Friday, July 30, 2010

Do You Feel Like Dancing?

It is more or less undeniable that, having finished a seminary education, I often cannot help but look at worship gatherings with a different perspective than a person without such a background would have.  To quote Adrian Monk: "It's a gift.  And a curse."

At one recent worship experience, during the time of praise singing, we came to the song I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.  For those who don't know, here's the "bridge," which comes after we've done the chorus a couple of times:
Oh, I feel like dancing.  It's foolishness I know.
But when the world has seen the light,
They will dance with joy like we're dancing now.
Now, if I then proceed to mention that we were singing this in a Presbyterian church, it probably goes without saying that no one was actually dancing during this sequence (of course, I imagine the traditions wherein the congregation would have been dancing at this point are actually relatively few, but I can say from personal experience that it's not for nothing that Presbyterians are often called "the frozen chosen").  Does that make us hypocritical?

There's a part of me that wants to argue that a music leader that knows his congregation well, and who knows that the congregation is not made up of "dancers," should probably avoid having them sing a song where they announce that they are dancing.  It just seems wrong somehow. 

On the other hand, praise songs and hymns aren't only meant to work as expressions of who we are and what we believe about God already.  They are also meant to remind us of what we should or could become.  Or, to look at it another way, they remind us of things that perhaps we've forgotten.  Should we require that only people who think of themselves as "saved wretches" be allowed to sing Amazing Grace?  If we did that, would we not run the risk of people never fully coming to realize just what God has done for them? 

People learn the truths of the gospel through all sorts of ways.  Reading the Bible and listening to sermons, as important and indispensable as they are, are by no means the only ones.  Hymns and praise songs are also a rich source of theological knowledge.  People learn things through music that they may not learn by any other means.  For those who come to know God better for having experienced these songs, we give God praise.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

10 Years Working at Fuller

The new office
Today, July 28th, 2010, marks the 10th anniversary of my first day at work at Fuller Theological Seminary.  At the time I had started work here, I was almost finished with my MDiv, having only an internship left to complete.  I could have done that internship in Kentucky, but felt that I needed to stay in Southern California for just a little longer.  I expected to stick around for about a year, finish up my degree, and then move on to whatever else it was that God was calling me to do.  The position of Faculty Assistant has, historically, entailed the kind of work that students do while finishing up their studies, and having done work of a moderately-similar nature while I was in college (among many hats that I'd worn there), it seemed a natural fit.  

One year became two.  Two years became two more.  I got married, and knew that we'd need to stick around another year or two while my wife finished her degree, and so on.  I tell people that I've never been here expecting to remain here for more than another couple of years at a time, yet I've now been here for a full decade.  In that time, I've taken on additional responsibilities as my experience has become more and more valuable during times of budgetary uncertainty and staff reductions (usually, if not quite always, through attrition).  I now have responsibility not only to the faculty of Fuller's School of Theology, but also to the operations of the School's Dean's Office.  I make sure that expenses are attributed to the appropriate budgets, train new employees, distribute paychecks, and other duties in addition to the direct assistance to faculty members I've provided since I first came on board in the summer of 2000. 

I've seen numerous co-workers come and go, and few people would be more surprised that I've remained than I am myself.  The pay hasn't always been what I'd prefer, but it's kept me solvent through times when many can't even say that much, and I've certainly gotten quite a few "intangible" benefits over the years, including friendships with many fine people, both professors and other seminarians.  Just a few weeks ago, during discussions intended to make our operations even more efficient, I was asked to move from the office I've used since first starting my job here, to a larger office within the Dean's Office itself.  I still have my own space (which, as an introvert, I quite appreciate), but I am much more closely plugged-in to the rest of the School of Theology operations, and thus am better able to handle some of the increased responsibilities I've taken on over the years.  I have truly enjoyed my time here, and look forward to continuing to serve this community for some time to come.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Corinthians 13-16 and 2 Corinthians 1

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through 1 Corinthians, chapters 13-16 and 2 Corinthians, chapter 1.

