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Archive for August, 2006

Skeptiticism and Secularism in Scholarship

15th August 2006

James Crossley over at Earliest Christian History has a thoughtful post on secularism and scholarship entitled, “Sheffield and the Secular.” His post is in response to Michael Bird‘s post, “Secularism and Biblical Studies.” Michael’s point of departure is a recent article by John Barton (“Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective” in The Nature of New Testament Theology [eds. C. Rowland and C. Tuckett; Oxford: Blackwell, 2006] 27-29), where Barton notes the significant place theology has had historically in Old Testament studies and how that will likely continue to be the case. He notes, “But I still think that the most important aspect of the OT is the theological content of most of its texts, and that it is therefore natural for this to continue to be the focus of interest in the future as it has been in the past.” Michael then goes on to raise a few points about secularism in biblical studies, including that secular scholars will always be the minority since the object of study in biblical studies is, lo and behold, the Bible — one of the religious texts par excellence — and therefore religious people will be attracted to academic biblical studies.

James offers a response to Michael in his post and while he agrees with much that Michael writes, he notes that “we should not forget what the discipline [i.e., biblical studies] missed out on in comparison with other humanities (e.g. history) because of a lack of secular perspectives.” I would agree with James to a certain extent, though I’m not sure we’ve missed out too much — and considering the lag typically associated with biblical studies, perhaps it is yet to come! :-)

Now here are some of my own quick observations:

Theology and Biblical Studies. It is not just secular scholars who eschew theology; there are many religious biblical scholars who favour the historical critical method and thus avoid theological issues (at least in their published scholarship). That being said, it is fair to say that scholars involved in “biblical theology” (whether OT or NT) will almost without exception be religious. This is especially the case for biblical theology in Old Testament studies since one of the major tasks historically for the discipline has been to explore the relationship between the testaments.

Skepiticism and Scholarship. James rasies this issue in connection with Ben Witherington’s post on doubt in scholarship (see my comments on Ben’s post here). James notes that one of the benefits of secular scholarship is that “the biblical texts are open to a much more critical reading, critical in the sense of deconstructing their ideologies etc. and being ready to entertain the possibility that the texts are just irrelevant, at least in a historical context ideological approaches to biblical interpretation.” I can agree with James to a certain extent here, though I am not sure that radically skeptical approaches that constantly read against the grain are ultimately very fruitful. I think some skepticism is healthy and necessary, though when it obscures understanding more than facilitates understanding, it should be discarded (or at least relagated to the “that’s interesting” pile). Thus, if you conceive that the goal of biblical studies is to better understand the biblical texts, then an empathetic hermeneutic may be more appropriate than one of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that we should priveledge the Bible over against other texts, or that we should forget that they are ancient texts. I am saying that we should look at any text we are trying to understand with a good dose of emphathy.

All in all an interesting discussion.


Posted in Faith & Scholarship, Hermeneutics, Theology | Comments Off

My Top 10 12 Spiritually Significant U2 Songs

14th August 2006

I’ve been on a bit of a U2 kick lately (what else is new, you may ask!). Here’s a cute story to illustrate: the other day my family and I went to pick up my oldest daughter from summer camp. My five year old son ended up riding back from the camp with friends. As soon as they got going, my son asked if they had any U2 to play and said matter-of-factly how “my Dad REALLY likes U2″ and then he proceeded to sing his unique rendition of “Elevation.” Last week’s interview with Bono at the Leadership Summit only further fuelled my U2 obsession.

I thought I would share with you the top 10 12 songs from the U2 corpus that have been the most spiritually significant in my Christian walk. So this list is not a list of my favourite U2 songs — while there would be some overlap, that list would include a number of other less spiritually profound U2 songs (like Numb, Elevation, and Discotheque, among others).

