Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pay the debt

“Although the suet portions of a well-being offering constitute an ‏אשה “food gift” (Lev 3:9–11, 14–16), the suet of a purification offering does not. No purification offering is called an אשה.

“If the suet of a purification offering is food that is transferred to YHWH, but it is not a gift, what is its function? Milgrom comments on Lev 4:35: “The logic is clear: the Lord is surely pleased with the offering of the repentant wrongdoer (v 31), but it is not a gift; it is his humble expiation.” While a purification offering could be regarded as a gift in the broader sense that it is something given to YHWH, it is not a gift in the more common sense, because it is not voluntary. Rather, it is a mandatory payment of an obligation or “debt” to YHWH, whose order has been violated. This explains why a purification offering belonging to the same ritual complex as a burnt offering must be performed before the latter (see, e.g., Lev 9:7–16): a debt must be paid before a gift can be accepted.”—Cult and Character, pages 65-66

<idle musing>
I thought this thought was central: "a debt must be paid before a gift can be accepted." Take that to the New Testament and Hebrews (especially) for some profound Christology...

Have a happy and joyous new year!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I've been reading (actually just finished) Roy Gane's Cult and Character for the last few weeks. Fascinating book! I'm going to post a few excerpts over the next week, but this book isn't the kind that lends itself easily to small excerpts. If you are at all interested in the theoretical workings of sacrifice in the Bible, this is a must-read, although highly technical, book. Here's the first excerpt:

“Slaughtering an animal, putting its blood on various parts of a dwelling and its furniture, and then burning the suet and carcass (Lev 16:11–28) do not accomplish any kind of cleansing in physical terms. To the contrary, these activities create a mess and are impractical and wasteful, transforming a live, valuable animal into bloodstains, smoke, and ashes, none of which are put to practical use. Nevertheless, the text informs us that the goal of another transformation is achieved at a higher level: nonphysical pollution, consisting of ritual impurities and moral faults, is purged from the sanctuary of supramundane YHWH on behalf of the Israelites (vv. 16, 18–19, 33). While the activities themselves do not produce this goal through physical cause and effect, as they would be expected to in ordinary life, they serve as a vehicle for transformation that takes place on the level of symbolic meaning.”—Cult and Character, page 17

<idle musing>
This is a recurring theme in the book: ritual works on a different level from the visible. Gane argues that this is also true of pollution (moral and physical); I think he is correct.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The problem with people

“One of the most redemptive of all moves is that in which we make a real effort to see persons as persons — and not as our servants or masters or teachers or students or steppingstones for our own progress. The real world is the personal world, and this is where all of the major problems are to be found. It is not really very hard to deal with mere things — partly because they stay put, partly because they are not free, but chiefly because they do not sin. Things are not complicated by pride and struggle for power and the desire to impress, but persons are; and they are, regardless of skin pigmentation. The real world of our human experience is the complex world of salesmen, waiters, lawyers, doctors, newscasters, advertisers, writers, laborers, bus riders, all trying to get along, all trying to get ahead, and all concerned, by necessity, with one another, whether they like it that way or not. Each makes a difference to every other person in his orbit. In a sense, each is a physician to somebody; each is a salesman; each is a pastor and teacher. This complex world of human relations is the world in which the life of the Church is tested. If it does not win here, what it does anywhere else is of little significance.”—Company of the Committed, page 110

<idle musing>
But, things are so much easier! Do we really have to deal with people? It's easy to spin a theological web in the abstract, but put people in it and you find out what it is really made of.
</idle musing>

Monday, December 28, 2009

The social aspect of the gospel

“How far should a Church go in the direction of acceptance of mutual responsibility? Should a gifted youth of the Church, whose family is in poverty, be sent to college at the expense of his fellow members? Should the Church match modern business corporations in providing for old age when there is no other provision? Should a Christian couple be able to face the possibility of their sudden death with the calm assurance that the Church of which they are a part will support their orphaned children up to maturity? Unless we know answers to questions as specific as these we do not know very much about the quality of love which the Christian society is meant to exhibit in concrete practice. General statements about love are not adequate.”—Company of the Committed, page 107

<idle musing>
Those are questions that the early church answered in a way that made them stand out in contrast to the surrounding culture. Unfortunately, they are also answered in a way that makes the church stand out today: The government offers assistance while much of the church criticizes them for it :(
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 24, 2009

in a humble stable...

"While the main contribution to the idea of the Church which Alcoholics Anonymous provides is that of the fellowship of mutual caring, this is not its only contribution. Another, of only slightly less importance, is the insistence on anonymity. Individual notoriety and fame are simply no part of the movement. Here the contrast with the existent Church is sharp and terrible, for almost every branch of the contemporary Church has its dignitaries. The Church in general sets great store by titles, and clergymen are perhaps more open to the dangers of egocentric pride than are members of other professions. Clergymen are one professional group in which the existence of the receiving line of complimentary fans is an accepted practice. One can hardly look at the church page of a metropolitan newspaper on any Saturday without embarrassment and shame, because one is forced to face the fact that the contemporary Church often exhibits the opposite of the true humility which is anonymity. In nearly every city the cult of personal leadership seems to be as blatant in Christian circles as in any others. We are like the worldly societies against which Christ warned specifically. "You know," He said, "that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:25-26). These trenchant words can apply just as much to the authority of a local pastor concerned with his own prestige as to papal authority.”—Company of the Committed, pages 104-105

<idle musing>
That seems an appropriate post for Christmas eve. Reminds me of this:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philppians 2:6-8 TNIV

Have very blessed Christmas, remembering him who came to set us free!
</idle musing>

Great literature?

Many years ago, in an English Literature course, the teacher/professor told us that there were 3 themes in great literature: Man against man, man against nature, and man against himself (bear in mind that this was pre-inclusive language). I don't know if that is still considered the case, but I have found it helpful over the years.

Last night, on my bike ride home, I encountered all three. I'm not sure that qualifies my ride as great literature—I suspect not—but it does give it a narrative framework :)

We had freezing rain yesterday. I had to pick up some stuff after work, so I had my panniers (saddle bags) on my (new) bike. I ended up with about 14 pounds on one side and 7 on the other, so a bit unbalanced. That's not ideal in the best of situations, but with icy roads, it is even worse. Given the ice, I figured I wouldn't have much trouble with traffic. I was right, in fact, I only got passed by about 3 cars the whole way home.

So, here I am, riding along on slick, ice covered pavement with an unbalanced bicycle in the freezing rain around 6:00 PM, so it was dark. The studded snow tire in the front kept me steering well, but the rear doesn't have a studded tire (yet!) and it kept sliding out. I only actually fell about twice, but nearly fell uncountable times. It took 40 minutes to do a 20 minute trip. Man against nature, that's for sure.

Internally, I kept thinking I should just quit and either walk the bike home or call Debbie and have her come and get me. I decided against the latter because of the ice. I figured one person at risk beat two. So, man against himself; the stubbornness of going on won.

I figured that man against man was not likely to happen. There wasn't likely to be another bicyclist on the road to race against! And the traffic was non-existent; everybody else was too smart to be out :) But, I was wrong...about half way home, there is a corner where a lesser traveled road (250 South) joins a higher traffic road (Packerton). A car was traveling down 250 towards Packerton, a bit too quickly; the driver applied the brakes too hard and slid partially into the intersection. They saw me coming down the road and apparently decided it would be fun to scare me. Gunning the engine, they came towards me, fishtailing and clearly out of control. I don't think they realized how slippery the main road was. They missed me by about 2 feet. I think they were more shaken that I was, as they came to a stop, then started very slowly, watching to see that I was still upright. I suspect they won't try that again—or at least I hope they don't! Man against man...

I made it home without further incident, just going very slowly. When I got home, Debbie told me that God had grabbed her heart and had her praying for my safety. Who says God doesn't hear and answer prayer? So, is that God against evil? I don't recall that category.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The greatest is love

“Commitment, then, is not sufficient; we must be committed in a particular way. Our commitment is outside the spirit of Christ if it involves an effort to ride over other men, to use them for our cause, or to see anything else as more important than the individual welfare of individual persons. For the Christian faith, when it understands itself, there is only one absolute, and that absolute is the genuine caring which is expressed in the Greek word agape.”—Company of the Committed, page 98

“Part of our study of Christian history ought to be devoted not to doctrinal disputes, creedal formulations, heresies, and schisms, but to the finest examples of Christian love. By contemplating these we may be able to see what the standard from which we deviate really is, and we may have encouragement to go deeper.”—Company of the Committed, pages 102-103

<idle musing>
I love church history, but as I think about it, there are few histories that don't major on the disputes, heresies, etc. Anybody out there looking for a topic for a book? :)
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

double take

anybody else find this picture disconcerting?