Chapter 13

  • This chapter is often referred to as "the love chapter," and for good reason.  It contains one of the most complete yet concise descriptions, not only of what love is but also of what love looks like in tangible terms, found anywhere in the Bible.  Unfortunately, we tend to look at this chapter in isolation, and not as part of the larger context in which it appears (a problem compounded by the fact that so much of that context was last week).  Does thinking of this chapter as coming right on the heels of the one before it change what you think of in regards to what Paul is saying?
Chapter 14
  • Verse 2 - I find it interesting that Paul's description of "tongues" here is rather different than the phenomenon described in Acts.  In Acts, people spoke in languages that other people, who spoke different native languages, could understand.  Here, Paul is describing something that no other human understands. but God understands.
  • Verses 22-23 - I'm a bit confused here.  First, Paul says "tongues... are a sign... for unbelievers," and then he says "if... everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?" (with the following verses making clear that this is indeed a bad thing)  This seems contradictory.  What am I missing?
  • Verses 34-35 - One of the more infamous passages against women speaking in churches.  There is actually some doubt as to whether Paul wrote these particular verses, in part because the verses appear in another location (at the end of the chapter) in some manuscripts.1  I don't see any reason to cast doubt on the authenticity of the passage as a means of arguing against the traditional interpretation of it against women in church ministry.  There's plenty of reason to suggest that it doesn't really mean such a total prohibition against women, even if we accept that Paul wrote these words as an original part of 1 Corinthians.  The fact that Paul was concerned to emphasize that women prophesying (thus, not being silent!) should do so with their heads covered, just a few chapters earlier in this same book, should be more than sufficient to note that Paul wasn't really suggesting silence for all women in the Corinthian church (let alone everywhere else in the Christian world).  Many traditionalists will no doubt rebut that Paul is here talking about ministerial office, and not prophesy, but there is nothing in this context to indicate such office is in Paul's mind.  One would think that believers so intent on following the "plain meaning" of Scripture would recognize such an absence!  Also somewhat bizarre is the question of what "law" is being referred to in verse 34.  As Fee points out, there is no passage of the law (that is, the Old Testament) that says what this verse says!2
Chapter 15
  • Although the Corinthian believers seem to understand and believe in the resurrection of Christ himself, they seem not to have made the (necessary, at least to Paul) connection from there to belief in bodily resurrection for believers in Christ.3  Why does Paul consider this connection so necessary, and how is it that the Corinthians seem to have been unusual (at least, at the time) in their difficulty to grasp it?
Chapter 16
  • Verses 10-11 - Paul seems concerned for Timothy's well-being.  Why is Paul so concerned?  What does he think might happen to Timothy while visiting the Corinthians?  Why would they "treat him with contempt"?
  • Verse 12 - What's up with Apollos?  It seems that the Corinthians have requested his return (implied by the "now about" clause), and that Paul has also encouraged Apollos to go, but Apollos is resisting this suggestion, at least for now.  Why should Apollos not want to go?4
2 Corinthians
Chapter 1
  • Verses 8-11 - Paul's obviously had a hard time of it lately.  I wonder if these difficulties are ones that we know about (such as related in the book of Acts), or if his comments here relate to an unrecorded incident.
  • Verses 15-17 - Apparently the plans that Paul announced at the end of the previous letter fell through.
  • Verse 23 - Paul suggests that his failure to visit Corinth wasn't simply that he was kept from going because of some schedule conflict, but that he in fact made a decision not to go at that time.  Why did Paul make such a decision, and how could he argue that it was "to spare" the Corinthians?  I guess we'll have to wait until next week for more details.

1Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1987, p. 699.
2Fee, p. 707.  Fee notes that "Gen. 3:16 is often appealed to, but that text does not say what is here argued."
3See Fee, pp. 713-714.
4In Fee, p. 824, it is noted that the Greek is less certain than the TNIV translation implies about exactly who was "unwilling" that Apollos go to Corinth. It may have been that God was unwilling for Apollos to go at this time.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Remembering Calvin and Hobbes

One of the unwritten benefits of working at Fuller is that I have easy access to a post office just downstairs from my office.  When I was there the other day to mail a package, I found this set of stamps featuring "Sunday Funnies" (as the title at the top of the sheet says) available, and picked up a sheet immediately.

Although I haven't really been active in maintaining it for many years now, I still have my stamp collection from back when I was in fifth grade.  Besides that, I'm a fan of comics enough that I probably would have picked these up anyway.  But what really clinched the deal for me was that second stamp from the left.

For those who don't know, Calvin and Hobbes was a comic about a six-year old boy named Calvin, who (among other traits) had an overactive imagination.  The signature example of this imaginative streak was the fact that, to him, his stuffed tiger (named Hobbes) was a walking, talking, living being--and Calvin's best friend.  Calvin and Hobbes provided a window into the world of the child, and along the way provided some intelligent commentary and humor that made reading comic strips a "must-see" activity.  During some of my grade-school years, when I would wait in the school library for the hallways to open and the day to begin, I would pull out that morning's newspaper specifically so I could enjoy the daily adventures of the boy and his tiger.

I've enjoyed the other four comics featured on these stamps (Beetle Bailey, Archie, Garfield, and Dennis the Menace) to varying degrees and at various times throughout my life, but Calvin and Hobbes was special.  To get an idea of just how special this particular comic strip was, it should be noted that Calvin and Hobbes is the most recent out of the five comics being featured (having started in 1985.  Garfield started in 1978, while the other three are from 1951 or earlier), yet is the only one of this group that is no longer being created with new adventures.  Calvin and Hobbes ended at the end of 1995, having lasted for barely more than a decade.  Calvin and Hobbes did not end due to any lack of popularity.  Indeed, the comic was arguably more popular than ever.  Rather, creator Bill Watterson was a true artist, and the integrity of his artistic vision meant (and means, I assume) everything to him.  He had made as many concessions to the needs of marketing as he was willing to make, and decided that he would rather quit than have Calvin and Hobbes ever be diluted by interests that were unrelated to those of creating the comic strips that he wanted to create.

One could easily complain that such a luminescent comic ended so abruptly, denying fans any more access to these whimsical adventures.  I'm sure that I myself did complain quite a bit at the time the strip ended (now nearly 15 years ago!).  But if Watterson hadn't been so adamant about maintaining the artistic integrity of Calvin and Hobbes, those ten years worth of adventures we did get to see would hardly have been as memorable.  While some fans argue that other comic strips (including some of the other comics featured on these stamps) may have lasted too long, becoming stale and repetitive rather than fresh, I think I'm safe in saying that there are very few in the world who would ever say that about Calvin and Hobbes.  I'm so glad that the strip is still so well remembered as to get this honor of being featured on a postage stamp!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Shattered Glass Cyclonus

I had originally planned to do this entry immediately after the one for the club version of Punch/Counterpunch. After all, Punch/Counterpunch (henceforth referred to as "P/CP") and Shattered Glass Cyclonus were the two 2010 Transformers Club exclusives, and I had gotten both at the same time.  I had even started the process of taking pictures of the toy before I realized that something was very, very wrong.  Something that required that I postpone this entry for few weeks.

It's kind of a pity, because in most respects, this toy is a better toy than P/CP.  At least, it lacks P/CP's obvious issues.  At least one commenter has suggested that this is because Shattered Glass Cyclonus is less ambitious than P/CP.  No remolded parts, no attempt to engineer a transformation the original mold never intended (Punch's legs).  Just a straight repaint from one color scheme to another.

Shattered Glass Cyclonus borrows his color scheme from Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, suggesting that the two characters (or, at least, the "regular" universe versions of these two) are somehow counterparts to each other.  I'm sure that more than a few Transformers fans would dispute that comparison (I agree with those who've suggested that Cyclonus is more analogous to Ultra Magnus), but even so, the color scheme translates pretty well.

