I have tried to commit to reading the entire 664 pages of the Festschrift for Richard Hays entitled The Word Leaps the Gap (Eerdmans, 2008; eds. J.R. Wagner, C.K. Rowe and A.K. Grieb). Truth be told, I just can’t get through it. The volume boasts a whopping 32 chapters and world-reknowned contributors such as N.T. Wright, Jimmy Dunn, Beverly Gaventa, Markus Bockmuehl, Joel Marcus, Luke T. Johnson, and many more. There are certainly attractive features here that make any NT researcher drool. But, the drawback is information overload. Clearly the title of the volume aims at Hays’ ongoing interest in literary criticism (esp. intertextuality) and hermenuetics (and ethics?). But, in terms of scope in this volume, the sky appears to be the limit. Only a handful of essays seem like a reflection on and expansion of Hays’ actual work or specific interests. Therefore, I will focus (briefly) on some of the essays that are very close to Hays’ life projects.
I have posted before on Hauerwas’ self-reflective essay ‘Why “The Way the Words Run” Matters: Reflections on Becoming a “Major Biblical Scholar”‘ (ch 1). This is a helpful discussion because it demontrates how the diving walls between theologians and biblical scholars are coming down, but also reveals how the two groups are still having trouble dialoguing. I was not convinced by Hauerwas’ personal defense and repudiation of the historical-critical method, but it is equally interesting how Hays is set up as a traditionalist when he now is accused by Biblical scholars of denying a one-meaning-for-every-text-as-determined-by-the-original-author approach (which is no secret in Hays’ work).
Joel Green’s ‘”In Our Own Language”: Pentecost, Babel, and the Shaping of Christian Community in Acts 2:1-13′ is also a highly profitable piece, though Hays has not really done much on Acts. But, in terms of intertextuality and biblical theology, Green makes some compelling arguments for how Pentecost does point to a certain kind of unity among humanity, but not in the way that scholars and preachers have assumed (vis-a-vis the so-called ‘reversal’ of the confusion of language as Babel). This is, in some ways, a politically-driven essays (which seems to poke against imperialistic attitudes of homogenozing and totalizing rule). Both N.T. Wright and Hays, I think, would find such an approach profitable. I think that, though this was a captivating essay, reading counter-imperialism into the New Testament can be overdone.
I have also blogged about E.P. Sanders’ ‘Did Paul’s Theology Develop’ essay which also flows into Hays’ work on Paul’s theology. Many scholar-friends of mine have commented that we have not seen a substantial work from Sanders in a while. This, I think, will mollify some who have been longing for more. Sanders explains that development in theology does not mean that Paul had to be ‘wrong’ earlier in life and found his way to a more correct theology. Sanders thinks that it works more like maturity, where views were refined and honed, rather than ‘fixed’. Also, he points out how unusual it would be for such an early ‘ad-hoc’ sort of theologian (who was first and foremost an apostle) to have worked out some sort of ‘systematic’ theology. Sanders claims that Paul may be coherent without being systematic. And coherence is very worthwhile. I am sad that some of my seminary profs made me think Sanders is some kind of liberal heretic. I have enjoyed much of what I have read (in my phd seminar and in doctoral research) on Paul.
James Dunn did not shy away from raising a subject that he and Hays have gone ’round and ’round on – pistis Christou. This latest contribution by Dunn, ‘EK PISTEOS: A Key to the Meaning of PISTIS CHRISTOU’, is a small, but strong piece of evidence for the object reading. Essentially, Dunn argues that, given the pattern of how Paul tends to use pistis (as in ek pisteos), it is hard to see how one is expected to switch to another meaning for pistis christou. I don’t think it has to be that easy (as Dunn makes it seem), but Dunn has a reasonable point. I think that Hays’ subject reading is highly attractive, but more for its theology than for how the text (grammatically/syntactically/in the history of interpretation) compels the reader to see this meaning. So far, I think Francis Watson has been the one to convince me of the objective reading (see his updated Paul, Jews, and Gentiles, Eerdmans, 2007).
Markus Bockmuehl’s ‘The Conversion of Desire in St. Paul’s Hermeneutics’ also interacts quite directly with Hays work – building on (and challenging) Hays’ own common formulation ‘conversion of imagination’. Bockmuehl likes where is going with this phrase, the shaping of social reality and identity through the Word, but finds the focus on ‘imagination’ a bit anachronistic. Instead, Bockmuehl considers, just briefly, the more common interest (at least lexically) that Paul has in desire – something much discussed by ancient philosophers (whereas ‘imagination’ was not spoken of in the positive way). There is much to ponder here, though thematically I think Hays’ formulation is better.
