writing things down…

Archive for December, 2006

Hello, Beautiful Theology

AKMA has started “A site for discussing the relation of meaning, images, sounds, and words to theological discourse.”  It’s called Beautiful Theology.  Head over and join in on the discussion about Magritte and Tuftes.

Wright on an Ephesians view of God’s purpose

Apparently there is something afoot among evangelicals in the Church of England. Read the full text of a “covenant” presented to Archbishop Williams here (rtf download). Read N. T. Wright’s rather pointed response, Fulcrum: A Confused ‘Covenant’. By in large, I tend to gravitate toward Wright’s position on many things. On this particular issue, I am no different. But, I am making this post not so much to comment on the brewing controversy, rather I was struck by the following sentences in Wright’s response. They speak to a major theme of Ephesians. Since I am keenly attuned to Ephesians-related things at the moment. I present the text here for your reflection.

Equally worrying is the resolute opening statement of individualism, couched in classic evangelical-modernist terms: ‘individuals’ coming into a ‘relationship’ with God. Let’s be clear: of course each person must answer for themselves, must come to personal faith. But that (especially when reduced to the shabby 60s language of ‘relationship’) is not the centre, or the full width, of the biblical gospel. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; God’s purpose was to sum up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. The challenge to each person comes, as Ephesians makes clear, within that larger framework. And when the authors write that the love and grace of God in the gospel ‘draws members into the Body of Christ’, the teacher feels his red pen jumping out of his pocket at the slapdash writing: are they already members of the Body before they are drawn into it? Surely they mean ‘draws people into membership of the Body of Christ’…and what is this ‘Body’, anyway? Wait and see, is the authors’ answer: it turns out to be not the church as envisaged within classic Anglicanism or indeed classic Pauline theology, but the free agglomeration of a bunch of individuals.

Quote of the Week

“[T]heology and ecclesiology should drive scriptural hermeneutics, not the other way around.”

Stephen Fowl, “The Importance of a Multivoiced Literal Sense of Scripture: The Example of Thomas Aquinas,” in Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), pp. 35-50 (37).

The Ultimate Rejection Letter

A friend sent me the following letter (I’ve modified the names and such):

Sari B. No
Chair – Search Committee
123A Lofty Tower, Selective University
College Hill, CA 94109

Dear Professor No,

Thank you for your letter of December 16. After careful consideration, I
regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me
an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually
large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field
of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Selective’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in
rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at
this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor
in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

Will Knott

Checking in

I don’t anticipate blogging much for the next few weeks.  Here’s why…

  1. Stacks of papers to grade by January 8
  2. Two book reviews to complete by the end of February
  3. Syllabus to revise by January 1
  4. Family to visit from December 23-31
  5. Other things to do all the time

I’m looking forward to #’s 4 & 5.  I’ll share on all of these things as time allows.

Quote of the Week

” A hermeneutic that respects the full catholicity of meaning needs to start by accepting abundance as a positive condition.”

A.K.M. Adam, “Poaching on Zion: Biblical Theology as Signifying Practice,” in Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), pp. 17-34 (25).

New Book: A Hermeneutic and Model for Teaching Ephesians?

Another Chris mentioned a book the other day in his blog that caught my attention. I followed his link to copies of the Preface and first chapter. After reading most of the Preface I headed over to the bookstore and picked up a copy of Colossians Remixed: Subverting Empire by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat.

I look forward to reading Chris’ reflections in future posts. He stated that he would likely have more in-depth posts later. I will not tread into his territory here then. But, I do want to note a few things that I picked up in the early pages that give me hope for developing a way to approach Ephesians with my class in the Spring.

The authors state their intention: “The epistle to the Colossians, we are arguing, was an explosive and subversive tract in the context of the Roman empire , and it can and ought to function in an analogous way in the imperial realities of our time.” (7) Thus, they characterize their book as an “anti-commentary”. They note three ways in which the book is an “anti-commentary”: 1) it lacks the typical technical apparatus; 2) it is not written for pastors and scholars; and 3) it asks a different question. On this last point, the authors state, “Ours is a cultural, political, social and ecological reading of this text because these are the kinds of questions that our friends and our students ask.” (8, emphasis added) In a sense, the authors are probing the “so what” questions. For instance, “if it is true that Christ is the Creator and Redeemer of ‘all things’ as the Colossian poem so eloquently puts it, then what might be the implications of such a breathtakingly comprehensive worldview for our ecological, political and economic lives?” [NB: A similar question for students of Ephesians would be something like, “What are the political, social, economic and ecological implications of ‘all things being gathered up (anakephalaisasthai) in Christ’?” Fortunately, as we will see, we get part of the answer in the second half of Ephesians.]

I wonder if these are the sorts of questions I should be helping my students to formulate and answer. I think it would need to be a two part lesson. We do not teach students to ask these sorts of questions, though I sense that they are lying beneath the surface for most of seminarians because they are breaking the surface for the people in the world to whom the seminarians are or will be ministering. But, the question also assumes the students are reading the text closely enough to understand the eloquence of such things as “a breathtakingly comprehensive worldview”. So while part of the lesson would be formulation of questions, it would also be development of skills and habits of careful reading of texts. How else can we begin to understand just how breathtakingly comprehensive the worldview of Colossians is without resorting to careful readings of the text and the contexts of the text?

The authors seem to have these sorts of things in mind in the first part of their book where they consider our context (the formulation of questions?) and the context of Colossians (getting a sense of the worldview?). Part two leads the readers into the complex conversations about truth. Part three moves the readers into serious reflections about praxis in light of the previous parts on contexts and truth.