Since Shattered Glass Cyclonus reuses the mold created for Universe Cyclonus, which featured an updated version of Nightstick, the Nebulan that came with the the 1987 Targetmaster version of Cyclonus, Shattered Glass Cyclonus has a Targetmaster, as well.  Rather than consider this "Shattered Glass Nightstick," however--the name was already taken, anyway--the folks at Fun Publications did something really clever.  Taking advantage of a name created by the UK editors to cover up an error in the old Headmasters comic book, Shattered Glass Cyclonus' Targetmaster weapon is called "Krunix."

So, what tragedy befell my efforts to feature this toy last month?  While taking pictures for the blog, I discovered that my specimen of Shattered Glass Cyclonus was misassembled!  The arm assembly was such that Cyclonus' elbow would only ever bend the wrong way.  Although I was able to take the toy apart and flip the arm around, I then discovered that the toy would no longer transform into "jet" mode properly!  Unable to fix the problem on my own, I took Fun Publications up on their offer (conveyed to me by FP resident art guy Lanny Latham via Facebook) to send the toy back for a replacement.  Although I was a bit annoyed to have to pay out of my own pocket to have Cyclonus shipped back to FP, I can at least say that they gave me a new (and correctly assembled!) toy without any difficulty.  (You can see a picture of this arm assembled correctly here.  Note how the black part is underneath the orange part, rather than on top of it.)

Shattered Glass Cyclonus really is a pretty neat toy, and exactly the kind of thing that the club does well.  I'm sorry to say that the toy already seems to be sold out from the club store.  If you want one, you're pretty much stuck with eBay.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Corinthians 8-12

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through 1 Corinthians, chapters 8-12.

