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Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Google’s recent firing of one of its software engineers, James Damore, has predictably stirred up a maelstrom of controversy. While the issue in question is not unrelated to evangelical debates on the role of women in the church, I instead wish to comment on the “ideological echo chamber” which Damore claims Google is guilty of.

Accompanying my prodigal return to the fold has been my (inevitable) return to biblical and theological studies. There were of course, the comfortable familiarity of “old friends” and treasured volumes that my brothers in Christ generously gave back to me.  Of course, I also naturally picked up from where I left off, delving deeper and exploring broad swathes through the contemporary terrain of academic scholarship. In particular, I have sought to escape the narrow confines of evangelicalism by intentionally engaging a diverse set of interlocutors of with viewpoints that differ from mine: feminist theologians, postmodern Continental philosophers and Orthodox patristic scholars, to cite just a few.

But then, in your typical church, questioning leadership, taking a dissenting position during a church business meeting, knowing too much, and not conforming to the church’s traditions is frowned upon and those who are guilty of such are labeled rebellious, disobedient, naysayer, troublemaker. Controversy is to be avoided at all costs and irenic dialogue is not an option. Basically, if you aren’t toeing the party line, dissenting views will be shut down. In this way, churches too operate in echo chamber mode.

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JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr., The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (IVP; 2016)

During lunch a few days ago, one of my Christian colleagues shared his frustration in trying to find a suitable church home for him and his family. He was looking for a community of believers who were serious about discipleship and the pursuit of godly living. As he further shared his burden with us, I (half) jokingly said to him that it looks like he’d have to go and plant a church from scratch. At this point, when it became apparent that this might indeed be a path he may have to take by the grace of God, I suggested that he read some of the missional literature; in particular, I mentioned two books that I had read / am reading.

Earlier, I had posted a brief blurb on Michael Frost’s book, and in this post I will give an overview of The Church as Movement, which I just finished reading yesterday.

move

This theologically-grounded but practical book is divided into four sections (themes), each with two chapters, thus giving rise to 8 missional competencies:

  • Part 1: Distributing
    1. Movement Intelligence
    2. Polycentric Leadership
  • Part 2: Discipling
    1. Being Disciples
    2. Making Disciples
  • Part 3: Designing
    1. Missional Theology
    2. Ecclesial Architecture
  • Part 4: Doing
    1. Community Formation
    2. Incarnational Practices

These four sections are bookended by an Introduction and an Epilogue, and at 240 pages, this book is not a long-winded treatise, but in keeping with its subject matter, the pace is brisk without feeling rushed.

The Foreword by Alan Hirsch begins with an epigraph by business guru Peter Drucker: “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete— the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.” It is sad that some things are so sacrosanct that even when they become a hindrance to the advancement of the gospel or church life, Christians refuse to let go of them. As Hirsch notes, “most churches operate out of a largely obsolete understanding of the church that was developed in a completely different age and for a completely different set of cultural and social conditions— largely that of European Christendom.” Hirsch and others have proposed an alternative model of church for the new millennium, and Woodward and White have done a church a huge service in presenting this new paradigm in a fresh and appealing manner in their book. Both write as practitioners who have been through the ups and downs of planting missional-incarnational communities, so this is not a case of hopping on the missional bandwagon and spouting off theories: no, what they write is borne from the fires of failure and boots on the ground experiences. It would be apt to let the authors introduce the rationale for yet another “missional” book:

This book is an attempt to help people plant the kind of churches that reflect the viral movement of the early New Testament, fuelled by the values of tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission. This is “church as movement.”

At the heart of the book is a concern to return to the centrality of discipleship within a communal context. Indeed, I sighed with frustration and sadness when they write in the Introduction: “This book is best used with a group of four to twelve people. … It is important to work through this material with others, since it was designed for a group rather than to be digested alone.” Well, heck, I don’t have even three other people I know who could be part of what they call a “discipleship core”. So sad! It means that my learning from the book will be shortchanged and I will not fully benefit from the formational learning aspects (meta-learning, reflective learning, and experiential learning) that require communal participation. Sigh …

The first theme is “Distributing” which I take to be a shift from a hierarchical and centralized focus to pluriform gifts and polycentric leadership — i.e., a distributed and relational approach.  They begin by describing the Church as the “Christian-industrial complex”, at least those churches that are held up as models of success:

In our American imagination success means growing bigger, collecting more resources, consolidating power, creating strong hierarchical structures and growing rapidly.

American church leaders’ imaginations and metrics for success are increasingly shaped by the things they can count. But, as Albert Einstein said, “That which counts is often the most difficult to count.”