I am more interested in the hermeneutic approach than I am the conclusions reached. Echoing the authors, I note, while an exploration of the authorship issues of Ephesians is fascinating, it is simply not a question most people are asking. And frankly it is not a question they need to ask, at least at first.

Has Paul been discovered?

This ought to give us a new perspective on Paul.

Remains of St. Paul may have been found : Religion News Blog

Ephesians 1:3-14: Setting the stage

The long expansion following “Blessed be God” is unlike any other Pauline letter except for maybe 2 Cor., which expands the “Blessed be God” line with a relative clause (see also 1 Peter, which opens more like Ephesians than does any other NT epistle). Indeed, Eph., 2 Cor. and 1 Pet. are the only occurrences of Eulogetos ho theos in the NT. But, like most epistles, many themes of the letter are found in the first few verses.

Some of the major themes introduced in Eph. 1:3-14 include the following:

  1. God’s blessings/grace/good pleasure
  2. God’s (s)election/deciding beforehand/will/plan/purpose
  3. Readers to be holy/blameless/to the praise of God’s glory and grace
  4. All of these themes are accomplished/known/lived through/gathered up in/in Christ.

On this last theme, note the following:

  • en Christo and other en phrases obviously referring to Christos (at least 11 times)
  • adoption dia Iesou Christou
  • God’s plan to bring/gather up (anakephalaiosasthai is more loaded than these English words can be) all things in Christ.

And therefore, on the last note, we can discern a very weighty theme indeed, namely unity in Christ – all things are under Christ’s headship (that kephalaios root was purposeful).

These themes are indeed broad. There is very little specific context one can discern from even the closest mirrored reading and most speculative reconstructions. So while the themes are broad and the context general, the resulting message is pointed.

5 Things I learned while teaching Exegetical Method for the first time

1. Students need clear instruction to use and clear guidelines for bibliographic format.

This was a hard lesson to learn and one I am still resisting. It bothers me that students in graduate school do not know how to cite sources properly. And, more bothersome is the fact that students will assume they do not have to cite sources unless I tell them explicitly to do so. I want to be able to give students the freedom to use different bibliographic styles (e.g., MLA, Chicago, APA) for two reasons. First, I am assuming they have come to seminary with training in a field or discipline that has its preferred style. I do not see a need to have the students learn yet another model. Plus, and secondly, I realize that, should they venture into the world of publishing, they will encounter several different styles. I see no need to impose on them a particular style now. I’ve learned though that many of the students are not familiar with a style and therefore they welcome even need me to tell them what style to follow. I’ve also accepted that for those who do want to publish imposing a style on them is more “real-world”. Still, the most worrisome issue is that I have to tell them when to use a style at all. In other words, I have to be very explicit and tell them to cite sources, even on short papers. I was taken aback when I received 4-6 page papers on a handful of different critical methods and many students had not cited their sources. I am not even talking about using proper format. I mean, they did not cite at all. Some included a bibliography at the end, but some included nothing. I blame myself somewhat. I described these exercises as general introductions. I wanted them to provide a brief overview, description and analysis of things like rhetorical criticism and ideological criticism. I did not cast the assignment as an in-depth research project. But, I had no idea that some of the students would take that to mean they were not responsible for citing sources. So, I’ve learned to place in my syllabus the very explicit line “You must cite sources on all assignments in which sources are used.”

2. Students need, and really ought to have, a clear grading template.

This one is on me. All of the assignments in the class are writing assignments. Therefore, much of the grading is subjective. I should provide some idea of how much weight I am giving to different parts of the writing assignments. I learned this when a student who had not cited sources (see above) was upset by the number of points I deducted for the faux paus. My initial reaction was along the lines of what I discussed above. I was astonished that the student thought citing sources was not necessary. I could have failed the paper since it officially violated plagiarism policies. However, I realized that this was not an isolated issue and I would have been failing several papers. I also realized that I could have avoided the confrontation had I spelled out more clearly the weightiness of stylistic concerns.  I now have grading rubrics for the larger assignments.

3. Students like to read the Greek text.

It seemed to me that the classes students enjoyed most were those in which we spent the majority of the time reading Greek.  See more below.

4. I feel better when I am prepared.

Duh.  I was prepared for every class.  But, there were some classes for which I was more prepared.  Those classes seemed to go a lot better.  I also learned though that classes seemed to be more productive when time was spent doing stuff with Greek texts rather than describing methods.  Descriptions of methods are easily found in their textbooks.  We can certainly take some time to go over these things in class, but the students were more responsive when we dealt with the text and let the methods come to light as we engage the passages.  What this means for me is a different sort of preparation.  Rather than being able to re-explain the method, which I will need to do, I must have a firm grasp of the texts under consideration.  This is more difficult prep for me, to be honest.  I am more comfortable talking about interpretive methods and hermeneutical conundrums.  But these sorts of discussions are less helpful than actual engagement with biblical text.  Of course methods and hermeneutical perspectives come clearer in engagement with texts and so we ought to be aware of these things as well.  Still, I learned this quarter to be prepared for more engagements with biblical texts.

5. Students want a clear structure for the exegesis paper.

I am not sure how far to go on this.  Part of me wants to provide general guidelines and let them develop their own structure.  Another part of me understands that for some a lot of the anxiety of writing is developing a structure.  What should go where?  I think I will offer some structural suggestions and leave it at that.

In the end I learned that on things stylistic and structural students are coming to the class less prepared than I imagined.  I also learned that students hove more of an enthusiasm for engaging biblical texts than I dreamed.  And, finally I learned that I am always learning better the material itself, but more importantly how to teach.