Chapter 8

  • This chapter starts a discussion that will go through the next few chapters about the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Fee suggests that the issue at stake has less to do with the food itself, and more to do with the issue of going to pagan temples, which is where such food not only came from, but indeed was often served at.  The idea is that the Gentile Christians had probably gone to cultic gatherings which served such food regularly all their lives, and the question came up as to whether or not attending such gatherings was still permissible.  While the food may not be anything important of itself (see verse 8), the attendance at a pagan temple would have been a far more serious issue.1
  • Verses 1-3 - Whether the Corinthians are actually correct or not (about the importance of the fact that the food has been sacrificed to idols... or about eating at pagan temples), they've missed the point because they are not acting out of love or concern for how those who do not think about these issues as they do might react.
  • Verse 9 - Perhaps the Corinthians are similar to so much of modern American culture today, in that the rights of the individual are being emphasized (indeed, this seems especially true in American Evangelicalism).  Paul does not seem to dispute these "rights" per se, but he definitely places them in a secondary position underneath care for "the weak."
Chapter 9
  • Verses 1-18 - Paul seems to be responding to a challenge to his apostolic authority (presumably raised in the letter he got from the Corithians to which he is responding by writing what we have come to know as 1 Corinthians).  Although he ultimately does not seek payment for his own labors (demonstrating his behavior as an example of how people should be willing to lay down their rights for the sake of others, as he argued the Corinthians should do at the end of chapter 8), he makes a very strong case for why people in ministerial work ought (generally) to be paid.
  • Verses 24-27 - Even if Christians are no longer bound by "the Law," Paul clearly intends that people should excersise self-disicipline, and behave in a way consistent with living as the people of God.
Chapter 10
  • Verses 1-10 - Paul cites examples from the Old Testament to demonstrate that others who had been chosen by God (i.e., the Israelites) nevertheless failed to "win the prize" by their misbehavior.  Of note, in verse 8, Paul seems to be referencing Numbers 25:1-9, but if so, the question of why he cites 23,000 who died (rather than 24,000, as in that passage) is unresolved.  In any event, it seems likely that Paul's reference to sexual immorality here is intended to refer fairly specifically to sexual behavior that took place within the pagan temples.2
  • Verse 18-22 - It is these verses in particular that lead one to think that Paul is arguing against participating in pagan temple practice vs. simply eating food that has been sacrificed to idols.
  • Verse 23-31 - Paul ties up some loose ends.  Although participating in the pagan temple is warned against, eating the food itself (as it is sold in the marketplace later) is permissible.  But if someone makes an issue of it, then don't eat it.  Again, put the needs of others first.
Chapter 11
  • Verses 1-16 - A long passage on prophecy and head-covering that has often been used to subordinate women.  It bears noting that Paul has nothing negative to say about the fact that women were prophecying.  He's just particularly concerned that they keep their heads covered.  Here's a bit from Fee:
  • Although various Christan groups have fostered the practice of some sort of head covering for women in the assembled church, the difficulties with the practice are obvious.  For Paul the issue was directly tied to a cultural shame that scarcely prevails in most cultures today.  Furthermore, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing.  Thus literal "obedience" to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the symbol that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul's point.  Furthermore, it would seem that in cultures where women's heads are seldom covered, the enforcement of such in the church turns Paul's point on its head.  In any case, the fact that Paul's own argument is so tied to cultural norms suggests that literal obedience is not mandatory for obedience to God's Word.3
  • Verse 14: "Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him," - It is probably worth noting that men who took a Nazirte vow (including, if Acts 18:18 is any indication, Paul himself) would have had long hair, and this was a part of one's commitment to God. How might this fact make one rethink traditional interpretations of this passage?
  • Verses 17-22 - At least one of the problems with how the Corinthian Church was practicing the Lord's Supper was that they were not treating their poor with respect as equals.  I imagine that this is an ongoing problem for our churches.
Chapter 12
  • Verses 1-31a - Paul seems to be responding to another issue in the Corinthian church, perhaps called to his attention in the letter they sent him.  While he's writing to them about gifts of the Spirit in a fairly generic sense, it seems that he's doing so because they've been unduly focused on a single gift in particular: that of speaking in tongues.4  As has been the case with other issues the Corinthians have been having, it's not so much that speaking in tongues is bad (it's not), but that the Corinthians seem to be lacking in perspective and balance. 
  • Verse 31b - This really belongs with the beginning of chapter 13.  We'll deal with that next week....

1See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1987, pp. 359-361.
2See Fee, pp. 454-455.
3Fee, p. 512.
4Fee, p. 571.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Action Master Thundercracker - Letter to Hasbro

For those of you supporting the Action Master Thundercracker campaign, here is the text of a letter I'm sending to Hasbro to encourage them to consider making this figure.  Feel free to adapt to your own situation.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Corinthians 3-7

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through 1 Corinthians, chapters 3-7.