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Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament (Zondervan; 2015).

advances-greek

[I am grateful to Zondervan for providing me a digital review copy of the book through Netgalley]

Summary

If you are at all serious about exegesis and serious study of the Word, then this book is a worthwhile read, no matter how rusty or limited your knowledge of NT Greek is. Dr. Campbell does a commendable job of bringing the reader up-to-date on recent scholarly advances in Koine Greek in a manner that is informative, engaging and accessible.

Remarks

The book begins with a helpful historical survey of Greek scholarship from the 19th century to the present. If this introductory chapter is any indication of the rest of the book, the reader can be assured that Campbell is a reliable guide to the different topics that are surveyed in the remainder of the book. Furthermore, given the important role that linguistics has played in contemporary scholarship, he also provides the reader with a fascinating historical introduction to major developments in the field of linguistics. For example, he surmises that the lack of progress in Greek studies seems to correlate with the “rise of modern linguistics”. He explains that prior to Saussure, the approach was based on “comparative and historical philology”; after Saussure, a synchronic, rather than diachronic approach carried the day in linguistics, “thus making the direction of nineteenth-century Greek philology suddenly almost irrelevant.” (p. 39).

As the survey comes to a close with the modern period, Dr. Campbell cites the contributions of key figures such as James Barr (The Semantics of Biblical Language), Kenneth McKay, Kenneth Pike (one of the early SIL scholars), Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida (for their ground-breaking work, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains), Stanley Porter (perhaps the most prolific Greek scholar today) and others. The chapter closes with a nod to a major resource recently published, the three volume Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics (Georgios K. Giannakis, editor).

Chapter 2 offers a brief but excellent introduction to linguistics, a field that is foreign to most people. Campbell’s interesting and informative survey serves to highlight the importance of linguistics and its impact on Koine Greek studies. After outlining the various branches of linguistics, there follows a discussion of the two major schools of linguistic theories: generative linguistics, largely originating from the work of Noam Chomsky and “characterized by the core assumption that all languages are shaped by a universal grammar, or universals of linguistic structure” (58-59); and functional linguistics (and in particular, the Prague school and Systemic Functional Linguistics) which seeks to “account for how language is used, and how the use of language informs us as to its structures” (60). The chapter closes with an illustration of how one’s adherence to a particular linguistic methodology can colour one’s view of, in this case, of temporal reference in Greek verbs.

In the same vein, the following chapter provides a helpful survey of lexical semantics and lexicography. I appreciate that Campbell gives examples from the NT to highlight the practical importance of the lexical principles under discussion. In particular, he discusses the complexities and challenges of applying these principles to NT Greek lexicography.  I really came away with a renewed appreciation of the difficulties entailed in producing a work such as the standard Greek lexicon of the Greek NT, BDAG, as well as the innovations introduced by Louw and Nida in their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains.

As I am but a novice student of NT Greek and have been away from the Christian scene for awhile, I was not aware of the paradigm shift “taking place in our understanding of Greek voice, with particular reference to the concept of deponency” (91). In chapter 4, Campbell presents arguments from scholars as early as James Hope Moulton and A.T. Robertson questioning the usefulness or legitimacy of deponency. In an appendix to The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Neva Miller concluded that “if the verbs in the above classes are understood as true middles—and if active forms could not have expressed such concepts—then it may be that categorizing such verbs as deponent is no longer relevant” (93). Other scholars followed suit in their criticism of the standard treatment of deponency, culminating in the 2010 SBL Conference (Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics Unit) where Stanley Porter, Bernard Taylor, Jonathan Pennington and Campbell called for the abandonment of deponency. Campbell concludes by highlighting some of the outstanding issues and outlining a path forward, noting that there at least 2 recent NT Greek grammars that teach voice without using deponency.

Chapter 5 deals with a major and controversial topic, verbal aspect. After introducing the concept and helpfully distinguishing tense, Aktionsart and aspect, Campbell moves on to give the reader a history lesson on how the concept developed. In the modern era, Kenneth L. McKay’s contributions must be mentioned, but it was really Stanley Porter’s dissertation, published as Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, that really set things in motion. This was followed shortly  by the independent research of Buist Fanning, whose dissertation was published as Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, in which he adopts a more moderate route. This has led to “one of the best-known debates regarding verbal aspect … whether Greek tense-forms semantically encode temporal reference alongside aspect” (114). Of more interest to most readers, including myself, was the helpful section on how verbal aspect can enhance exegesis, and here, Campbell does not disappoint. Granted, the examples are necessarily brief, so he refers the reader to his introductory volume, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek.