Honorable mention should go to the essays by
Doug Campbell – picking up an ‘echo’ in Romans and exploring it.
Beverly Gaventa – looking at the Scriptural catena in Romans 3.10-18; her essay marks such eloquent prose.
John Barclay – on grace, and the manna background of 2 Cor 8.1-15. Hays interest in community is picked up by Barclay.
N.T. Wright – on faith as a virtue.
In final analysis, this was a fun book to read, but overall it was too broad in terms of the topics covered. If they limited themselves to intertextuality, ethics, and ‘theological intepretation’, it may have reined in the discussion more (or perhaps still too broad). I don’t see this every becoming a ‘must-read’ kind of book, but few Festschriften are. However, the ones for Fee (on Romans), Dunn (on the Holy Spirit), and for Larry Hurtado/Alan Segal (on christology and monotheism + a little more) are all excellent cutting edge discussions of their specific areas. This is especially helpful when a number of essays are methodologically driven (such as the FS for Hurtado) or on subjects rarely discussed in detail (such as many essays in Dunn’s FS). I am happy to own Hays’ FS, but largely because I admire Richard Hays as a biblical scholar. Indeed, I have never seen so many world-class NT scholars chomp at the bit to celebrate another scholar’s achievements and dreams. Blessings to you, Richard, as these next years take you deep into the echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. A second FS may still await you!
I have just received word that my international SBL (Rome) paper proposal has been accepted in the Paul group. My family and I are excited because my wife has never been to Italy and I haven’t visited since I was in high school.
I have dreamed about going back and taking lots of pictures and using them in NT course instruction. Also, they have some good food too….
OK, here is the abstract and title for the paper:
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT AND THE MILITARY METAPHORS OF PAUL: A CASE STUDY IN APPLYING METAPHOR THEORY TO PAULINE ETHICS
In recent scholarship on the theological foundations of Paul’s ethics, it is almost unanimously concluded that Paul was not a systematic ethicist, but rather a passionate apostle whose ambition it was to lead his churches to obey God’s will and imitate Christ. When it comes to the details of how Paul promotes these moral objectives, there is less consensus. Some scholars from social-scientific and/or literary backgrounds have found that much of Paul’s ethics is imbedded in his theological constructions. And his theology is less syllogistic and more narratival and metaphorical. Drawing from such research, especially on recent developments in conceptual metaphor theory, I consider how one particular group of Pauline metaphors, his militaristic ones, are ripe with moral implications. When such metaphors are recognized as having deep ethical potential, our own reckoning of his moral vision will become less propositional and more organic.
In the new Richard Hays FS (The Word Leaps the Gap; Eerdmans, 2009), the very first essay is by Stanley Hauerwas who defends himself against Hays’ criticism. Hays has argued that Hauerwas has a freewheeling approach to the Bible which does not seem to depend on a close reading of the text especially from a historical standpoint. Hauerwas states quite bluntly that Hays accuses him of not actually doing exegesis (though Hays never says it in this way).
Hauerwas, though somewhat sympathetic to Hays’s concerns, still admits: ‘I hope to make it clear why I do not believe a “Coherent hermeneutical position” is much help for reading the Bible’ (p. 2).
Though Hauerwas is not much of a bandwagon person, he is still representing a burgeoning attitude that is suspicion of the gains of the historical-critical method (which Hauerwas thinks that Hays still operates within). Hauerwas is particularly suspicious of the usefulness of word studies. ‘Historians will do what historians will do, and often we may learn something from them that may be of use, but I remain unconvinced that the so-called historical knowledge is a trump or even is necessary for how Scripture is to be read by the church’ (p. 9). He goes on: ‘I simply do not believe that I will learn from word studies the “meaning” of the word teleios. I do not believe that I will learn the meaning of the word teleios because I believe it is a philosophical mistake to think that the word has a [= just one] meaning’ (p. 9).
Hauerwas’ modern example is not surprising: ‘For example, if I wrote that Hays was an “asshole,” most would think I was making a very negative judgment about him. But where I come from, Texas, “asshole” is a term of endearment males use after they have scored a touchdown’ (9 fn. 20).
My criticism of Hauerwas here would be that if an exegete is doing his historical work rightly, he or she will locate the given Hauerwasian statement in its original socio-historical milieu and discover this unique insight about how Texans use the word “asshole.” So, here I think his analogy fails.