More on the "true" church

Trueblood takes off the gloves in this section. He comes out with some hard-hitting observations...

They [those who judge the validity for a “true” church of Christ by ceremonial aspects] are still pre-Christian in their assumption that membership in Christ's true Church is limited by external performance.—Company of the Committed, page 95

Not content with that observation, he twists the knife when he observes:

It is paradoxical, indeed, that each of the criteria which is popularly supported is concerned with something which Christ did not propose, while the criterion which He did propose seems not to have become the battle cry of any organized group. His own piercing words are: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). This sentence must not be taken alone, for Christ gave other commandments, such as the injunction to witness, but no sincere Christian can fail to take it seriously. It may not indicate the sufficiency of love, but it at least indicates the necessity of love. We know, then, whatever else we know, that the unloving fellowship is an heretical fellowship, so far as Christianity is concerned. How strange, in the light of the Biblical insistence on love as the principal thing, that we have emphasized it so little in comparison with other elements.—Company of the Committed, page 96

<idle musing>
But it is a hard command! It is easier to make rules and regulations, gates and fences. How are we supposed to know who is in and who is out? No, we want our own version of christianity, but thank you for the offer, God. And then we wonder why there is no power, no love, no transformation...
</idle musing>

They just keep following me home

They leap off the shelf into my cart a few times a year. Once they do that, you just have to buy them and bring them home. And, once they are home, you just have to use them. There's just no way around it.

And, it happened again last weekend. I was minding my own business when this cookbook just jumped off the shelf and into my hands. It even had the gall to open up to a herb cheese bread! What could I do? I had to buy it! And, once purchased, I had to try it. Not content to tempt me with the cheese bread, it also contained a recipe for soft pretzels. How could I resist? So, Sunday evening, our house had the fragrant aroma of baking bread. The pretzels were good, but the herb cheese bread was phenomenal. I substituted oregano for the rosemary they called for; Debbie doesn't like rosemary. It will become a common bread around our house...

What cookbook is it, you ask? Why, The Old Farmer's Almanac Everyday Cookbook, of course. I'm sure Debbie and I will be trying more recipes from it soon :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

A true church...

“A third test [of the validity for a “true” church of Christ] is that of Biblical literalism, according to which acceptance of every word of our present Bible is seen as the criterion of a true Church. We can see the falsity of this test at once when we realize that it was not even a possible one in the early Church because many of the books, to which adherence is now required, had not yet been written. Absolute Biblical literalism, while upheld as a dogma by some, is in fact impossible and is never seen in practice. Subjective interpretations are always added to force consistency. Even an appearance of consistency is not possible except by virtue of ingenious dodging, which some denominations have made into an art.”—Company of the Committed, page 93

<idle musing>
What more can I add? He says it all—sadly :(
</idle musing>

Today's thought

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112:6-8 (TNIV)

<idle musing>
It just seems like a good Advent verse...
</idle musing>

Friday, December 18, 2009

Truly Missional

“If we who care about the Church and its farflung ministry were boldly wise, perhaps we should give much greater incentive to work with youth than we give to the management of a big ecclesiastical organization. But we cannot do this, or anything remotely similar, unless we have a revolutionary change in our own vocational values.

“Once we begin to alter our conception of what the Church is, viewing it as intrinsically missionary — not merely in Africa, but in every part of the life of the West as well — we realize that we have hardly begun to see what our major task is.”—Company of the Committed, page 89

<idle musing>
If he saw this as a problem in 1960, I wonder what he would think of megachurches! This goes nicely with the Out of Ur post from yesterday: "It is our consumer-mentality that causes us to think we need buildings."
</idle musing>

idle musing about commuting

<idle musing>
As I mentioned, I have a new bike—and I'm loving it. But, I got to thinking about the economics of it. I commute 11 miles per day, about 48 weeks of the year—3 weeks of vacation and about 1 week of holidays brings it to 52 weeks. That comes to about 2600 miles per year. For round numbers, I'll say 2500. Gas currently costs about $2.50, but for argument's sake, let's use $2.75. That means, if I were to drive, I would use about 50 gallons of gas per year; total cost of gas per year would be $137.50.

So what, you say? That means it will take me over 2 years to save enough in gas to pay for the bicycle! Now, granted, we have a Prius, so the numbers are probably skewed. But, it just reminds me that I don't ride to work just for the economics of it...
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 17, 2009


“The tragedy of many religious audiences is that they have become immunized by much listening to speeches. Wise Christian leaders will not give their precious time to saving the saved when they have alternative opportunities in life outside the purview of the Church.”—Company of the Committed, pages 80-81

<idle musing>
Hey! That sounds "missional," doesn't it? I wonder what they called it back in the 1960s? :)
</idle musing>

Stressed out?

Some nice thoughts about Christmas stress over at A Place for the God_Hungry. Here's a snippet:

Could it be that many of us are under so much stress during this time of the year because we are trying to achieve so much? Perhaps some of the stress is due to our efforts to achieve something perfect instead of simply receiving graciously all that we are given. Ultimately, it is only what we receive from God that will satisfy. Our efforts to create and achieve something to satisfy will always be lacking and will have its limits. After all, the Bible presents God himself as the ultimate achiever.

<idle musing>
Isn't that the truth? We struggle and strive, when all we need to do is rest and abide. Too simple...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A church wrapped up in itself makes a very small bundle

OK, it usually reads a man wrapped up in himself, but it is equally relevant to the church, as this excerpt points out:

The Church is never true to itself when it is living for itself, for if it is chiefly concerned with saving its own life, it will lose it. The nature of the Church is such that it must always be engaged in finding new ways by which to transcend itself. Its main responsibility is always outside its own walls in the redemption of common life. That is why we call it a redemptive society. There are many kinds of religion, but redemptive religion, from the Christian point of view, is always that in which we are spent on those areas of existence which are located beyond ourselves and our own borders.—Company of the Committed, page 69

and, a bit later, he makes an interesting observation that is probably even truer today than it was 50 years ago:

In many contemporary Christian congregations the entire church operation points to a climax on Sunday morning, a conception which would have seemed very strange indeed to the early Christians. Often the major effort during the week is promotion of Sunday, the printed church paper plugging constantly for a bigger attendance. Sunday morning, then, when it finally comes, has something of the mood of a much advertised athletic contest, for which the team has prepared and to which it has been pointed all week. Finally, at twelve o'clock on Sunday, the whistle blows, the climactic event is over for another week, and the spectators go home to relax. If any reader imagines that this is a caricature, he ought to study the promotional material put out by countless churches — material which gives the undeniable impression that, for the Christian, the week is a preparation for Sunday. This is a complete reversal of the Christian pattern and something which finds no support whatever in the New Testament. The Christian pattern, if taken seriously, means exactly the opposite — namely, that what happens on Sunday is defensible only as a preparation for the daily ministry of the week which follows.

Worship is important, but it tends to be overemphasized in the contemporary church. It is very easy for the emphasis on worship to become a throwback to the Temple rather than a pushing forward to the strategy of Christ as represented in the Valiant Seventy.—Company of the Committed, pages 71-72

<idle musing>
Can you say prophetic? This is especially relevant in the time period leading up to Christmas. Christmas, the time we are supposed to celebrate the birth of the one who frees us from bondage! And what do we do? We get ourselves all tied up in knots of bondage trying to celebrate it!?? What a sad commentary that is. We cry, "Lord! Set us free!" little realizing he already has, but we walked back into bondage. If only we would walk in the freedom we already have!
</idle musing>

A little Greek is good for the soul

In this case, a lot of Greek. There has been an interesting kerfuffle in the biblioblogdom world this week. It all started when Bill Mounce, of Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar fame published a post on emphatic pronouns. Hardly a topic to excite most people. But, it did excite a few, well at least two :)

Steve Runge responded, followed quickly by Mike Aubrey. Both are linguists and make very good points. I personally believe they demolish Mounce's arguments.

But, lest this urban legend spring to life again, Steve took up the challenge of educating us all about pronouns today. If you read Greek, or even if you don't but are interested in how pronouns work, read it! Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Quality pronoun, you like, you buy!

I have a number of pronouns lying around, so I have decided to sell them to earn some cash for vacation this next summer. Took this picture last summer when we took the pronouns to the beach for exercise. As you can see, they are fine specimens.

All of the pronouns come with a basic morphology: case number and gender. For a little extra, I will throw in a “demonstrative” add-on kit that enables deictic reference to near and far things.

Besides the morph and potential deictics, the use of the pronouns is almost limitless, but you begin with an empty bucket. It has no reference until you assign it to something. My pronouns are suitable for bi-directional usage, either pointing back to an antecedent, or forward to something that you want to highlight and draw attention to...