Chapter 3

  • Verse 1-4: Although Paul is clearly concerned that the Corinthians are engaging in behavior that needs to change, it is worth noting that he is in no sense calling either their status as Christians nor their eternal destiny into question.1 (But see chapter 6 below)
  • Verse 10-15: I read these verses, and am reminded of my drama instructor in college, who argued that, if a Christian is engaging in any kind of work (be it drama or whatever), it is to be done to the Lord, and thus anything less than an effort toward excellence is not good enough.
Chapter 4
  • Verse 6: "Do not go beyond what is written." - I have no idea where this saying comes from.  It doesn't appear to be a quotation from another part of scripture.  Fee doesn't help much, only acknowledging that this part is "notoriously difficult."2 We have only the context in which the saying appears here.
  • Verses 8-10 - Obviously, Paul is not above the use of sarcasm.
  • Verses 18-20 - However badly the Corinthians have been behaving, they must have had some respect for Paul, or else the threat (if that is the right word) of his coming to see them would have no weight.
Chapter 5
  • Verses 1-5 - Although Paul is concerned with the behavor of the man living with his own step-mother, Paul's concern is less with him than with the church's response to the situation.3 Paul clearly never intends for the church to turn a blind eye to (at least this kind of?) sexual sin.
  • Verse 9 - Paul here and elsewhere advocates against sexual immorality.  Unfortunately for us, the term is never precisely defined (as if Paul felt that it was self-evident).  From this particular context, we can glean that incest was in mind.  More on the topic of sexual immorality later....
  • Verses 9-13 - Paul does clarify that he is not suggesting that we should not refuse to associate with people generally for engaging in what we would consider sinful behavior (as such would be impossible), but that we are not to accept this behavior from those would call themselves a member of the Christian community.  Paul references a line that pops up multiple times in Deuteronomy as support for this seemingly harsh teaching.  However we attempt to reconcile this teaching with Matthew 7:1-5, it must certainly be acknowledged that the modern church tends to do the opposite of what Paul is advocating.  We judge the outside world all the time, while often turning a blind eye to the persistent sins of those within the Christian community.4
Chapter 6
  • Verse 5 - Paul may have not intended to shame his readers before, but he seems not to mind it here.
  • Verses 9-11 - Paul's tone here is a bit different than in chapter 3.  Verse 9-10 would seem to argue that some in his audience are indeed in danger of not inheriting the kingdom (perhaps as if to say "Christians just don't act like that!"), but in verse 11 Paul then reminds them that they are indeed justified in Christ.
  • Verse 10 - Specifically, Paul mentions the sexually immoral (and other sexual-related sins) in the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom.  Indeed, the existence of three sexual-type sins (two of which are of disputed meaning due to the Greek words being rare or difficult to precisely define5) in the same list after sexual immorality has been named can be taken as evidence that the term is more limited in scope than might otherwise be assumed.
  • Verses 12-13 - Referencing what appear to be a pair of "Corinthian theological slogan(s),"6 Paul continues his comments against sexual immorality. 
  • Verses 15-17 - Whatever else is to be meant by "sexual immorality," Paul seems to be including prostitution in its definition.
Chapter 7
  • Verse 1 - Although Paul is only now explicitly responding to matters that the Corinthian church had written him about previously, it seems clear by what follows that they had written him about issues of sexual ethics, which no doubt is why Paul has focused so much on this topic already.
  • The instructions Paul gives in the 40 verses of this chapter are difficult to comment on quickly.  Fee devotes 90 pages to covering it all!7 It's really beyond the scope of this blog to do it all justice, and I've written too much already for most of my readers to digest in one reading, so I won't even try on this section. Suffice it to say, Paul considers proper sexual conduct important.

1See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1987, p. 128.
2Fee, p. 166.
3See Fee, pp. 194-195.
4See Fee, pp. 227-228.
5See Fee, pp. 243-244, for a more detailed summary of the Greek words μαλακοι and αρσενοκοιται.
6Fee, p. 251. See also p. 254.
7Specifically, pp. 266-356.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Action Master-colored Thundercracker: Make It Happen

Way back in 1991, when there weren't any Transformers toys on American toy shelves (or, those few that were, were being clearanced off of the shelves in favor of stock that could sell for more money), the line was still moving on in other parts of the world. A second series of Action Masters was released in the European (and also, apparently, Australian) markets, including one claiming to be the classic character, Thundercracker. I say "claiming to be" because, although the toy was just a redeco of the Action Master Starscream figure (which was appropriate, because the original Thundercracker was just a redeco of the original Starscream), it did not have the distinctive blue color scheme normally associated with Thundercracker. Instead, the designers gave Action Master Thundercracker a freakish array of blinding colors that can only be said to resemble "Thundercracker" if one is on acid. It's ugly! It's horrible! It's awesome!

Watch This Space

Sorry to not have anything posted here today.  I do have a couple of fairly significant projects in the works, one of which I hope to have up very soon, but it's just not ready yet.  Thank you for your patience.  I hope to have the first "big thing" up within the next day or two, and hope that it will generate some interest.  Until then, enjoy this old piece from a few years ago.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Romans 14-16 and 1 Corinthians 1-2

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Romans, chapters 14-16 and 1 Corinthians, chapters 1-2.