As I am nearing the completion of my doctoral research, I have been reflecting on how ‘ready’ I am to engage within the guild of NT and specifically Pauline scholars and whether my base of knowledge is mature enough and up-to-date, so to speak. It is becoming increasingly difficult to play catch-up because of the rate of scholarship output in Paul. But, one must have goals. So, I am setting my sights to complete a list of books on Paul that I think everyone should read before, during, or soon after their doctorate. You may have concerns with what I included, or you may feel that I left things out. So be it. I am not going for an exhaustive list, but a reasonable one. You will notice that I have aimed for covering a broad range of areas so as to touch upon key categories of research. I have not read every book on this list – some I have read in full, others in part, and a few I wish to work through in the next two years.
A. Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (NY: H. Holt & Co., 1931).
V.P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968).
E. Kasemann, Perspectives on Paul (London: SCM, 1971).
Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974) paperback, $12. This includes his classic essay, “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.”
E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977) paperback, $30. A landmark study.
Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth, trans. John Schulz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982).
Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) paperback, $18. A widely-acclaimed social analysis of the early Christian movement.
J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984)
Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale UP, 1989).
Abraham Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).
Morna Hooker. From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Jerome H. Neyrey, Paul, In Other Words: A Cultural Reading of His Letters (Louisville, KY: Westminster / John Knox, 1990) hardcover, $23.
Wright, N. T. The Climax of the Covenant : Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.
G.D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994).
J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997) hardcover, $40.
B. Longenecker, ed. Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment (Louisville: WJK, 2002).
J.P. Sampley, ed. Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook (Continuum 2003).
J.D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).
Horsley, Richard A., ed. Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997.
CART PULLING THE HORSE
This CMTR entry has to do with how a researcher/writer uses secondary sources. There are two ways (as well as a few others) of using quotes/resources in the formation of your thesis argumentation. Some research is referred to that demonstrates where you got your ideas and traces the origins and trajectory of your thought. This is essentially how we start our research. A second type of citation is where you are using the scholarship of others to confirm or affirm what you discovered on your own. This second kind is more about supporting your research and using a consensus-of-support sort of argument.
In your thesis, you are probably going to do both kinds of citing, because you want to show where your work comes from and also how your ideas fit together with the work of others.
The MISTAKE comes especially when you lean too heavily on the second kind (where you end up primarily using secondary sources only as confirmations that you are ‘right’). To a reader/evaluator, this can come across as proof-texting if it is done too much.
How do you avoid this? I think I have given this advice before, but make sure that you are not just looting when you research. Looting is when you only read a relevant page or two from a book you thought might be related to your research. Try to train yourself to read whole chapters, whole articles, and, if possible, whole books. For me, sometimes the best stuff (not quotes, but good solid research) is found in places you wouldn’t have guessed.
This is a preventative measure. As far as after you have written your thesis, go back through the footnotes and see what the ‘balance’ is like. There is no perfect recipe, but you can see if you are leaning too heavily on one side.
The real mistake that is made here is only using sources as pats on your back rather than foundations. That is like…letting the cart pull the horse. Not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea. The overall tendency for those who make this mistake is to be lazy by not thinking creatively about what makes for good sources as influences. Be willing to read more than just commentaries, dictionaries, and books in the ‘appropriate’ section of your library. Read books outside your discipline, but that can inform your method. Be risk-taking in making connections – your supervisor or editor or friend-who-reads-your-work-that-is-a-professional will tell you if the links are not working.
I am currently reading through the massive tome in honor of Richard Hays, The Word Leaps the Gap (Eerdmans, 2008), and I skipped ahead of many chapters to read what EP Sanders had to say about the topic ‘Did Paul’s Theology Develop?’ There is much to report here on Sanders’ many insightful thoughts in reflection on his academic journey, but overall the major thrust of the essay is to differentiate between his use of the terms unsystematic and coherent (and also to talk about what it means to grow and develop in one’s thought).
Systematic: Sanders explains his understanding of the term this way: ‘Paul’s theology would be systematic if all parts of it could be fitted into a hierarchical outline that contained several main principles, each with subdivisions that follow from the main points…Paul did not write a systematic theology, since he wrote occasional letters relating to specific issues’ (325-6).