As always, I found it very difficult to limit my list to only the top ten, so I decided to make it twelve (a nice Old Testament number). So, without further ado, counting down from 12, here is my list of…

The Top 12 Spiritually Significant U2 Songs

12. “40″ (Lyrics; from War 1983; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This classic rendition of Psalm 40 has been used to close many U2 concerts. The line “How long to sing this song” — which is actually not in Psalm 40, but is inspired by the cry “how long” found in numerous psalms — expresses the longing for God’s intervention that characterizes many U2 songs.

11. Wake Up Dead Man (Lyrics; from Pop 1997; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This song is perhaps U2′s darkest lament. The song opens with a cry to Jesus: “Jesus, Jesus help me / I’m alone in this world / And a f*cked up world it is too / Tell me, tell me the story / The one about eternity / And the way it’s all gonna be.” The theme of the absence of God, expressed in the name of the song, comes to the fore in the rest of the lyrics: ” I know you’re looking out for us / But maybe your hands aren’t free.”

10. Peace on Earth (Lyrics; from All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Written by Bono after the Omagh bombing in August 1998, this prayer of lament takes its cue from the angels proclamation to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14) and asks, where is this peace on earth? “Jesus can you take the time / To throw a drowning man a line / Peace on Earth.” This dissatisfaction over the gap between “hope and history” is a major theme of U2′s music and is expressed well in this song: “Hear it every Christmas time / But hope and history won’t rhyme / So what’s it worth / This peace on Earth.”

9. Gloria (Lyrics; from October 1981; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). In the early years as U2 was finding their spiritual moorings, perhaps this song expressed their faith and devotion the best: “I try, I try to speak up / But only in you I’m complete … Oh Lord, if I had anything / Anything at all / I’d give it to you.”

8. Crumbs From Your Table (Lyrics; from How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb 2004; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). When I first heard this song I was moved and convicted. But then I watched the DVD that came with the CD and listened to Larry Mullen note how he was so drunk when they wrote that song that he doesn’t even remember writing it! Talk about a downer! But then I read a great blog entry on this song from Spera In Deo where he relays an interview with Bono about the song that redeems the song in my eyes. Here is an excerpt:

About the Crumbs song, he [Bono] told the story of the Irish nun, Sister Ann, who’s story broke his heart. She lives and works near a sewer and brings in people who live in horrific conditions. When he visited her, he saw people who were sleeping “three to a bed.” I had previously thought the song was about Bush’s promised–then rescinded–offer of $15b in Africa aid. But it turns out it is really (also?) about this nun and how some people in the world await crumbs to fall from the feast table of American Christianity (You speak of signs and wonders / But I need something other / I would believe if I was able / But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table).

Bono also made a passing reference to the title of this song in his interview with Bill Hybels when he was talking about his work with the ONE Campaign and how they want to raise awareness and money for this cause “without coming with our heads bowed and cowed and, you know, looking for the crumbs from the table; we believe that the poor deserve an honourable place at the table, they deserve the head of the table, as God would see things.” Amen.

7. Until the End of the World (Lyrics; from Achtung Baby 1991; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). The lyrics of this song contain one side of a post-resurrection conversation between Jesus and Judas: “I took the money / I spiked your drink / You miss too much these days if you stop to think / You led me on with those innocent eyes / You know I love the element of surprise / In the garden I was playing the tart / I kissed your lips and broke your heart / You, you were acting like it was / The end of the world.” The ending of the song is somewhat ambiguous, but I think that it holds out for love and forgiveness for even the likes of Judas: “Waves of regret and waves of joy / I reached out for the one I tried to destroy / You, you said you’d wait / ‘Til the end of the world.”

6. I Will Follow (Lyrics; from Boy 1980, Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This was probably the first U2 song I ever heard. Before I was a Christian I had bought the album Boy and quite liked this song. This album was, in fact, the only one that survived my very brief “fundamentalist” phase when I burned my entire record collection. Boy was spared because I heard from someone that U2 was a “Christian” band! I have no recollection of what I thought the song was about early on, but after I became a Christian I took the song as a response to Christ’s call to follow him. This interpretation of the song really comes to the fore in the live version on the Elevation 2001 DVD where Bono intersperses even more lines from the classic hymn Amazing Grace.

5. Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (Lyrics; from All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). While written about the suicide of Michael Hutchence (from INXS), this song is about hope in the midst of crisis. It’s about staying the course until daybreak, recognizing that in the grand scheme of things it is but a moment. “And if our way should falter / Along the stony pass / It’s just a moment, this time will pass.”

4. I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For (Lyrics; from The Joshua Tree 1987; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This song is at once both a clear affirmation of the band’s faith (at least three of them at that time) as well as an expression of striving for a theological home: “You broke the bonds and you / Loosed the chains / Carried the cross / And my shame / All my shame / You know I believe it / But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

3. Yahweh (Lyrics; from How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb 2004; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). OK, how can a Old Testament professor not like a song with the title “Yahweh”?! This song is a moving prayer for Yahweh (the Hebrew name for the Old Testament God) to intervene, to transform the singer: “Take this shirt / Polyester white trash made in nowhere / take this shirt / and make it clean, clean. Take this soul / Stranded in some skin and bones / Take this soul / and make it sing…. Take this heart / And make it break.” But it also has elements of lament, questioning God about suffering and why God is not acting: “Yahweh, tell me now / Why the dark before the dawn?”

u2_yahweh_live.jpg

2. Walk On (Lyrics; from All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Inspired by Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, I read this as song about persevering in the life of faith. It’s about leaving everything that hinders you behind and walking on because life is more than this life: “You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of has been / A place that has to be believed to be seen.” When my Dad was dieing of cancer, this song spoke to me perhaps more than any chorus or hymn; that’s why it makes number two on my list.

u2_leaveitbehind.jpg

1. Sunday Bloody Sunday (Lyrics; from War 1983; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) This is one of U2′s most moving songs — and my all-time favourite. In many ways it is an anti-war athem that helped define a generation. I still get shivers down my spine when listening to it (I actually rarely just listen to it; I usually sing along at the top of my lungs!). The songs asks, like “40″, “how long must we sing this song?” and also affirms a partial realised eschatology: “The real battle just begun / Sunday bloody Sunday / To claim the victory Jesus won.” The most stirring version of this song is found on the Rattle and Hum DVD (Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This performance was filmed in Denver the evening of 8 November 1987 — the same day an IRA bomb killed thirteen innocent people at Enniskillen. In the middle of the song, after rehearsing the day’s tragic events, the emotional Bono declares, “f*ck the revolution!” A close second is on the Vertigo 2005 DVD where they go stright from “Love and Peace or Else” to “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

u2_bloodysundaylive.jpg

Honourable Mention

There are many other U2 songs which are spiritually significant. Some that deserve honourable mention include, Pride (In the Name of Love), With Or Whitout You, Where the Streets Have No Name, One, Acrobat, The Wanderer, The Playboy Mansion, When I Look at the World, Grace, Love and Peace or Else, and All Because of You.

What are your top spiritually significant U2 songs?

UPDATE: You will want to see my “Addendum to U2 Spiritually Significant Songs: The First Time


Posted in Popular Culture, U2 | 16 Comments »

I Just Want To Be A Sheep…

13th August 2006

I rarely post anything connected to my family, but I have to make an exception. This morning at church my five-year-old son coloured a picture that I have to share with the world:

stern_sheep.jpg

I think we will name it, “God’s stern sheep.” What do you think?


Posted in Humour, Personal | 2 Comments »

Doubt and Scholarship

12th August 2006

Ben Witherington has a good post entitled, “Justification by Doubt“, that is worth a read. Here is an excerpt:

But there is a particular trait of some Biblical scholars, indeed many of them, which I would like to comment on, on this blog, because it drives too much of what passes for critical Biblical scholarship. It is the tendency I call justification by doubt. A scholar tries to demonstrate his or her scholarly acumen by showing not merely great learning, but how much he can explain away, dismiss, discredit, or otherwise pour cold water on. This activity in itself is sometimes mistakenly called ‘critical scholarship’ apparently in contradistinction to uncritical or pre-critical scholarship. And having once trotted out this label it is then assumed that any real scholar worth her or his salt will want to be a skeptic so they can then be revered as a ‘critical scholar’. Otherwise they are not really being scholarly.