...But if you want a little free advice, I would not suggest trying to make something emphatic that isn’t, it will only end in heartbreak. Invest the time and energy to learn about what brings about emphasis, and beware of those trying to sell you something that ain’t real. Emphatic pronouns cannot be bought, they are made using a combination of reference and context.

<idle musing>
Great use of humor to illustrate a basic linguistic truth :)
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Apologetics in perspective

“The evidence of the gospel is not primarily in some document but in the lives of Christ's followers. It is the modest persons who have heard Christ's call to involvement and who try, imaginatively, to respond, who constitute the proof that the gospel is true.”—Company of the Committed, page 66

<idle musing>
I have often heard it said that the best witness for Christianity is the lives of Christians—and the worst witness for Christianity is the life of Christians.

Bear in mind that if you are trying to live a Christian life, you will fail—miserably and continually. But, if you allow the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life through you, it will happen.
</idle musing>

Monday, December 14, 2009

Take Christ OUT of Christmas

What? Yep! Robin Parry has a marvelous post about taking Christ out of Christmas:

Let me explain. For the majority of people in Britain Christmas is a time for families to get together, exchange presents, eat good food, watch TV (, and argue).

I have nothing against this.
I like presents.
I like good food.
I like worthwhile TV.
I like families.
(but which is best? There's only one way to find out ... [that parochial allusion will make no sense ot Americans])

But this is not Christmas. It is a secular Winter Festival. So here is my inclination - Let's take the 'Christ' out of 'Christmas' and call it for what it is - Wintermas.

<idle musing>
Take the time to read it all. I agree with him. Let's take Christ out of Christmas!
</idle musing>

Lay ministry

“The only kind of lay ministry which is worth encouraging is that which makes a radical difference in the entire Christian enterprise. To be truly effective it must erase any difference in kind between the lay and the clerical Christian. The way to erase the distinction, which is almost wholly harmful, is not by the exclusion of professionals from the ministry, as anticlerical movements have tended to do, but rather by the inclusion of all in the ministry. The expanded dictum is that in the ministry of Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, neither layman nor cleric, but all are one in Christ Jesus.”—Company of the Committed, page 62

“The older idea was that the lay members were the pastor's helpers, but the new and vital idea is that the pastor is the helper of the ordinary lay members in the performance of their daily ministry in the midst of secular life. And always, the problem with which the members need the help of wise and compassionate pastors or teachers is that of how daily witness is to be made. Insofar as we really understand the strategy of the Christian revolution, we shall train our pastors for this highly specialized and imaginative task. It cannot be pointed out too clearly, therefore, that emphasis on the vocation of universal Christian witness, far from lowering the vision of the function of the pastorate, immensely heightens it...

“The universal ministry is a great idea, one of the major ideas of the New Testament, but the hard truth is that it does not come to flower except as it is nourished deliberately. Indeed the paradox is that the nourishment of the lay or universal ministry is the chief reason for the development of a special or partially separated and professionalized ministry. We cannot have an effective universal ministry of housewives and farmers and merchants simply by announcing it. It is necessary to produce it.”—Company of the Committed, page 63

<idle musing>
Would that the 50 years since he wrote this had seen a fruition of these ideas!
<idle musing>

New bike

Well, new to me anyway. Last year, when the snow began to fall, Andy generously gave me a mountain bike to ride through the winter. It was a bit too small for me, but it served me well for almost 1000 miles. But, after my spill last Monday, I decided I needed to get at least one studded snow tire. Well, I wasn't sure the bike was worth the cost of a tire, so I asked the bike shop if they had anything used. They didn't have anything on site, but they told me to call back the next day to remind them to look at their other location. I did and they told me they would call me back if they found something.

Midway through last Thursday afternoon, they called me and told me to stop by on my way home. I did, and what they had was a beautiful Specialized cross bike—a cross bike is one that is part mountain bike, part road bike; it is a great commuter bike. The best part is that it was essentially new. They had rented it out for 2 years and needed to retire it for a new model. Because they had already gotten most of their money out of it through rentals, they could offer it to me very cheaply. I took them up on it! "But," I asked, "do you have a studded snow tire for it?" They thought they did, but would have to look.

I stopped by Friday night to pick it up and pay for it. Sure enough, they had found a studded snow tire for the front. I road it home, with the studs singing against the pavement. The bike cut right through the ice on the path without a slip or slide!

This weekend, Debbie and I went to REI in Chicago to pick up a pair of boots for me. While we were there, I also grabbed a very nice rain jacket. My old one had started leaking—too many falls and years had done it in.

So, I feel spoiled: new bike, studded snow tire, new jacket, new boots. What more could I want?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Can you say TV Preacher?

“It must be admitted that a few clergymen glory in the contrast between their status and that of ordinary Christians. They accept obeisance as a natural right; they monopolize public praying; they learn how to keep themselves in the limelight. There is something about the pastoral office which makes the temptation to egocentricity especially powerful. This is partly because the successful preacher is regularly praised to his face. His mood seems a far cry from that of Christ when He girded Himself with a towel and washed the feet of His followers. Of course, there is a little pro forma foot washing today, but it becomes a mere ceremony, and it loses its virtue by being reported in the press. Because some pastors love the limelight and prestige, which is in such contrast to the very meaning of servant or minister, they fear the emergence of the lay ministry. Some pastors see gifted lay leaders as threats to their own eminence.”—Company of the Committed, pages 59-60

<idle musing>
OK, not just TV preachers, but they seem to dominate. It must be stressed, though that Trueblood says "a few"—and I agree. Most clergy feel called to what they are doing and genuinely care for the flock. But, the few are the ones who give the rest a bad rap. Heaven knows most clergy will never get rich; some barely make enough to live on. And some spend it all on books...

Mind you, I am not saying that I think the pastorate as currently done is a biblical office, but that is another story all together.
</idle musing>

Eisenbrauns Deal of the Day

We're trying something a bit different for the next two weeks with the DOTD. Here's the text of an e-mail I sent to several e-lists today:

From now through December 27, Eisenbrauns is offering a deal of the day at only $5.00. Retails run from $42.50 to $65.00, but you pay only $5.00.

Today's deal is Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel

To see what is being offered, you may check each day, follow us on Twitter, fan us on Facebook, or subscribe to our RSS feeds.

Our holiday gift to you, from Hanukkah through Christmas weekend.

I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Letting your light shine

“If we take seriously Christ's first group order, the command to let our light shine, we dare not let the witness be limited to a small group of the professionally religious. Therefore the ministry of Christ must be universal. It must be universal in three specific ways. It must involve all places; it must involve all times; it must involve all Christian persons, male and female, lay and clerical, old and young.”—Company of the Committed, pages 56-57

<idle musing>
That was the battle cry of the Reformation: The priesthood of all believers. How the mighty have fallen; we accept and expect paid staff to do it all. Then we have the nerve to claim we are heirs to the Reformation?!
</idle musing>

Beautiful day for a bike ride

At least compared to yesterday, which was freezing rain in the morning. There is nothing worse to ride in than freezing rain. You get wet, but much worse is that the road is extremely slippery. So, today was beautiful: crisp, mostly clear, with a stiff wind to keep me from overheating.

It is a bit warmer now, 13 F, with a 20 mph wind. It will be nice getting blown home tonight :)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Marketing at Christmas

On Monday I sent out an unusual BookNews. It took me, with extensive assistance from Andy, over an hour to draft it. I was struggling with sending out what I had written; Andy asked why. I told him that I felt Christmas was already over-commercialized and I was just adding to the mess. He suggested I say as much in the e-mail.

Novel idea, eh? Bare my soul to over 2,000 people. Well, he helped me craft it Monday evening and it went out. I figured if I sent it to BookNews, I might as well share it with the 15 people who frequent this blog, as well :)

So, here is the relevant part:

BookNews from Eisenbrauns

Any other time of the year I enjoy making things available, but this season seems to flood my Inbox with gift suggestions; I'm sure it does yours, as well. I dislike the feeling of being perceived as a part of the consumerism that seems to be inherent in December. I like the things that Eisenbrauns sells; I enjoy creating the mugs (with a lot of help from others!). I like that people enjoy and use what we sell. But, I don't want to be one of those who is fighting for your holiday dollar (or Euro).

So, with that in mind, feel free to delete this message and get that final term paper done, or study for that exam, or grade those papers. Or, perhaps the best option, spend some time enjoying those you love and enjoying the lights that are everywhere this time of year.