Coherence: ‘Coherence means “clinging together.” Probably all systematic arrangements are also “coherent,” but it is possible to have coherence without hierarchical or logical arrangement. That is what I think of Paul: coherent, unsystematic, not notably inconsistent.’ (328); How Coherence works in Paul: ‘My own image of Paul’s thought is a circle containing two main principles: (1) The God of Israel is God of the whole world; he called the Jewish people, brought them out of bondage, and have them the law; but all the creation is his. (2) In recent days, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to save the whole world from the wrath to come, without regard to whether or not people are Jewish. Around the outside of this circle can be grouped diverse statements on such topics as the law and the human plight’ (328).
Obsession with Systemization: Sanders basically argues that it is an unnecessary conclusion that if Paul is unsystematic, he must be a bad theologian or apostle. This is largely because we study him as theologian, but don’t quite grasp exactly what he was trying to do with his message. We study his texts as scholars and some of us as scholars and Christians. But, we can’t help but test Paul as another scholar. Sanders thinks this is where we get off-track. I end with a very illuminating quote:
‘Paul the completely confident academic and systematic theologian — sitting at his desk, studying the Bible, working out a system, perfect and consistent in all its parts, unchanging over a period of thirty years, no matter how many new experiences he and his churches had — is an almost inhuman character, either a thinking machine or the fourth person of the Trinity’ (Sanders, 347).
Lately I have received a flurry of questions about the job market for PhD students who wish to teach in a university or seminary. Here are some questions I have received and my reflections.
HOW RECOGNIZABLE ARE THE UK SCHOOLS (OTHER THAN OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE) TO AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS THAT ARE HIRING?
If the American institution where you are applying to teach has a biblical studies department, then they have professors who hopefully stay current in the field and will recognize that Loveday Alexander taught at Sheffield, that John Barclay is at Durham and that Bruce Longenecker is/was at St. Andrews. If you are in more of a comparative religions situation at a smaller liberal arts college, that may be more of a challenge. Evangelical seminaries usually are fine with the UK schools because so many American evangelical academics study at Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and Durham.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE ON FUNDING NOW THAT THE ORS IS BEING PHASED OUT?
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR GETTING HIRED?
The challenge is that each search committee is going to be different and it depends on the overall quality of the applications. The honest-to-goodness best way to get hired is to (1) have a good PhD institution, (2) publish some , (3) teach some, (4) have impeccable recommendations, (5) do some administrative work (sitting on committees), (6) do some paper presenting, (7) keep up contacts from your undergrad and Masters institutions, and (8) write an original and thought-provoking dissertation, and (9) impress the search committee with your communication skills, ready-at-hand knowledge, down-to-earthness, other-centeredness, and interdisciplinary. Oh, and that you are both a team player and an independent researcher.
Ok, I guess I was being a little facetious. I would prioritize, institution, publications, and networking. Good luck!
One of my few SBL book picks was Greg Beale’s We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (IVP, 2008). Beale is known for his work on the use of the OT in the New and especially Old in New in the book of Revelation. He would, though, consider himself to be a biblical theologian and has true competency in both testaments. Therefore, he is certainly well-suited to take on this task. Also, he is a committed believer and with a subject like idolatry, he is also capable of addressing modern ‘idolatry’ problems in the church.
The ordering of the book is reasonable enough: after a couple of introductory chapters, he goes on to explore his thesis about the theme of idolatry in the OT, Judaism of the second temple period, the Gospels, Acts, Paul, and the book of Revelation. He, of course, ends with concluding statements, both academically and pastorally.
What is his thesis? Beale is good about stating it repeatedly and in various forms: ‘God has made humans to reflect him, but if they do not commit themselves to him, they will not reflect him but something else in creation. At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation’ (16). And, again, ‘What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration‘ (16). These statements are supported throughout his theo-exegetical study.
Beale begins in an ostensibly unusual place – Isaiah 6.9-10. I say this is unusual because when people normally argue that we become what we worship they turn to the Psalms (as in Ps. 115:8, ‘Those who make them will become like them’). But, Beale comes to some striking conclusions. If you do not remember, Isaiah 6.9-10 is that tricky passage oft repeated in the NT: Isaiah 6:9-10 And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”
Beale argues that in Isaiah 6.9-13 we have what appears to be ‘a tirade against Israel’s idolatry’ (38). It was a common criticism of idols that they have eyes but can’t see, and have heads but don’t understand. Israel, in trusting in idols, would become like their blind and dumb idols in that their ‘sensory organs are also described as malfunctioning, which revelas that they have become spiritually blind and deaf like their false objects of worship’ (49). I am not able to capture here Beale’s skilled exegesis. Suffice it to say, his arguments immediately convinced me.