Read the whole post for yourself — it’ll be worth the effort! I pretty much agree with his perspective, though some skepticism is necessary for critical biblical scholarship. It’s all a matter of balance.


Posted in Faith & Scholarship | 2 Comments »

Bono Interview by Bill Hybels

12th August 2006

If you are a U2 fan, you may also be interested in my recent post, “My Top 10 12 Spiritually Significant U2 Songs.”

bono-hybels.jpg

I was lucky enough to catch the interview with Bono Friday (11 August 2006) at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. I thought the interview was amazing. Bono is very articulate — for a rock star :-)

The taped interview by Bill Hybels was peppered with great footage from U2′s Elevation 2001 – Live From Boston DVD (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com), their Vertigo 2005 – Live From Chicago DVD (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com), and Rattle & Hum (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).

I thought the interview was a great introduction to Bono, U2, and the various campaigns Bono is involved with, such as DATA and the ONE Campaign.

There were many highlights in the interview for me. Perhaps the most refreshing thing he said was in regards to his “celebrity” and how ridiculous the world is to pander to celebrities as it does. He sees his celebrity as currency, and he’s decided to spend it to raise awareness for important causes such as global poverty and the AIDs pandemic. Bono’s challenge to the church? Get involved! “‘Love thy neighbour’ is not advice; it is a command.”

I was going to type out a transcript of the interview, but instead decided to make an mp3 of it available for download (see below). I have edited out all of the music and down-sampled it so it is not too large a file. This is a personal recording I made of the interview and I am making it available for free for personal use only because I believe that Bono’s message needs to be heard and acted upon.

Bono and the Willow Creek Association are going to make the DVD available to churches, so make sure to bug your pastor to get a copy to show to your congregation!

Here is the link to the mp3 file of the interview:

The only question I wish Bill Hybels asked Bono was if the rumours that U2 is scheduled to return to the recording studio this September! That would be sweet!


Posted in Popular Culture, U2 | 20 Comments »

Bono Interview by Bill Hybels (Leadership Summit 2006)

12th August 2006

If you are a U2 fan, you may also be interested in my recent post, “My Top 10 12 Spiritually Significant U2 Songs.”

bono-hybels.jpgI was lucky enough to catch the interview with Bono Friday (11 August 2006) at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. I thought the interview was amazing. Bono is very articulate — for a rock star :-)

The taped interview by Bill Hybels was peppered with great footage from U2′s Elevation 2001 – Live From Boston DVD (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com), their Vertigo 2005 – Live From Chicago DVD (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com), and Rattle & Hum (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).

I thought the interview was a great introduction to Bono, U2, and the various campaigns Bono is involved with, such as DATA and the ONE Campaign.

There were many highlights in the interview for me. Perhaps the most refreshing thing he said was in regards to his “celebrity” and how ridiculous the world is to pander to celebrities as it does. He sees his celebrity as currency, and he’s decided to spend it to raise awareness for important causes such as global poverty and the AIDs pandemic. Bono’s challenge to the church? Get involved! “‘Love thy neighbour’ is not advice; it is a command.”

I was going to type out a transcript of the interview, but instead decided to make an mp3 of it available for download (see below). I have edited out all of the music and down-sampled it so it is not too large a file. This is a personal recording I made of the interview and I am making it available for free for personal use only because I believe that Bono’s message needs to be heard and acted upon.

Bono and the Willow Creek Association are going to make the DVD available to churches, so make sure to bug your pastor to get a copy to show to your congregation!

Here is the link to the mp3 file of the interview:

  • Bono-Hybels_interview.mp3 (7727 KB; right-click to download)

The only question I wish Bill Hybels asked Bono was if the rumours that U2 is scheduled to return to the recording studio this September! That would be sweet!