If you did decide to read on, here's a table of contents for what ignited that soul-searching:
1. SBL sale
2. Weekly sale
3. Monthly sale

1. EAP
2. Scholar's Source
3. ANE

Gift stuff:
1. Gift certificates & wish list
2. T-shirts
3. Mugs
4. Brass bookmarks

<idle musing>
It's not perfect, but it sums up how I feel quite well. I hope you enjoy a peaceful—in the שלומ sense of the word—Christmas season.
</idle musing>

The rush of time

“One of the areas of experience in which the acceptance of discipline is most important for modern man is that of the right use of time. Our relation to time is highly paradoxical in that, though we live in an age marked by time-saving devices, we seem to be ever more hectic in running from appointment to appointment. Because we do not have to use precious time, as all of our ancestors did, in carrying water, grinding flour, and weaving cloth, we should, theoretically, have more free time available, but we do not. The trouble seems to be that we presume on the advantage of our inventions by deliberately adding to the number of our engagements until our lives are fragmented.”—Company of the Committed, pages 40-41

<idle musing>
Especially this time of year, right? As I said in BookNews on Monday: spend the time with those you love. Don't give in the the pull of the culture to rush around; take the time to enjoy the snow and the lights—and especially to enjoy God!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I forgot again

It happens every year. Last year I bruised my hip and bent the handlebars. This year, I scraped my cheek and twisted my handlebars. At least I didn't break an arm like Bev's daughter did last year (Bev is one of our editors—a very good one, too!).

What am I talking about? The first snow of the year around here always melts and then forms a thin film of ice over the roads. Not a problem, really; the cars melt it down very quickly. Except on the bike trails! I ride on the bike trail about 3/4 mile through an area called Boy's City or Boy's Club. It is a beautiful ride, full of trees with mountain bike trails criss-crossing it, going up and down the hills. Wonderful area to ride and nice to ride through.

But, at the end of the trail is a hill that has a sharp curve at the bottom. Of course, all the melt runs downhill to the corner... Every year, I forget that and the first snow results in a first crash. My shoulder hurts a bit and there is a bit (OK, lots) of blood on my cheek, but the real problem is my handlebars came loose. I rode the last 1.5 mile to work with handlebars that seemed to move on their own accord—a rather interesting experience.

So, does anybody have a 6 mm Allen wrench I can use before I go home tonight?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bought with a price

“One of the most surprising facts about the early Church was its fundamental similarity to a military band. This is hard for us to recognize today because the ordinary successful church of the twentieth century is about as different from an army as anything we can imagine. Instead of being under anything resembling military discipline we pride ourselves on our "freedom." We go and come as we like, as no soldier can do; we give or withhold giving as we like; we serve when we get around to it. Obedience is considered an irrelevant notion, and the theme of "Onward Christian Soldiers" is so alien to our experience that some churches avoid the hymn entirely.”—Company of the Committed, page 30

<idle musing>
Freedom is the watchword of our society. But, freedom as we use it is actually just another word for bondage to self—certainly not compatible with Christianity!
</idle musing>

It's snowing

Well, not anymore. But, it was while I rode my bicycle to work today. Almost time to get out the mountain bike, but I haven't repacked the bottom bracket (crank). I guess I had better do that :)

Anyway, the snow made me want to celebrate, so I am posting my favorite description of snow. I post it ever couple of years, but I think it is worth reading again. I used to have outside my office; I might just do that again...

When rain turns to ice and snow I declare a holiday. I could as easily resist as stay at a desk with a parade going by in the street below. I cannot hide the delight that then possesses my heart. Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and cold...

Most people love rain, water. Snow charms all young hearts. Only when you get older and bones begin to feel dampnesss, when snow becomes a traffic problem and a burden in the driveway, when wet means dirt--then the poetry takes flight and God's love play is not noted.

But I am still a child and have no desire to take on the ways of death. I shall continue to heed water's invitation, the call of the rain. We are in love and lovers are a little mad.

From Space for God. Looks like there are some cheap used copies for sale...Meanwhile, enjoy the beautiful snow!

I can't believe someone actually said this

Excerpt from They Said What?, page 174:
David Frum, White House speechwriter in 2003: "The sooner the fighting begins in Iraq, the nearer we are to its imminent end. Which means, in other words, this 'rush to war' should really be seen as the ultimate 'rush to peace.'"

<idle musing>
Almost 7 years later, I wonder if he still believes it? Or, if he ever really believed it. It certainly isn't scriptural!
</idle musing>

Friday, December 04, 2009

To go forward, we go back

“We go back to the New Testament, therefore, not as antiquarians and not as mere historians, but in the hope of finding hints of vitality of which our time is relatively unaware. We ought not, for example, to speak of recovering the lost provinces, if this means an attempt to return to the pattern of an earlier day, partly because this is an effort which never succeeds. We should speak, instead, of occupying the lost provinces in new and creative ways and of making spiritual strides which no previous generation has known or even imagined. Commitment is never real unless it leads to mission, and the mission of Christians is always one which points forward. If we are to go forward we must rid our minds of accepted ideas of what a true Church is, or ought to be, much as the research scientists of great industries, when they seek to make radical improvements, find it necessary to free their minds of current conceptions of what manufactured products ought to be like.”—Company of the Committed, page 26

<idle musing>
Contrary to what some may believe about me, I am not a restorationist; I don't believe we can "get back to the New Testament." I agree with the sentiment expressed above; I believe that we have lost some/most of the vitality that the Church had in the New Testament. I also believe that a good part of that vitality was from meeting in smaller groups and meeting frequently—both in homes and elsewhere. Of course, the major vitality always must come from the power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of each person!
</idle musing>

To what end fear?

A good Advent sermon was posted last Sunday at Faith and Theology titled "Be very Afraid?" In it, Kim Fabricus discusses our culture of fear. After noting that we are safer today than we have ever been, he comments

You want fear? Take a look at the ancient Middle East and the period of over a thousand years covered by the Bible. Read the stories. Floods, famines, and plagues; war, scorched earth, and exile: life, applying the memorable words of the seventeenth philosopher Thomas Hobbes, life was “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And you didn’t have to exaggerate, manipulate, or manufacture anxiety in the face of the ever-present threats to human well-being: they were in your face...

And yet what is the refrain that you hear again and again throughout the Bible? “Be afraid, be very afraid”? On the contrary! Without even a hint of denial of the daily struggle for survival, the Lord says to his people, “Do not be afraid.” In the very midst of big trouble, the Lord says, “Do not be anxious.” In the face of death itself, the Lord says, “Peace be with you.” On what grounds? Not because there is nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be anxious about, nothing to make our stomachs sink and our knees knock. No, no whistling in the dark, not a bit of it. What then? “I am with you,” says the Lord, “I am with you!”

It is that simple. Life is hard, but faith is that simple. “Be afraid, be very afraid”? Don’t be silly! The Lord is with me! The seas roar – the Lord is with me! The mountains tumble – the Lord is with me! The troops are breaching the city walls – the Lord is with me! The angel of death pounds at the door – the Lord is with me! Or: I’ve just been told I have cancer, my husband – it’s the Alzheimer’s – doesn’t recognise me anymore, we’ve missed our mortgage payments again – fill in the blank: at one time or another we’re all going to have a pack of troubles, and we’ll have two chances to get out of them – slim or none. “Do not be afraid,” says the Lord, “I am with you!”

<idle musing>
The Bible is full of the refrain "Be not afraid." Our western culture is full of the opposite, so much so that we have created a three letter acronym for it: FUD. It has become a standard marketing tool: "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" and it is used all the time. Keep your eyes open for it, and then laugh. Be not afraid!
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Billboards and churches

“The tragedy of the [church advertising] billboards lies less in what they say than in their revelation of a suppressed premise concerning the central nature of Christ's cause. Many betray the same unargued assumption when they describe themselves by announcing which church they go to. The trouble with this response is that a church, in its very nature, is not really something to which men and women can go. Rather, it is something which they may be in. The difference is fundamental and far-reaching. We can go to a railroad station or to a motion picture theater or to a ball game; but a church is something which demands a wholly different human relationship, the relationship of belonging. If a man is really in — really belongs to — a church, he is just as much a member of it when he sits at his desk in his business or house as when he sits in a pew at his meetinghouse. The point is that the relationship, if real, is continuous, regardless of time and place and performance.”—Company of the Committed, page 19

<idle musing>
I have to continually remind myself that this book was written almost 50 years ago! Not a whole lot has changed, unfortunately.
</idle musing>

Scary statistic

I ran across this at the heresy:

Of the nation’s 12 largest churches, she [Kate Bowler, a doctoral candidate at Duke University] says, three are prosperity—Osteen’s, which dwarfs all the other megachurches; Tommy Barnett’s, in Phoenix; and T. D. Jakes’s, in Dallas. In second-tier churches—those with about 5,000 members—the prosperity gospel dominates. Overall, Bowler classifies 50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S. as prosperity. The doctrine has become popular with Americans of every background and ethnicity; overall, Pew found that 66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”—a category comprising roughly half of all respondents—believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful.

