be quite a bit bolder. Conferences, after all, exist for scholars to take risks, to test drive ideas without the fear of having to commit to them forever. The feedback won’t always be positive, but it will probably be helpful and stimulating.
  3. If, in the future, I don’t get any feedback, silence is an acceptable response. At the end of the day, worse things can happen in a presentation than receiving no questions. After all, if I were to hear from a journal editor that no corrections were required for an article I had submitted, that would be good news; the same can be true with presentations.
  4. Still, this and other experiences have encouraged me as an auditor to be more interactive with conference presenters, especially those like me in the beginning stages of their career. Without a two-way exchange, the entire experience can feel like a bit of a waste of time.

As avid fans of the television series “Friends,” my wife and I try to incorporate clips of the show into our teaching as often as possible (science for her, Bible for me). In class today, I illustrated the Antioch Incident in Galatians 2:11-14 through the following clip (season 4, episode 11):


There was an interesting article at CT last week with three opinions about what changes seminaries need to make. The first view (Dan Kimball) argues that seminaries must be more missionally focused so that seminaries become ‘missionary-training centers’.

The second view (Cheryl Sanders) suggests three ways to change. First, theological training needs to be more ‘pracitical’. Sanders isn’t thinking simply of how one does ministry; rather,the piont is that students should be taught ‘to think about what these truths mean in specific and changing ministry contexts’. Second, Sanders also argues that there needs to be greater ethnic diversity in the seminaries. Third, seminaries need to diversify the teaching methods.

In the final view Winfield Bevins opines that seminaries should be producing more church planters and a part of the curriculum would be that students would do an internship with a church plant.

Two things in particular stood out to me. First, the idea that our seminaries should be turned into missionary training centres or church planting factories seems to leave out those of us who are not going into these forms of ministry. Where will the next generation of scholars go for training if the seminaries are so oriented toward missionaries or church planters? Surely our seminaries need to be more diverse and recognise that there are all sorts of ministries. Second, the emphasis on doing seems to have forgotten what education is about. Seminary should be a place where one goes in order to have his or her mind stretched, to encounter new ideas and to develop the skills to evaluate and assess the ideas. Seminaries should be producing thinkers. Some of these thinkers will go on to be scholars well others will become missionaries and church planters or indeed pastors of an already existing church.

What is needed from our seminaries is not a narrower vision focused on a few people and a few types of ministry but a stronger emphasis on the value and point of education itself.

I’m looking to incorporate some in-class feedback from students, test exam questions, etc. by allowing students to answer questions by sending text messages.  I don’t intend to do it very often, and thus don’t want to pay anything–everybody wants something for free, right?  But, I was interested to see if anybody has used this and prefers of the of several services that offer the service.  It seems that there are several options (in the US): like smspoll.net or polleverywhere.com.  Thoughts or recommendations?

I was thrilled to learn some weeks ago that following the retirement of Dr. Dennis Dirks, who served as Dean of Talbot School of Theology for an impressive 20 years, Talbot has named as Dirks’ replacement the school’s own Clint Arnold, a Professor of NT. As one of Dr. Arnold’s former students, I believe he is eminently qualified for the position. Not only has he spent the vast majority of his adult life at Biola/Talbot (Biola, B.A., ’80; Talbot, M.Div. ’83; on faculty since ’87), but he possesses the enthusiasm for and experience in both the church and academy to direct Talbot into the next chapter of the school’s ministry. So, congrats to Dr. Arnold!

I thought it also interesting that Talbot’s choice for the position is a NT scholar. I normally don’t pay much attention to administrative decisions like this, but several NT scholars have been appointed to seminary dean positions in recent years. In addition to Arnold at Talbot, Richard Hays at Duke Divinity School and Margaret Mitchell at the University of Chicago Divinity School were also appointed to the dean of their respective institutions in the past two years. NT scholar Harold Attridge has served as Dean of Yale Divnity School for some years, and according to the YDS website, NT scholar Gregory Stirling, current Dean of Notre Dame Graduate School, will be appointed as the new YDS dean in October. So what does all of this mean? Is there something about being a NT scholar that translates well into administration? Maybe…

During my first semester at MBI I taught a course on 1 and 2 Corinthians. As many readers will know, teaching these letters to non-specialists can be quite difficult, for many of the problems Paul addresses in them assume familiarity with the ancient world generally and Roman Corinth in particular. Therefore, as I prepared to teach the course, I sought to find a video resource that would introduce the colony to those who had never visited. What I found was a decent, though less-than-amazing, DVD that provides the viewer with an 11-minute tour of the ruins of ancient Corinth along with some of its history. The DVD sells on Amazon for $14.95, or can be downloaded instantly for $11.96. Admittedly, the price is a bit steep for what you get, but I was desperate (see the 2-minute preview on youtube). And regardless of the quality, I love videos like this, for they make biblical texts come more alive. When Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians, he was addressing real people living in an actual city — in fact, a quite famous city, whose cultural preoccupations intensely affected and inhibited the maturation of the church. While important aspects of social history cannot be sufficiently communicated in them, videos like this help students at least become a bit more situated in the foreign landscape of the first-century world.

I don’t use many other videos in my teaching, though I’m sure my students wish I did! I own the DVD Where Jesus Walked (wow, selling for instant download at Amazon for $1.99!), though I have not yet had an opportunity to show it. If anybody knows of other video resources that might be helpful in teaching various NT (esp. text-based) courses, please do share them!

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