UPDATE:  As you can see from the latest comment, someone over at Willow Creek (who didn’t even include their name in the comment!) thought that making this this personal recording available for download is some sort of copyright infringement. Of course, I’m not sure what a U.S. organization could really do to me up in Canada, but  I took down the mp3, though more because it was maxing out my download limits on my server. I find it a bit odd for a Christian organization (who said they were going to make DVDs available of the interview for churches for free) to be so uptight about this MP3 version — especially since it is a message that you would think they would want spread through whatever means possible. Such is life. If you really want a copy let me know and we can perhaps arrange something privately.


Posted in Popular Culture, U2 | 66 Comments »

My Political Compass

9th August 2006

Joe Cathay “tagged” me to do a quiz that maps your political compass. While I try to stay out of the political arena on my blog, I did the quiz and here are my results:

  • Economic Left/Right: -4.25
  • Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.18

That puts me in the same category as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama — not bad company in my books!

I notice that I am on opposite sides of the graph than Joe, but that’s OK — we’re friends anyway!


Posted in Personal | 5 Comments »

The Strange New World of the Bible

9th August 2006

I believe that one of the greatest hindrances to the proper interpretation of the Bible is a false sense of familiarity. There are a number of things that contribute to this false sense of familiarity, including Bible translations that mistakenly modernize idioms and contexts (A translation should not make its readers think that they understand the Bible better than they actually do). While this may sound counter-productive, one of the first steps to properly interpreting the Bible is to create some historical distance between our world and (to echo Barth) the “strange new world within the Bible.” If we don’t take care to create this historical distance, then we will read our modern presuppositions into the biblical text. Gadamer notes: “If we fail to transpose ourselves into the historical horizon from which the traditionary text speaks, we will misunderstand the significance of what it has to say to us” (Truth and Method, 303). Similarly, “it is constantly necessary to guard against overhasily assimilating the past to our own expectations of meaning. Only then can we listen to tradition in a way that permits it to make its own meaning heard” (Truth and Method, 305).

One example will suffice for now (I have some ideas about further posts): the impact of the industrial revolution on our understanding of the world around us. This was brought home to me recently as I was reading Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh‘s excellent Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (2nd ed; Fortress Press, 2002; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). Malina highlights some of the vast differences between our industrial world and the agrarian world of the Bible in order to remind us how great the transformation really was — here is a list of examples from Malina (pp. 6-8):