<idle musing>
This is a perversion of the gospel, pure and simple. Jesus calls us to die to self, not to live for material gain—I Timothy 6:5 comes to mind: διαπαρατριβαὶ διεφθαρμένων ἀνθρώπων τὸν νοῦν καὶ ἀπεστερημένων τῆς ἀληθείας, νομιζόντων πορισμὸν εἶναι τὴν εὐσέβειαν.
and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (NRSV)

I think that's pretty accurate, depraved in mind and bereft of the truth.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Aslan isn't a tame lion

“Some indication of the mildness of our religious conviction is illustrated by the fact that we spend more on dog food than we spend on foreign missions. Another indication is the fact that we expect the inaugural address to be more inspiring than the prayers which precede and follow it. In short, we welcome religion, but we expect it to be innocuous and, above all, unfanatical. We are willing to accept it, provided that it involves no zeal.”—Company of the Committed, page 17

<idle musing>
Again, this was written in 1961. If he wrote it now, he would probably note that we spend more on coloring hair than we do on missions. Or, he might mention that we spend more on cosmetics than many countries GDP. Or...well, you get the idea.
</idle musing>

New sale at Eisenbrauns

It's December, so that means it's time for Eisenbrauns annual Used Book Sale! 20% off on all used books the entire month. I'll bet you find something you can't live without. Yes, even you Nick—we do sell New Testament stuff, you know :)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I started blogging 1471 posts ago, back in October 2005, but on December 1, 2005 is the first post in which I used <idle musing>.

Just an <idle musing>

Youth programs

“A number of churches claim to have highly successful youth programs, but not all of these will bear close examination. What we discover is that the youth program in many local churches is almost entirely one of entertainment, not really different in kind from the secular entertainment which is provided in such abundance by those modern parents who strive pathetically to keep their children happy.”—Company of the Committed, page 13

<idle musing>
Sound like it was written yesterday? This book was written in about 1961! Not a whole lot has changed, has it? :(
</idle musing>

Monday, November 30, 2009

What's with this sign?

This was in the men's restroom by the exhibit hall at SBL:

The first time I saw it, I thought I was in the women's restroom...

The building and its effects

“When we think that religion is what goes on in a building of recognizable ecclesiastical architecture, the damage comes in the perfectly natural human tendency to minimize religion in other places. When we think of religion as what transpires on Sunday morning, the harm lies in the tendency to suppose that what goes on at other times, in factories and offices, is not equally religious. When we think of religion as the professional responsibility of priests, clergymen, and rabbis, the major harm lies in the consequent minimizing of the religious responsibility of other men and women. The harm of too much localizing of religious responsibility in a few — however dedicated they may be — is that it gives the rank and file a freedom from responsibility which they ought not to be able to enjoy.”—Company of the Committed, page 9

<idle musing>
Which results in the dichotomy of secular and sacred. A classic example is the cabbie in my preceding post. I'm sure he didn't see the disconnect between his actions and the music; he probably is a good churchgoer and thinks of himself as a good christian.
</idle musing>

SBL, the return flight

As I was saying on Wednesday when the Internet got cut off...Our return trip to the airport in New Orleans began with two cabbies fighting over us. The one cabbie wanted all 6 of us (which would have cost us more), but the person at the Marriott told him he could only have 3 of us. So, another cabbie claimed three of us. The first cabbie began to object, loudly, that he was first and should get all 6 of us. Meanwhile, the other cabbie filled his cab and left. Another cabbie came up and three of us proceeded to move to his cab. The first cabbie had already loaded 4 of our suitcases and seemed to think that meant he got 4 of us, all the while making his claim loudly. In the end, 3 of us went in each cab, with the suitcases unevenly distributed. When we arrived at the airport, the first cabbie seemed to think that since he had 4 of the suitcases, he should be paid more. In the end, after Dave had called him on it, he agreed to the posted fare. The irony of all this is that he had Christian music going in his you sense a disconnect here? Then again, if your theology is one of substitution without transformation, maybe not. But, that is a subject for another day.

Because we got done so early, we had quite a bit of time at the airport, so we had one last New Orleans lunch. I really do like New Orleans food; I like spicy foods. So we waited for our flight, some of us reading, others knitting, others napping (or napping while reading...), some trying to make the wireless work (it was free, and worth every penny of it, but no more than that...). Then comes the lovely news that because of a glitch with Airtran, our flight to Atlanta was delayed ½ hour and our flight out of Atlanta was delayed a full hour. We were already getting into Indianapolis at 11:15 or so; now it would be about 12:15. From Indianapolis to Warsaw in about 2.5-3 hours; can you say tired?

The flight to Atlanta was without incident, but once we got there, the gates had all changed. No problem, except that our flight was sharing a gate with another flight. Talk about confusion. One person missed their flight; I think she ended up spending the night in Atlanta. Our plane was on the ground and waiting for us, but we couldn't embark; the flight attendants were still in the air on a different flight. Ah, the joys of air transportation: crowded flights, tight security, getting charged for luggage, late flights, should I continue?

Anyway, when the flight attendants came rushing up, there was a round of applause. They missed the irony, but I can't blame them. They probably wanted to get going as badly as we did. We embarked and left Atlanta behind on our way to Indy, arriving about 12:15. Disembarking, we headed for the baggage claim; we could still get home at a fairly reasonable time—NOT! We watched as another flight's luggage was unloaded within 5 minutes of their landing. We, on the other hand, waited for our luggage to be unloaded for 45 minutes! No explanation was given; we just had to wait. In the end, we arrived home after 4:00 AM EST. Our return trip had taken us more than 13 hours...needless to say, none of us were at work at 8:00 that morning :(

ἐν παντὶ εὐχαριστεῖτε· τοῦτο γὰρ θέλημα θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς ὑμᾶς. (I Thes. 5:18)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (NRSV)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SBL Day 4 and return

I got into the exhibit hall a bit early (one of the doors wasn't latched all the way), so I decided to try something new for the last day. I took all the books off their stands, except the new releases. Then I put them spine up on one table, creating a bargain-like look (it also allowed us to get a head start on tear down, but that wasn't the reason).

It was interesting to watch the response as people came in. Even though the prices were identical, people would grab a book and possessively hold it while looking at the next book. The attitude around the table was also less relaxed and more tense. Interesting, isn't it? I'm not sure I will do it again; I don't like the selfish attitude that it surfaced, but interesting, all the same.

Because I had a head start on tear down, we got done about 1/2 hour earlier than usual. So, we grabbed a cab—actually two—and headed to the airport. Getting the cab was an interesting experience. I'll post pictures on Monday and continue; right now they are cutting off the Internet to update the firewall...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The purpose of the law

“The law was never intended to serve as a foundation for the Christian life. We have no right or scriptural basis by which to select portions of the Mosaic law and claim that these should supervise believers. Paul teaches that believers are led by the Spirit and are not under the law. Thus, even the Ten Commandments are not designed to guide our daily living. The Ten Commandments are described as a ministry of condemnation that brings death. Who wants that in their life? We’re also informed that sin gains an opportunity through commandments, including the “Big Ten.” The law causes sin to increase, not decrease. Therefore, we can expect more struggle and more sinning if we adopt the law as our guide for living. Conversely, our release from the law directly results in a release from sin’s power. Apart from law, sin is dead.”—The Naked Gospel, page 232

<idle musing>
This is very hard to get some people to understand. They feel certain that without the law to keep them in line, they will wander. Why don't they understand that the law can't keep them from straying? (honest question)
<idle musing>

Monday, November 23, 2009

God is good--to me

“The idea that “Christ through me” could be frightening is rooted in a faulty sense of God’s character. What’s not to like about a God who is always for us and doesn’t hold anything against us? If we’re hesitant to relinquish our daily lives to God, it’s because we don’t yet trust his goodness.

“Sure, we may know that God is good. But “God is always good to me” is an altogether different thought...”—The Naked Gospel, page 195

<idle musing>
This is a really interesting idea; I need to think about it.
</idle musing>

SBL Day 3

Another busy day (aren't they all?). I finally heard registration figures today. There were 4600 preregistrations, but the final total is right around 4300. That compares to around 6000 preregistrations last year, with a figure around 5700 attendees. So, a 20% drop in attendance.

I must say that the conference feels about 20% smaller this year. There is less of a buzz around the conference hotels and the the exhibit floor seems less crowded. But, we're still selling books at a good clip, for which I am thankful.

Monday night is always our Eisenbrauns dinner. The dinner always happens the last night and is a chance to reflect on what has happened, what we would do differently, what we would do the same, and what we've learned about the industry. During the conference we are so busy and running in different directions that we don't always have a chance to keep up with each other, so this is a good chance to do that. Oh, and the food is always excellent. Tonight was no exception. I can't remember the name of the place, but it was on Dauphine street, about 3 blocks in. Good food, good company, good year at SBL.

