Archive for February, 2010

Lent and the Master Story

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

This month of March is normally the heart of Lent in the Christian tradition, and this year is no exception. We are also fortunate this year that Western and Eastern Lent (because of Easter) coincide.

Traditionally, Lent is understood as a season of repentance and renewal, and that is certainly true. But I would suggest as well that one dimension of Lent that allows us to experience that repentance and renewal is often overlooked: Lent is finally about the cross of Jesus, and finding ourselves in that story once again. “He set his face toward Jerusalem,” and so do we.

Lent is a time to get our individual and corporate stories straightened out, to re-narrate ourselves (or, better, to allow the Spirit to re-narrate us) into the story of God’s self-giving, life-giving love that culminated in Good Friday and was vindicated on Easter Day.

We are each and all characters in many stories: individual, family, ecclesial, communal, national, global. But which story is our master story? To which one do we gravitate when life is hard, very hard, and faith, hope, and love seem distant? Do we naturally turn to some family, or perhaps national, narrative for security and direction? Although such narratives may be valuable in certain respects, they ultimately cannot save us, and therefore they should not ultimately define us. Moreover, there are some dimensions of such stories that are in conflict with THE story, and there are even whole stories that collide dramatically with THE story.

Lent is a time to return to our true story, our master narrative, a time to allow God to weed us out of unfruitful stories and plant us in the garden of God’s story, the story of the crucified Messiah who is the power and wisdom of God.*

A reflection inspired by the reading of Daniel Kirk’s thoughts on Lent.

The “Best” NT Introduction(s)?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

I have not taught a basic NT survey in more than a decade, but I am now supervising an independent-study NT survey and am both thinking about writing a NT survey text with a theological bent and possibly teaching the course again.

So I am wondering (1) which NT intro(s) others like, or dislike, and why, and (2) whether you think there is a need for another one (of the making of NT intros there is no end!). If you say yes to #2, what would be the elements of the ideal NT intro, or at least the one you think needs to be written?

Here are some thoughts about the ones I have known and used:

1. Luke Timothy Johnson’s second edition from Fortress is my favorite because he attends so carefully and richly to the NT text in its literary and theological dimensions. It is not at all user-friendly, however—no illustrations or even maps—but I hope the third edition, soon to be out, will correct that problem.

2. The one I am using with the student this term is Mark Alan Powell’s new book from Baker. I always like Powell’s work, and this book is no exception. It has tables (I love tables!) and art and maps galore. It’s very user friendly, but it is a bit thin for a text at the seminary or graduate level, so I am supplementing it with some videos by Luke Johnson, NT Wright, and Bart Ehrman.

3. My old friend Bart Ehrman’s Oxford intro, now in its 77th edition and 17th form (abridged, abbreviated, condensed, full-length, etc.) ( :-) ), is a model of clear writing and user-friendliness, with tables, art, and other graphics. It’s good as far as it goes, but it deliberately displays no theological interests.

4. I used Raymond Brown’s massive Doubleday tome with a class when it first came out and was surprised at how well it was received, especially since it looks like an encyclopedia. Brown was a good writer and master of the secondary literature. There are good summary tables of basic data (who/what/when/where, etc.) for each writing but only a few other graphics. His treatment of the gospels is basically a mini-commentary on each from beginning to end; the rest of the NT is treated differently and more topically. I would not use it again as the main text, however.

5. I have only skimmed parts of David deSilva’s equally massive IVP NT introduction, with its stress on application to ministry. I’ve had some former students use it with him in the D.Min. program at David’s school, but I think it would only work in certain settings. (Our student body has more lay people than current or future clergy.)

6. The Eerdmans NT survey by Joel Green, Marianne Meye Thompson, and Paul Achtmeier is solid and well done, though less thorough than some and not as theologically rich as, say, Johnson.

So what do you all think?

A Good, “Storied” Lent to All

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

I am back from a wonderful trip to Turkey and Greece, about which I will blog in the near future. Our Turkish guide with whom I have worked for years, is a kind and sensitive man who has a deep respect for Christians. He had never before been with me and a group on Ash Wednesday, so he asked me at breakfast how he should greet everyone. “Happy Ash Wednesday?” he asked. “Happy Lent?” I was a bit surprised by both the question and his suggested greetings, but quickly and rather unreflectively responded that the greeting felts a bit oxymoronic (or some similar term) and explained why, while also noting that in my experience no greetings were used at the beginning of Lent. So I suggested either to say nothing or to wish people a “Good Lent.”

So what might a good Lent look like?

Having had no time to blog for 10 days, I was happy to find Daniel Kirk’s post called “A Storied Lent” upon returning this morning. By “storied,” Daniel means recalling and re-living the story of the cross. I will have more to say about this subject, too.

Wishing all a good, storied Lent.