  • In agrarian societies more than 90 percent of the population was rural. In industrial societies more than 90 percent is urban.
  • In agrarian societies 90-95 percent of the population was engaged in what sociologists call the “primary” industries (farming and extracting raw materi­als). In the United States today it is 4.9 percent.
  • In agrarian societies 2-4 percent of the population was literate. In industrial societies 2-4 percent are not.
  • The birthrate in most agrarian societies was about forty per thousand per year. In the Unites States, as in most industrial societies, it is less than half that. Yet death rates have dropped even more dramatically than birthrates. We thus have the curious phenomenon of far fewer births and rapidly rising population.
  • Life expectancy in the city of Rome in the first century BCE was about twenty years at birth. If the perilous years of infancy were survived, it rose to about forty, one-half our present expectations.
  • In contrast to the huge cities we know today, the largest city in Europe in the fourteenth century, Venice, had a population of 78,000. London had 35,000. Vienna had 3,800. Though population figures for antiquity are notoriously dif­ficult to come by, recent estimates for Jerusalem are about 35,000. For Capernaum, 1,500. For Nazareth about 200.
  • The Department of Labor currently lists in excess of 20,000 occupations in the United States and hundreds more are added to the list annually. By contrast, the tax rolls for Paris (pop. 59,000) in the year 1313 list only 157.
  • Unlike the modern world, in agrarian societies 1-3 percent of the population usually owns one- to two-thirds of the arable land. Since 90 percent or more were peasants, the vast majority owned subsistence plots at best.
  • The size of the federal bureaucracy in the Unites States in 1816 was 5,000 employees. In 1971 it was 2,852,000 and growing rapidly. While there was a political, administrative, and military apparatus in antiquity, nothing remotely comparable to the modern governmental bureaucracy ever existed. Instead, goods and services were mediated by patrons who operated largely outside governmental control.
  • More than one-half of all families in agrarian societies were broken during the childbearing and child-rearing years by the death of one or both parents. In India at the turn of the twentieth century the figure was 71 percent. Thus widows and orphans were everywhere.
  • In agrarian societies the family was the unit of both production and consump­tion. Since the industrial revolution, family production or enterprise has nearly disappeared and the unit of production has become the individual worker. Nowadays the family is only a unit of consumption.
  • The largest “factories” in Roman antiquity did not exceed fifty workers. In the records of the medieval craft guilds from London, the largest employed eight­een. The industrial corporation, a modern invention, did not exist.
  • In 1850, the “prime movers” in the United States (i.e., steam engines in factories, sailing vessels, work animals, etc.) had a combined capacity of 8.5 million horsepower. By 1970 this had risen to 20 billion.
  • The cost of moving one ton of goods one mile (measured in U.S.:dollars in China at the beginning of the industrial revolution) was: Steamboat 2.4; Wheelbarrow 20.0; Rail 2.7; Pack donkey 24.0; Junk 12.0; Packhorse 30.0; Animal-drawn cart 13.0; Carrying by pole 48.0; Pack mule 17.0. It is little wonder that overland trade at any distance was insubstantial in antiquity.
  • Productive capacity in industrial societies exceeds that in the most advanced agrarian societies known by more than one hundredfold.
  • Given the shock and consternation caused by the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the forced resignation of Richard M. Nixon, we sometimes forget that this sort of internal political upheaval is nothing like it was in the agrarian world. Of the 79 Roman emperors, 31 were murdered, 6 driven to suicide, and 4 were deposed by force. Moreover, such upheavals in antiquity were frequently accompanied by civil war and the enslavement of thousands.

This somewhat random list should remind us of the massive changes that occured as the result of the industrial revolution. To quote Malina: “It [the industrial revolution] has been a watershed unlike any the world has ever seen. Should we be surprised if major changes in our perception of the world have occurred as well? And should we be surprised if that in turn has had a fundamental impact on our ability to read and understand the Bible?”

We need to do as much as we can as readers and interpreters to recognize the gulf between our world and the “strange new world within the Bible” so as to ensure we properly read and interpret and understand the biblical text.


Posted in Hermeneutics, New Testament, Translation Theory | 3 Comments »

Was Jesus a Shrimp?

8th August 2006

jesus_shrimp.jpgPerhaps my title is a bit misleading… this post is not about how tall Jesus may have been (though if you are interested, he probably would have been just under five feet). Rather, it is about another Jesus sighting… this time on a shrimp. That’s right… Jesus’ face has been discovered on a shrimp. See the whole story here.
Here are some other Jesus sightings that NBC11 has noted:

They are missing some sightings, such as the Pierogi Jesus. I think my favourite is the Jesus inthe dental x-ray.


Posted in Jesus Sighting, News | 1 Comment »

New Facsimile Images of Codex Sinaiticus Online

8th August 2006

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has uploaded new images of Codex Sinaiticus. The images are from the full-sized black and white facsimile of the manuscript edited by Helen and Kirsopp Lake and published by Clarendon Press (NT 1911, OT 1922). The images posted are of the New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas.

For those who are interested in the Old Testament portion of Sinaiticus, Tischendorf’s 1862 facimile edition of Sinaiticus is availble online from the Biblical Manuscripts Project.

For an introduction to this manuscript, see my Codex Sinaiticus: A Profile (TCHB 5)

(HT Stephen Carlson)


Posted in Manuscript, Sinaiticus | Comments Off