Here's some pictures of the booth:

Gina, getting ready for the day

A view of the new release tables

Your friendly Eisenbrauns staff (from right to left: Dave, Marti, Gina, yours truly) (Merna is taking the picture)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SBL days 1 & 2

Boy, these last two days have been a bit of a blur. The first day started out a bit slow until people found us. We are in a side room this year, off the main hall. The signage could be better, but people have found us—and bought books.

We have a lot of new books this year, and are almost sold out of A Manual of Ugaritic; there aren't a lot of A Syriac Lexicon left, either. We're totally out of The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought. It seems I never bring enough of some titles, and too many of others. If only I could read the minds of our customers and bring all the right books!

Saturday night I made it to a few receptions: the SPS/WTS, Augsburg/Fortress, and de Gruyter. Tonight (Sunday), I managed to find a bit of floor space to hear N.T. Wright speak. After the question and answer section, two of us stood around and talked theology for about an hour before I headed off to the Brill reception. Now, I'm ready for sleep...tomorrow comes early.

Speaking of which, the number of people in the workout room the last two days is zero. Yes, a goose egg; nada; zilch. I noticed that at a conference earlier this year; the attendance to a workout routine seems to have been one of the victims of the economic downturn. Never mind that it doesn't cost anything; the right way to assist in the economy is to stop exercising. I know, it doesn't make any sense, but that's what I have seen this year in my travels.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New backdrop

I mentioned the new backdrop for the Skyline in the last post, but neglected to post a shot of it. There are over 160,000 book covers in the image! You need to come by booth 704 and see it in person:

But it's sounds so touchy-feely...

“Christ living through you is not a feeling. It’s not an emotional experience that you pursue. Having Christ live through you is really about knowing who you are and being yourself. Since Christ is your life, your source of true fulfillment, you’ll only be content when you are expressing him. As you express him, you also express who God has made you to be.

“God doesn’t override us. However, God hasn’t left us to our own devices to cope with life and be godly. Either of these extremes can harm our understanding of the gospel. God wants us to know that his Son works in us, through us, and alongside us since we’re spiritually joined to him. Having Christ live through us begins with knowing that his life resides in us.

“In all of this, we’re talking about a knowing, not a feeling.”—The Naked Gospel, page 194

<idle musing>
We were discussing this concept of Christ in us with some friends once. The comment was that it sounded like you do whatever you feel like, it's too "touchy-feely" and not rational enough. But, as Farley points out, that's not true.
</idle musing>

SBL day -1

Today was a bit busy. I spent a good deal of it running back and forth between ASOR, ETS, and SBL. By the end of the day, I really needed a shower :)

We have 6 booths at SBL this year and have rearranged our floor plan to give us more space for books. I think you'll like it. We also have a new back drop behind our checkout this year. I posted a picture of it below. It contains over 160,000 book covers; Andy had to split it into 5 different files to keep his computer from crashing.

Setup went amazingly well, considering that at first there were only two of us instead of the normal four. Marti was stuck in Indianapolis overnight because of the FAA computer screw-up; Dave was tending ETS so I could do SBL setup. That left Gina and me. I don't know why, but it seemed to go faster this year. By the time Marti rolled in a little after 10 (she had a 6:00 AM flight!), we already had the backdrapes up, the tables draped, the posters up, and we were ready to work on books and the Skyline. I had already made one trip to ASOR for stuff we needed and had transferred some stock from ASOR to ETS as well—I was sure loving that the three conferences are only 2 blocks apart this year!

By 2:00, Jim had delivered all the ASOR stock and was helping Dave inventory and box the ETS produce. When Jim had to leave for a meeting around 3:00, I took over. We were completely done with setup by a little after 4:00—an amazing accomplishment! If we hadn't needed to inventory and move the ETS stuff, we would have been done even earlier. I don't know what was happening, but I sure am thankful!

Here's some pictures of the setup:

Gina, putting together book risers

David Orton of Deo (we distribute Deo in North America)

Gina and Marti setting up the rest of the Skyline display

Putting the finishing touches on the Carta posters

Thursday, November 19, 2009

ETS day 2

Busy day, not for sales, which were a bit less than yesterday, but for interaction with people. Really, that's why we do conferences; sales are nice because they pay for the conference, but the real reason we do them is so we can interact with people. I can't even begin to remember all that stopped by, so I won't even start (I know, a cop-out).

I managed to get around to a few other vendor's booths today. There's some good stuff out there. I grabbed a copy of The Faith of Jesus Christ: at the Hendrickson booth. It was just published, even though our website says January. It looks very good; I can't wait to read it. While at the Hendrickson booth, I got a copy of another Michael Bird book, also just published: Crossing Over Sea and Land:. Good reading ahead!

Well, tomorrow I head over to SBL right across the street for setup. The FAA mess this AM really has caused problems for us. Marti got stuck in Indianapolis until 6 AM tomorrow. At least Gina got out; she just arrived about an hour ago. If Dave hadn't come yesterday, it would be a real mess; Dave will man the ETS booth while Gina and I do setup and pray that Marti gets in on time!

OK, time for dinner. I'm getting hungry.

Just live, will ya...

“It’s frustrating to operate under a counterfeit belief system and not know why it fails you. I know, because I’ve been there. But the message of “Christ in you” is the real thing — the word of God in its fullness.

“Today’s alternative is a message that’s an inaccurate part of the whole. All around us, we’re inundated with a lackluster gospel that advocates partial forgiveness, a pressure-filled motivation for behavior change, and the promise of earned rewards in heaven or a cash return while on earth. This counterfeit is the reason that the church sometimes doesn’t appear much different from the world. It’s time for us to start over, if necessary, and seek the real thing.

“Jesus Christ in us as our resource for everyday life is our only hope for any real change.”—The Naked Gospel, page 192

“Of course, sometimes we still turn dependency on the indwelling Christ into an opportunity to self-examine and introspect. And this isn’t any better than any other religious move: 'Am I abiding? What do I need to do to abide better?'

“The term abide, I’ve noticed, is often used by those who seek something to do in order to maintain the reality of Christ living through them. The word abide simply means “to live,” and Christ already lives in Christians! Some have made it out to be something beyond what Jesus intended it to be. Christ abiding in us is a truth, not a command for us to keep up our end of some bargain. Of course there are moment-by-moment choices to walk by faith, but the religion of “I must get Christ to abide in me” is a self-focus that is not the intention of the New.”—The Naked Gospel, page 193

Yep, he's right

Who? Why David Ker, of course:

...since Americans don’t really believe the Bible, oh, they say they do, but they don’t lay hands on the sick or cast out demons or any of that other stuff that Jesus was always telling his disciples to do, so they get these weird peripheral applications out of Bible texts.

<idle musing>
Read the whole thing for the context, otherwise you will miss the whole point. He isn't talking about charismata, he is talking about worldview. And, he's right.
</idle musing>

What is in that box?

We are staying at the Hampton Inn in New Orleans. It's about 3 blocks from the conferences and about a block from Bourbon Street. As many of you know, I judge a hotel on two things: the exercise room and the breakfast they offer. Well, this hotel has an adequate exercise room: two treadmills, two ellipticals, and one stationary recumbent bicycle; it also has free weights, if you're into that kind of thing.

The breakfast is sorta ok. The eggs are powdered, the potatoes are reconstituted—fairly typical hotel fair. They do have fresh fruit, bagels, yogurt, juice, etc. So, you can get a decent breakfast; it's just that the hot part is disgusting :(

But, that is all an aside from the point of this post. For the last two mornings, as is my wont, I went up to the exercise room at about 6:00 AM for my morning 1/2 hour of cycling. Both mornings, there was another gentleman there before me. Yesterday he was finishing up his run on the treadmill, after which he went over to the weight machine. Only, he didn't do anything except sit there with his eyes glued to a box that was elevated about 6 feet off the floor. He sat that way, as if transfixed, for about 20 minutes, occasionally lifting a few weights. Then, he suddenly got up, as if released from a trance, and left the room.

This morning, he was already done with the treadmill and was sitting by the weight machine already. Again, he was sitting, as if spellbound, looking at that same box, elevated about 6 feet above the ground. And, just like yesterday, after about 20 minutes he suddenly got up and left the room.

This box has noise coming out of it, and characters that look like people moving around on it. I think some people call it a television. So, what is in that box that kept him so mesmerized?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


“If we approach the Christian life in a mechanical way, trying to imitate the actions of Jesus in the gospels, we’ll inevitably fail. The “What would Jesus do?” philosophy is not the same as the “Christ in you” approach. We’re called to look within, to discover the life that is instinctive to us as new creations, and to live from that life. Imitating the actions of others, even the Jesus of the gospels, is nothing but a shallow, mechanical act that is not reliable under pressure.”—The Naked Gospel, pages 190-191

<idle musing>
Live what you already are in Christ. Don't wait for death to experience the rest of God.
</idle musing>

ETS day one

We got into New Orleans yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon. Setup for ETS started at 5:00 PM, so Jim and I headed over to the Sheraton to set up. I brought too many books to use all my nice bookstands and risers—as usual. So, after setting up all the risers and putting out bookstands, I had to tear them all down again. Lost about 1.5 hours on that...