Beale also flags up the important episode of the worship of the golden calf (Ex 32). This event had become so characteristic of Israel’s waywardness that much of the later allusive language of idolatry uses bovine elements. Interestingly enough, Beale points to the age-old issue of the translation descrepencies of Habakkuk 3.4: ‘The radiance [of God] is like the light, rays [flashing] from his hand, and there is the hiding of power’. For ‘rays’ the KJV has ‘horns’ as if the rays appeared like two-pronged horns. (Thus, Michaelangelo’s famous statue of Moses depicted with horns – see HERE). If this image is evocative, then whither? Beale says: ‘Could it be that the repeated description of Moses’ “face” as having “had become horned,” after he had come down a second time from Sinai, indicates a parody of the Israelite idolaters, who had come to resemble the calf they had worshiped?’ (80). Brilliant! Beale also concludes that when Israel is accused of being ‘stiff-necked’ – this is the same language used of cattle.
Well, there is no need to progress through the whole book. It is chock full of helpful insights based on his thesis that we become like what we worship, for ruin or restoration.
I did have some concerns with Beale’s interpretation. First of all, he casts his net too wide in terms of the ways in which we become like what we worship. The main ways, negatively, are blindness, numbness, and hard-heartedness. Beale underemphasizes, I think, the limitedness of this conformity. On the positive side (becoming like God/Jesus), there seems to be many more ways in which we can become like God. On a number of small NT texts (especially in Paul), Beale has a tendency to maximalize and see things that I don’t think many others can see. That is always a concern. Also, he doesn’t address well enough the jump or progression from dealing with idolatry in more literal ways in the OT to more figurative ways in the NT and down through the ages. When the ‘idol’ is money (let’s say), how do we ‘become what we worship’? And, I had concern with how wide he cast the net of idol even in Judaism. Sometimes he used texts that refer to evil or ‘Beliar’ or demons to support his thesis (see p. 145).
I must say, overall this is a worthwhile endeavour and I marvel at Beale’s eye for the details. Those interested in biblical theology, ethics, and who just want to see a great interpreter do his thing will not be disappointed.
At some point soon I will be posting more on my experience interviewing at SBL and what I learned from the experience. I have had a lot of questions from friends and fellow students about navigating this process.
For now, I want to address an important issue: teaching experience. If you are looking for an academic position, more likely you will end up in a small liberal arts Christian college (as opposed to a research-intensive university or seminary position). That is just a matter of crunching the numbers- there are many more jobs in liberal arts Christian colleges (LACC) than research universities.
That being the case, you need to factor in two very important things. First of all, these LACCs are not going to be that interested in your thesis and how much of an expert in one small area you are. Secondly, they will want to feel comfortable that you are a good teacher (and thus will need proof!).
There is a commonly held view that you will get a lot of teaching experience in an american Phd program and you will not get any in the UK. That is not exactly the situation. Not all American programs can offer real teaching experience. At several acclaimed university grad programs, you can only become a preceptor/grad assistant where you assist in teaching. Of course there are some American programs that permit or even require students to teach intro courses. Check this out before you commit to one.
As for the UK, here at Durham most students will get the chance to lead small group seminar discussions for undergrad courses and we are required to go through some certified pedagogical training. Also, many universities in the UK have a theological training college attached and there are sometimes opportunities to adjunct a course. For instance, I teach (completely on my own) Basic Greek and an intermediate Greek reading course on Philippians. This has been a very formative experience for me.
What elements of ‘teaching experience’ are important? First, you need to show that you are an effective communicator with solid knowledge of basic issues in your general field. Secondly, you need to show creativity in teaching- that you care about students, have fresh ideas for communicating issues, that you have enthusiasm for the course work, etc…
There are also some practicalities involved – can you develop a syllabus with reasonable expectations of students? Can you design lectures that fit within the time frame? Can you produce goals and objectives that match the course catalogue and further the mission of the department and institution?
The next hurdle is proving the a search committee these things! Of course having something on your CV is the first step. But there are other things. Often times schools have evaluations at the end of a term. I usually don’t get to see these, but you can request to receive a sampling to pass on to prospective employers. If your school does not have these, you can create your own teaching evaluation and let your students anonymously fill them out. Choose a sampling to pass on in your portfolio.
If there doesn’t seem to be teaching opportunities available to you in a formal way, talk to your supervisor about it and let them know this is an issue for future employment. Ask her if you could lecture once for one of her classes. Or, check to see if anyone is going on sabbatical in the next year because sometimes universities let grad students do some filling in when there is a short-term need.