Chapter 6 is entitled “Idiolect, Genre and Register” and as the title implies, deals with issues relating to style and genre. According to Campbell, “[s]ome of the points of interest in observing idiolect are vocabulary, syntactical constructions, patterns of verbal usage, and more macro features, such as those observed through discourse analysis” (136). To be honest, I found this chapter a bit of a tough slog, not so much because it is not well written, but because the concepts were largely new to me.

The following two chapters deal with the important topic of discourse analysis, “one of the most exciting new areas of research related to Greek exegesis” (148), which he defines as a “interdisciplinary approach to understanding how units of text relate to one another in order to create the theme, message and structure of a text” (148, 149).  Campbell highlights the benefit of discourse analysis as providing a robust methodology for assessing the exegetical conclusions obtained through traditional exegesis. In Chapter 7 he begins by outlining the four major schools of thought, then proceeds to survey the influential work of M.A.K. Halliday. This is followed in Chapter 8 with a review of the work of Stephen Levinsohn and Steven Runge; in both chapters, Campbell offers a brief but helpful evaluation of each approach as well as its implications for NT exegesis.

I found Chapter 9 on pronunciation rather fascinating, and from the onset of the chapter, Campbell states his position that “[a]ccurate pronunciation is a sign of respect for the Greek language, is people and its history. It also has implications for one’s enjoyment and mastery of Greek” (192). Based on recent research, it is argued that the common (Erasmusian) pronunciation scheme for Koine Greek is incorrect and that it should pronounced in a similar fashion to modern Greek, for which Campbell provides a helpful pronunciation chart. Interestingly, Daniel Wallace, NT scholar and author of the popular textbook, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, defends the traditional Erasmusian pronunciation, primarily on pedagogical grounds.

Speaking of pedagogy, the book’s final chapter is in fact, all about teaching and learning Greek. Campbell notes that in many introductory grammars, students are rarely asked to actually begin reading the Greek NT, and translation exercises typically deal only with short fragments instead of entire paragraphs or sections. He does cite one recent grammar as an exception, Rodney Decker’s Reading Koine Greek, where by chapter two, students are already asked to read significant portions of John’s Gospel. There is also a brief discussion on the use of software tools such as Accordance, BibleWorks, and Logos, and how they can enhance the study of Greek. Finally, the chapter closes with a review of immersion learning and advice for how to retain one’s proficiency at the language once it has been acquired.

In conclusion, Campbell’s book offers an excellent, engaging tour of the latest in NT Greek research and is highly recommended!

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“Phillip Blond, John Milbank, and Adrian Pabst argue that it is the Christian social vision that represents a genuine ‘third way’ over against the bankrupt politics of the left and the right, beyond the welfare state and the supposedly unbridled free market.”

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Perilous Times

Tim Challies recently wrote:

“While difficult challenges have arisen from outside the church, the most dangerous have always been from within. For from within arise the false teachers, the peddlers of error who masquerade as teachers of truth. False teachers take on many forms, custom-crafted to times, cultures, and contexts. Here are seven of them you will find carrying out their deceptive, destructive work in the church today.” (emphasis mine)

Read on

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Goodbye HCSB, Hello CSB

Lifeway’s CSB (Christian Standard Bible) is scheduled to be available next month for purchase. From what I can tell, this is being billed as a new translation and not just a revision of the HCSB and not just a rebranding/marketing gimmick. The translation philosophy is described as “Optimal Equivalence”,  striving for “linguistic precision to the original languages and readability in contemporary English.”  You can read it online now; here are some sample verses with a comparison to the ESV:

Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47)
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. (ESV)

For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39)
Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” (ESV)

In addition, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a safeguard for you. (Phil. 3:1)
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (ESV)

Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. (Col. 4:5)
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. (ESV)

Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money (1 Tim. 3:8)
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. (ESV)

Can the one who shaped the ear not hear, the one who formed the eye not see? (Ps. 94:9)
He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? (ESV)

I gave you absolutely nothing to eat in all your cities, a shortage of food in all your communities, yet you did not return to me. This is the Lord’s declaration. (Amos 4:6)
“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. (ESV)

At least in these instances, I prefer the way the CSB reads. It will be interesting to see how the CSB will be received and whether it will make any gains over the ESV, although the NIV still remains the bestseller.

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No Time Left for You

Came across this post by Frank Viola that’s a good sequel to my previous post:

In our busier-than-ever-yet-I-invite-you-to-play-FarmVille-and-Candy-Crush-with-me culture, I often hear Christians in their 20s  and 30s say, “I just don’t have time” when it comes to taking advantage of golden opportunities to accelerate their spiritual growth.

The response, “I just don’t have time” is an excuse. And it’s not an honest one.

The truth is, we make time for what’s important to us.

Read the entire post here. Do it. Now. Don’t say “I’m too busy.” Read it!

 

 

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