Chapter 14

  • This chapter gives a rather strong argument for why Christians should not judge other Christians.  It is an area that I not only think Christians in general seem to lose sight of too quickly, but which I myself am concerned about not taking seriously enough.  Two points of special comment:
  • Verse 1: "disputable matters" - It would seem that even Paul himself felt that actions should be taken against churchgoers engaged in certain behaviors (see 1 Corinthians 5, which we'll cover next week), or who argued for certain "wrong" doctrines (see the first chapter of Galatians for just one example).  But what, then, constitutes "disputable matters"?  It seems to me that there's a great deal of "dispute" over that very question itself. How, then, are we to obey this instruction?
  • Verse 5 - On the other hand, it is evident that, even at this earliest stage of Christianity, there was significant disagreement about a number of points of doctrine, and Paul seems to be content to leave things that way. 
Chapter 15
  • Verse 16: "priestly duty" - Cranfield disputes the idea that Paul sees himself as fulfilling a priestly role (he says that the word here is often used of Levites who serve priests, and translates this particular section as "holy service"1), but it seems to me that most modern translations use some variation including "priestly" language.  (Here are a couple of examples).  I was under the impression that proclamation wasn't really a "priestly" duty, however.  "Priestly" seems to indicate more sacrifice and atonement.  (In Cranfield's understanding, Christ would be the priest, which is consistent enough with the above, but this sounds more like the book of Hebrews than what I think of as Paul.  I'll need to come back to this sometime.)
Chapter 16
  • Verse 1 - Some translations call Phoebe a "deacon" (or "deaconess," although I don't think that word reflects modern English especially well, as it is historically used to imply a distinction from "deacon" that goes beyond mere gender designation) and others a "servant."  The Greek word can technically mean either one, but, as Cranfield says "it is very much more natural to take it to refer to a definite office."2 I assume that many who prefer "servant" do so on the basis of believing that the Bible (elsewhere) forbids women from holding church office.  I've stated my belief that the Bible does no such thing (especially in regard to the question of "office," as opposed to particular actions), but it's worth noting that, even among those who remain steadfast against the idea of women holding ministerial office, many still affirm that women can hold the office of deacon.
  • Verse 7 - "Junia" is a woman's name.  Historical resistance to the idea of a woman holding the office of apostle (despite Biblical evidence, such as in this verse, for it!) is such that a variant reading of "Junias" has crept into some of the ancient manuscripts (not the oldest or best ones, but still, quite old), despite being an apparently made-up name!3 Other non-egalitarian interpreters have suggested that the verse should read "in the eyes of the apostles" rather than "among" them, but this is a stretch (to say nothing of the fact that, were that interpretation understood more widely from the first, there would hardly have been a reason to create the fictitious "Junias").
1 Corinthians
Chapter 1
  • Verse 12 - Might we today say "I follow Calvin," "I follow Luther," "I follow Arminius," "I follow the Pope," etc?
  • Verse 16 - This parenthetical gives the impression that Paul is speaking/writing "on the fly" rather than composing a document.  Did people not edit their thoughts back then?
  • Verses 17-31 (and moving on to chapter 2) - It seems to me that many Christians use this passage as an excuse for shoddy argumentation or anti-intellectual sentiment.  I find this troubling, but want to be careful not to dismiss this too quickly.  Paul is making an argument that God is to be glorified rather than Paul himself, and we certainly know that Paul was no anti-intellectual (see for example, the sermon he preaches in Acts 17:16-34).
Chapter 2
  • Verses 14-15 - There may be a place for reason and study, but it must ultimately be recognized that these are not enough. 

1C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, Eerdmans, 1985, pp. 364-365.
2Cranfield, p. 374.
3See Cranfield, p. 377.

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