Another option to consider is connecting with some kind of online course teaching that many american seminaries offer. Sometimes PhD candidates are allowed to lead such internet courses and do the grading. Use any connections you have at your former seminary and Bible college (or university).
If there is really nothing out there, you might try to do an advanced course at your church that would be something like a seminary-lite course. Try to get a group of elders or deacons to do a NT survey or even Greek! Any way you can get teaching experience is really worthwhile.
Keep in mind also that in your academic interviews you may get teaching-related questions. Here are some I have had before: how do you manage an unruly student? When a student questions your grading of an essay, how do you handle it? Discuss one time when you have resolved a conflict in the classroom. How would you manage students who come from an ultraconservative background when it comes to introducing things like the Synoptic problem or the complex relationship between Acts and the letters of Paul? How do you utilize various forms of communication in the classroom?
I don’t have tons of experience teaching, but the little I have had has aided me much in thinking through these kinds of questions. You may see ‘teaching’ as just an option in grad school, but if you really are looking to the future, it should be a priority. Also, it helps you stay grounded in the basics and may even open up various issues and topics that can help your thesis research. I have really learned both from my students and from the process of thinking through the basics. If others out there can think of alternative teaching experience opportunities, do share.
Recently, Zondervan has come out with a new NT survey textbook called THE NEW TESTAMENT IN ANTIQUITY: A SURVEY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WITHIN ITS CULTURAL CONTEXTS. The authors all come from the same institution – Wheaton College – Gary Burge, Lynn Cohick, and Gene Green.
Does the world need another survey book? That’s a difficult question to answer because the line between ‘want’ and ‘need’ is unclear. Nevertheless, the authors do attempt a justification for their decision to pen yet another survey book.
First, they wished to offer a survey book that is ‘academically rigorous’. That is, they wanted something that is informed by the latest scholarship; accessible without being too dumbed down. Next, they wanted to focus specifically on the historical and cultural (and religious?) context of the first century. One attractive feature of the book is the frequently-appearing photographs of ancient coins. You can learn quite a lot from a coin that contains important images and phrases (we will return to this in a moment). Finally, they wished to write a work that stands firmly within an evangelical tradition. In their own words, ‘We wanted a scholarly text that treated the pages of the New Testament as Scripture, which has spoken to the church through the centuries’.
One selling point of the book is that the authors are all seasoned scholars and lecturers who have taught undergrads for years,
The book is beautiful – literally from cover to cover. There are scores of high-res pictures of statues, landscapes, manuscripts, and more. Secondly, it truly is good, fair scholarship. Often times I am disappointed with evangelical scholarship that is geared towards an introductory level because there tends to be defensive tone about any new or seemingly provocative theories. In general, the chapters are well constructed. There is always a tough decision to make about how to develop chapter content on a bibical book. Should it be literary-chronological (following the chapters of the epistle or gospel) or should it be just thematic/theological? Personally, I think a chronological (by chapter) approach is better, but either way could work if it is well done.
One thing that was especially impressive was the use of numismatic findings. For instance, the cover of the book bears the picture of the Judea capta coin which depicts a female Jews sitting on the floor and mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Vespasian also appears standing in military dress, holding a spear in one hand, and he has one foot stepping on his helmet on the ground. This is a particularly striking both artistically and when one thinks of the history behind this coin. This sort of thing is very helpful for students who live so far geographically, historically, and socially from the original events behind and surrounding the NT.
There is always a matter of what was left out and that list could go on and on. That would be a fault with any intro book and this one is already 400+ pages. Nevertheless, I would have liked more on theory of interpretations/hermeneutics and exegesis. We often teach students what to think, but I believe it is more important to teach them how to think – critical analysis with good exegetical tools and an awareness of presuppositions and the history of interpretation. There is also a question of consistency. The gospels are (presumably) dealt with in canonical order (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), but the Pauline corpus is handled in a time-oriented chronology (beginning with Galatians, 1-2 Thess., 1-2 Corinthians, etc..). This can be a bit confusing for students. Finally, there is the matter of uniqueness. Is there really enough new stuff here (or a new enough approach) to warrant the need for a new book? In terms of the main content of the book (the chapters actually on NT books) I would say there is little new material or a fresh approach. But, again, some people might really love what they do here.
Would I use this book? I haven’t look at the price, but I might be willing to give this one a try. The end-of-chapter bibliographies are quite good (and endorse some non-evangelical books, which I appreciate). I would supplement this book with some other hermeneutic-y kinds of articles/book and/or some more ‘theology of the NT’ stuff. But, overall, this book is more than eye-candy.