Off to Turkey and Greece

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Tomorrow, God willing, I am headed on a journey to the cities of Paul and John with 21 students and others. We will go to Istanbul, Izmir/Smyrna, Ephesus, Pergamum, Assos, Neapolis/Kavala, Philippi, Thessaloniki, Athens, and Corinth/Isthmia.

If you teach or preach from the NT, I hope and pray that one day you will take and/or lead such a trip. This will be my fifth, and I am now acting as a consultant with the educational and pastoral travel organization Illume to encourage and help others go to Turkey, Greece, Israel, Palestine, and elsewhere. If you are a pastor or biblical scholar reading this post, please read the letter below and then email me at Illume. I will answer you in late February when I return.

Dear Colleague in Biblical Studies and/or Church Ministry:

Like you, I love teaching biblical studies and/or preaching from the Scriptures, and I have been doing so for quite some time now. In the last 10 years or so, I have discovered that there is something that enhances teaching and learning the Bible more than the latest book, article, theological movement, or pedagogical strategy. I am talking about travel to the “lands of the Bible.”

Since 1999, I have led and/or participated in one trip to Israel and Palestine and five to Turkey and Greece. (What do you expect? I’m a student of Paul!) I’ve seen stunning Jerusalem, the arid region of Masada and Qumran; the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee; the incredible rock formations of Cappadocia; the amazing ruins of Ephesus and Corinth; the imposing acropolis at Pergamum and the more famous one in Athens; the unexcavated Colossae and the nearly unvisited Pisidian Antioch; and so on. More importantly, many of my students—as well as some of their family members and friends—have seen these same places, read their Bibles on location, and been transformed in unexpected ways because of their travel experiences.

I have come to believe so firmly in this kind of educational and spiritual travel that I recently became a consulting scholar with Illume, the pastoral and educational resource center that I have worked with for years in planning and taking trips. Illume collaborates with educational and pastoral leaders to create transformative programs that involve travel to places of great historical and religious significance, educational and pilgrimage-like tours to places related to the Bible (Israel, Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Egypt, Italy) and beyond.

Illume is different from other travel organizations you may be familiar with. Illume brings important resources to the table for successful program development and coordination:

• two in-house scholars (Michael Hartwig and myself) for program development;
• a portfolio of client-scholars that Illume also draws on for program development;
• a Boston-based professional staff that is attentive to detail, is quickly accessible, and has more than 35 years of experience, relationships, and resources; and
• a global network of long-term partners and affiliates who consistently deliver professional on-the-ground expert guides and tour managers.

This letter is both an introduction—to Illume and to my role in it—and an invitation. It is an invitation to consider leading a group on a life-changing journey. (And if you already lead study tours, perhaps we can discuss the difference working with Illume can make.) Let’s explore this further: send me an email with some thoughts and/or questions, and I will be in touch. We can begin the process of collaboration that is Illume’s trademark.


Michael J. Gorman

N.T. Wright for Everyone and Upcoming Conference

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Each year Wheaton College near Chicago holds a conference on theology. This year’s conference, which I hope to attend, will be on the work of Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright on Jesus and on Paul. There are excellent—no, world-class—participants (Jeremy Begbie, Markus Bockmuehl, Richard Hays, Edith Humphrey, Sylvia Keesmaat, Nick Perrin, Marianne Meye Thomson, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Brian Walsh) plus, of course, presentations by the good bishop himself.

As part of the run-up to the conference, Bishop Wright’s former teaching assistant, Nijay Gupta (Ph.D., Durham), and some other folk are posting short papers to introduce people to NTW’s work. Nijay’s excellent summary of NTW’s work on Paul is introduced here and can be found in full here.

Cross Talk and 49 Other “Ecumenical” Blogs

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

James Atkinson and Joy Shepherd over at Biblical Learning Blog have put together an interesting list of ecumenical blogs, including this one. They are divided into “Ecumenism in General,” “Theology,” “For and by Women,” “Reaching Out,” and “Emergence Outreach.” (We’re under “Theology.”)

There are some very good links there, and also some, well, unexpected ones (ecumenical Buddhism??).

In any case, thanks to the good folks at Biblical Learning Blog!

Dialoguing about Inhabiting

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

A few bloggers are now interacting seriously with Inhabiting the Cruciform God. Most recently, Fuller New Testament professor Daniel Kirk has a series of three appreciative posts (here, here, and here) that also raise some good questions. I have a response to only one (so far) of his posts, the third, in the form of a comment.

Eastern University NT professor Carl Mosser, who knows the topic of theosis very well, has some long and very perceptive comments in response to my recent post called “Fear of Theosis.”

Another blogger, a theologian, may post a long review with my (short) response soon.

There are also some other reviews on the web. (See mjg ONLINE to the right.) Thanks to all for the interest and feedback!