We had sent a backup shipment of newly published books to the hotel, so I had to run back and forth with a two-wheeler from one hotel to the other. It was a beautiful night, so that wasn't too burdensome. But, UPS managed to misplace 3 boxes. Unfortunately those boxes contained Siphrut 1 & (A Severe Mercy and Chosen and Unchosen). Not a good thing :(

The day started out slow, but got busier as it went on. In the end, we had a good day actually selling out of a few titles. Here's a picture or two:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

and they're off!

At least some of us are, anyway. Jim, Merna, and I are on our way to New Orleans. In fact, as you read this (due to the power of scheduled posts), we are somewhere between Indianapolis and Atlanta. The rest of the gang who will be there for SBL are leaving either Wednesday or Thursday.

I am attending ETS; Jim and Merna are taking care of ASOR. So, if you are attending either one of those, come by and see us. We won't even make you buy a book! But, I bet you will; we have some great titles this year and, as always, some great deals. I will be posting pictures tomorrow, as well as commentary on the conferences.


“'To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain' (Philippians 1:21).

“Notice that the apostle doesn’t say that Christ is important to him. He says that “to live is Christ.” Paul is not trying to give Christ a proper place among other things. Instead, he is recognizing the fact that Christ is everything to him. We may nod our heads in agreement, saying, “Yes, Christ is everything to me.” But do we grasp the truth that Christ resides just beneath our humanity? That he is actually fused to our own person? Here Paul captures our attention with some radical statements:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

“Paul claims that he participated in a crucifixion of sorts, and as a result Christ now lives in him. Many people make this claim out to be either symbolic if true or insane and untrue. But to claim anything short of this is to adopt a partial gospel. The very core of the New is that through Christ we receive what we lost through Adam, namely, the literal presence of the divine.

“This is real Christianity. A promise of heaven is not restoration of life. Studying a book written by God himself is still not restoration of life. Attending weekly gatherings in a building is not restoration of life. Even changing one’s behavior in dramatic ways is not restoration of life. Of course, these things may result from restoration of life. But they’re certainly not the means to life, nor are they a confirmation of the experience of life. Restoration of life occurs when God himself, through the person of Christ, resides within us.

“Anything short of this is weak religiosity.”—The Naked Gospel, page 189

<idle musing>
Yes! Real-life Christianity today! Not just in the future, but now! Life that is alive and moment-by-moment dependence on Christ via the Holy Spirit. No more partial gospel (Debbie calls it a decapitated gospel), but full restoration in Christ.
</idle musing>

Monday, November 16, 2009


As you probably have guessed by now if you follow this blog much, I enjoy experimenting in baking. This weekend was no exception, with various experiments that failed spectacularly or turned out nicely.

I am always trying to get more whole grains into my baked goods, so back in January I tried substituting whole wheat flour for the unbleached flour in cornbread. It was a failure; the taste of the whole wheat overpowered the cornmeal—yes, this is about successes, hold on :) Well, Saturday, I decided to try dark rye flour instead of unbleached flour. It looked pretty strange going into the pan; it was very dark and almost playdough™-ish in texture. I wasn't too hopeful...25 minutes later, out comes this nicely dark, slightly risen pan of batter bread. I put the knife in to cut it, pulled out a piece, letting it cool for a few seconds before tasting it. Hey! It was pretty good; in fact it was so good that I'm going to make it that way all the time. Well, for visitors I might make it with unbleached flour so they don't freak out at the dark color :)

Second experiment: I thought that since that turned out, maybe I could go with a rye only rye bread. I know, there isn't much gluten in rye flour, almost none, in fact. But, maybe...well, I should have stopped at the kneading stage. It had a very strange texture and didn't get springy at all. But, hey, what have I got to lose? I let it rise, and rise, and rise. Right, it didn't! Oh well, maybe it will still make a loaf that is edible. So, I formed the loaf and let it rise, only it didn't. That's all right, I'll bake it anyway. It might make a nice solid loaf, sort of like a cracker. Thirty-five minutes later, not done. Let's give it another 10 minutes. OK, the edges are starting to burn, better take it out. This, my dear reader, was a complete flop. It is finding its way into the compost pile.

Somewhat discouraged, but not to be deterred, I decided to use whole wheat flour instead of the unbleached flour in the rye bread. Hmm, it feels more normal as I knead it. It actually rose, although not as much as normal. It formed a nice loaf, and then rose again. Thirty-five minutes later and I had a very nice, although dense, loaf of rye bread. Ah, but will it taste like rye bread? Nope! It tasted like whole wheat bread. But wait! As it cooled, it began to taste like rye bread. Maybe there's hope...sure enough. Once it was cool it tasted like rye bread, just very dark. Success! But a few hours much fiber is in that monster? Too much! Intestinal problems...I don't think I'll try that one again!

Oh, did I mention that I had just eaten whole wheat waffles an hour before the rye bread? Maybe it isn't the rye bread alone...

Hippo hunting?

David Ker has been musing this month on his life as a missionary. Very honest, but with a good sense of humor. If you have been missing the fun up until today, you can catch-up by going here. It is definitely worth your time.

The advantages of being chosen

Somehow this missed being posted last week, so enjoy it today, instead:

“To be sure, there are benefits to being specially loved and blessed by God, yet it becomes clear throughout the biblical story that the people of Israel are often less than excited about their special relationship to YHWH. They are led into a wilderness, encounter lack of water and food, and often complain that it was better to be slaves under Pharaoh. While we might be quick to condemn Israel in this, it may also be instructive simply to allow the story to communicate what it does. Israel did not find it being a possession of YHWH particularly easy or advantageous. By and large, the people of Israel do not seem to recognize the gift that YHWH is giving to them because their life now has very high expectations...Life would probably be easier without such obligations. To maintain otherwise reads against the thrust of the story as the Bible presents it.”—Chosen and Unchosen, page 173

<idle musing>
Sounds only too familiar, doesn't it? As long as we think we have to maintain the obligations, it is way too difficult.
</idle musing>

Friday, November 13, 2009

Performance-based faith

“The message of “Jesus plus nothing” from start to finish is often too humbling for us to swallow. Instead, we opt for performance hoops to jump through in order to impress God. Sure, we trust him alone for salvation and a place in heaven. But when it comes to daily living, it’s difficult to fathom that he wants to be our resource and carry the load.

“Growth doesn’t happen by trying harder. It doesn’t occur by a “two steps forward and one step back” approach. Genuine growth occurs as we absorb truth about who we already are and what we already possess in Christ.

“Believers shouldn’t passively sit around waiting to receive something new — more cleansing, more of the Holy Spirit, or more of whatever popular teaching says is lacking in us. We have everything we need for a godly life. We have an unshakable kingdom, an eternal covenant, and every spiritual blessing. We are complete and lack nothing. The only logical response is to spend our lives reminding each other of these extraordinary truths and giving thanks to our God.

“Requesting and possessing are polar opposites. Once a person is in Christ, they are a possessor, not a requester. We see this point illustrated in the Lord’s Supper. We shouldn’t participate in this celebration in order to obtain something. Instead, we are to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus Christ. Just as this celebration is based solely on the work of Christ, we should conduct all of our business in the light of what he has already done.

“To thank God for every spiritual blessing and then to ask him for more patience, for example, is to ignore Christ within us. Isn’t patience part of what we need for a godly life? Do we have all the patience we need already implanted within us or don’t we? Through the Scriptures, God answers this question with a resounding yes. Because we possess Christ himself, and since Christ is not lacking in patience, we already have all we need.”—The Naked Gospel, pages 187-188

<idle musing>
</idle musing>

Review of Chosen and Unchosen

Chosen and Unchosen

Chosen and Unchosen
Conceptions of Election in the Pentateuch and Jewish-Christian Interpretation
Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures 2
by Joel N. Lohr
Eisenbrauns, 2009
xviii + 254 pages, English
Cloth, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 9781575061719
List Price: $39.50
Your Price: $35.55

Chosen and Unchosen is the second book in the new Eisenbrauns series Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures. The book is a revision of Lohr's doctoral dissertation, but it doesn't suffer from dissertationitis—the tendency to footnote every other word and repeat the same thing 27 times. Indeed, it is a good read, although slow going at times because of the content.

The book is divided into two sections: section one (about 1/3 of the book) is devoted to an overview of Christian and Jewish work on election in the last 50 years. The second section is a close reading of four sections of the Pentateuch where the chosen encounter the unchosen. Lohr chose the Abimelech/Abraham story, Pharaoh's daughter, Balaam, and Deuteronomy 4, 7, and 10, which features the herem, or ban.

The section on Pharaoh's daughter saving Moses is a textbook example of what a close reading should look like. Lohr picks up details that most interpreters miss; the story is richer after reading Lohr's exposition.

Balaam has suffered some bad press in the history of interpretation, including inner-biblical interpretation. Lohr seeks to read the Numbers account of Balaam on it's own terms, ignoring the later interpretation as much as possible. The result is a prophet who knew and feared God; a prophet who dared to stand up against a king and bless Israel when he had every reason not to. If we did not know the later history of Balaam, how he ended up betraying Israel into sin, we would never guess that he would die the death he did at the hands of Israel. I would say that this is the strongest section of the book and worth the cost of the book by itself. I will never read the Balaam story in Numbers the same.

Turning to Deuteronomy, Lohr confronts the issue of herem head-on. While you have to admire someone who is willing to take on the challenge of explaining herem (the ban) and trying to understand it, it still is less than satisfying. Despite an excursus and an appendix, I felt like he could have said more. Lohr himself admits that herem makes no sense to the modern mind. In my opinion, this is the weakest chapter. I would like to have seen him develop Deuteronomy 10 further, with the stranger dwelling among Israel and how that affects the unchosen theme. But, in the introduction he said this was but a first step in exploring the ramifications of being chosen and unchosen. As a first step, it is admirable.

On the whole, this book is well worth reading, especially the chapters on Pharaoh's daughter and Balaam. The weakest chapter, Deuteronomy, perhaps couldn't have been written any other way; there is just too much happening in Deuteronomy 10 to easily distill it down. Indeed, whole books have been written, and even they fail to do it justice.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Raised with Christ

“The Bible talks about considering ourselves dead to sin and realizing that God has raised us up and seated us with him (Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:6). In light of these truths about our nature, we’re told to not let sin reign and to set our minds on things above (Romans 6:12; Colossians 3:2). This is not nurture talk; this is nature talk!

“Too often, I see the church today functioning like any other morality-focused social group. It’s time for us to wake up and realize that being born of the Spirit means we possess an amazing life within us. Because we’re already different on the inside, we can live differently on the outside.”—The Naked Gospel, page 186

<idle musing>
Yep. Dead, buried, raised, seated. I like that.
</idle musing>


“Balaam, a foreign prophet, clearly knew the God of Israel, and the text reveals no discomfort with such an idea. Perhaps this is instructive for contemporary life when one encounters people outside the 'chosen'—outside one's community of faith.”—Chosen and Unchosen , page 199

<idle musing>
Interesting thought, isn't it? "The text" can be dangerous to our preconceptions, can't it?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slaves to whom?

“The Israelites are not 'freed' in the exodus, but in a sense, simply change ownership: they become 'slaves of God.'”—Chosen and Unchosen, page 76

<idle musing>
I think this is something we forget; Paul talks about the same thing in the New Testament. We are not our own; we were bought with a price.

Americans don't like that kind of talk! We're "the land of the free" after all! to sin; free to be moody and mean; free to gossip and talk behind each others backs. Oops, that isn't sin anymore; we've defined it away—of course, that also means we don't need repentance anymore, nor a savior. Kinda lonely out there, isn't it, being your own savior and all?
</idle musing>

Rewards or relationship?

“Sometimes we attempt to live a godly life in the hope of earning rewards in heaven. But it’s very difficult, if not totally unrealistic, to live for something far off in the future. Although the idea of living to earn future rewards might sound practical from a natural perspective, it’s simply not rooted in God’s Word. The motivation for daily living within the New Testament centers around acting like the person you truly are and benefiting from Christ’s life in the here and now.

“Paul urges believers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1). In Romans, he highlights the teaching that there’s no benefit to sin and that the outcome of those things is death (Romans 6:21 – 23). At no time are we told to live an upright life in order to garner a more righteous standing or to collect prizes in heaven. Quite the opposite! We’re urged to grasp an important spiritual truth: when we come to Jesus Christ, we receive his life. Through our expression of him, we find fulfillment.”—The Naked Gospel, page 182

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


“...motivating much of the contemporary discussion and the underlying phobia of God's particularism in choosing Israel is a fundamental assumption that universalism is inherently good, while particularism is inferior, deficient, or just plain bad...the modern preference for universalism as well as the widespread belief that universalistic texts are somehow superior to others is the result not of biblical teaching but of Enlightenment ideals, particularly in the writings of Kant.”—Chosen and Unchosen, page 34

<idle musing>
Hmmm...something to think about, isn't it? How much of our interpretation is based on modernist (and post-modernist), Aristotelian logic? Too much, I wager.
</idle musing>

Monday, November 09, 2009

Chosen and Unchosen

“The basic premise that election entails nonelection is undoubtedly true. Difficulty arises when adding additional premises. Clines [in The Bible and the Modern World, pages 100-101] seems to add the premise that being unchosen means experiencing the opposite of God's love or election; namely rejection, humiliation, destruction or being beyond the pale of God's workings. The problem with models of this sort, I think, is that often the focus is on biblical examples that are easy to assemble and then to criticize...the result is a picture of God that resembles more a devil than a deity, a God who shows love to his people while slaughtering others, simply because they are not elected.”—Chosen and Unchosen, page x

<idle musing>
I will be excerpting from Chosen and Unchosen this week and then post a brief (maybe!) review at the end.
</idle musing>

Review of ZIBBCOT

I recently received a set of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament from Zondervan via Emily Varner (thanks Emily!). First off, let me say that I can't begin to do this set justice in a short (or long!) post. When they say illustrated, they mean illustrated. I don't think I have found a two page spread that doesn't have at least one photo, map, or drawing on it—and they are relevant to the text's discussion, not just filler. (OK, I just did: the endnotes don't have any pictures.) On some pages, the photos take up over half the spread; it's a feast for the eyes. And, they even have a picture index, topical at that! Oh my, the picture index also includes an index of texts, sorted by region of origin. Did you know that they even include the Tel Zayit abecedary? This is definitely up-to-date.

The first thing I do when I get something like this is check the abbreviations section. That alone tells you a whole lot about what you will find in the text. The abbreviation section is 9 pages long, and covers just about every major journal and reference work in the field, not just English ones, either. Next, I checked the bibliography, or rather, bibliographies. There is a general bibliography, and each biblical book has an annotated bibliography at the end, before the endnotes for that section.

Having been thoroughly encouraged by what I found so far, I began looking over the individual sections. There is a main text, but also sidebars and charts. The sidebars highlight items in the main text that may need a bit more explanation or are translations of ANE texts that relate; they have their own set of endnotes. The main text follows a traditional commentary approach in that there are section headings with verse numbers. The difference is that, unlike a traditional commentary, the notes relate to cultural background—this is a Bible backgrounds commentary, after all :)

I have looked through Genesis quite closely, and some sections of Jeremiah. I have to say that this commentary is high quality. The contributors are first-rate scholars, and the sections they were assigned play to their strengths. For example, Leviticus is done by Roy Gane; if you can't get Milgrom (and he's Jewish, so you can't!), then the next best person is Gane. In fact, I think Gane is right in his correction of Milgrom's atonement theology.

While the commentary is unabashedly conservative Evangelical, it presents multiple sides to issues in a fair and balanced manner. The authors make their preferences known, but do so in a way that doesn't demean the other opinions—a definite plus, in my book.

So, what don't I like about the set? Basically, one thing. Endnotes. With modern typesetting/prepress software, there is no reason that endnotes should exist. I understand that in a work like this, which is aimed at multiple markets, the scholar and the interested lay person, that footnotes could be distracting. But, don't you think that people could ignore them if they don't want to read them? I hate having to keep a marker at the end of a book to flip back and forth all the time. Usually, what I do in a case like this is pre-read the endnotes; it isn't great, but at least I know when I hit a note what it is about. (Yes, I pre-read endnotes; I read dictionaries of the fun of it. I even read grammars of dead languages as a recreational activity! There's no hope for me...)

This is definitely a set worth owning if you are interested in the ancient Near East and how it intersects the biblical world. John Walton and all the contributors should be proud of the results. Now, excuse me, I'm going to go read some more in it...

Update, November 10: After an exchange of e-mails with John Walton, I have to agree with Zondervan's decision to go with endnotes. John's argument was that if they had used footnotes, on some pages over half would be notes. This would result in people being intimidated by it; they would think it was written strictly for a scholarly audience when it isn't. Consequently, they would put the book back on the shelf and walk away.

It's too bad this is true, but it is. As a marketer, I understand. As a (wanna be) scholar, it bothers me. But, the book is eminently readable and deserves to be read and used. I would have made the same decision, although reluctantly.