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I can’t help but see in our public discourse so many of the same destructive impulses that ruled my former church. We celebrate tolerance and diversity more than at any other time in memory, and still we grow more and more divided. We want good things —justice, equality, freedom, dignity, prosperity — but the path we’ve chosen looks so much like the one I walked away from four years ago. We’ve broken the world into us and them, only emerging from our bunkers long enough to lob rhetorical grenades at the other camp. We write off half the country as out-of-touch liberal elites or racist misogynist bullies. No nuance, no complexity, no humanity. Even when someone does call for empathy and understanding for the other side, the conversation nearly always devolves into a debate about who deserves more empathy. And just as I learned to do, we routinely refuse to acknowledge the flaws in our positions or the merits in our opponent’s. Compromise is anathema. We even target people on our own side when they dare to question the party line. This path has brought us cruel, sniping, deepening polarization, and even outbreaks of violence. I remember this path. It will not take us where we want to go.

Dropping the Act

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… we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us.

When I heard that I knew it was true. I’d spent a good bit of my life as an actor, getting people to clap—but the applause only made me want more applause. I  didn’t act in a theater or anything. I’m talking about real life. (xv)

No doubt about it, you will find many actors in your average church; people are terrified to take off their masks for fear of being judged. While Donald Miller’s latest book is about his personal journey from insecurity/isolation to intimacy and from failed relationships to freedom to be himself, much of what he writes is applicable to our relationships we have in church life.

Miller describes how he terrified he used to be of being known by others and how he felt people would only love him if he found ways to impress them. We see this played out in churches where Christians jump to serve in as many ministries as possible, in order to feel appreciated and acknowledged. I know how they feel: been there, done that. And one can’t blame them, because the alternative is that you’ll be largely invisible. So if we’re honest, more often than not, we are motivated by our desire for applause and adoration rather than for God’s glory. At the very least, the temptation is always there, for most of us are “attention addicts”.

self

Miller shares what a therapist once said to him: “when some animals feel threatened they make themselves appear bigger. She said it ‘s true with people too—they often make themselves appear better than they are in order to attract others and protect themselves from threats.” (31) What costume are you wearing to make yourself appear larger? Your job? Your wealth? Your education? Your good looks? Your biblical knowledge? Your position in church? Miller confesses that validation by others is very intoxicating. But then he “began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed.” (35)

We construct a false self to so others can’t see the shame we feel and we embellish that persona with all sorts of things. “Somewhere along the line I think many of us buy into a lie that we only matter if … We only matter if we are strong or smart or attractive or whatever” (56). However, “the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect” (20). Paralyzed by the fear that we will not measure up to others’ expectations and petrified that no one will love us if they knew our true self, we continue to hide our imperfections and insecurities. But as Miller points out: “Grace only sticks to imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either” (45).

“Perhaps that’s another reason true intimacy is so frightening. It’s the one thing we all want, and must give up control to get.” (98) And how do we control others? Through manipulation, which usually operates subtly. Miller identifies five categories of manipulation (104-108):

The Scorekeeper

“Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win.”

The Judge

“When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others.”

The False Hero

“The false hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do.”

The Fearmonger

“Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell … Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy.”

The Flopper

“A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. … Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can.”

In a chapter entitled “The Risk of Being Careful”, Miller discusses the “roles that vulnerability and self-expression play in relationships” (138).  For most people, vulnerability is a frightening place to be, but then “How can we be loved if we are always in hiding?” (140)  So in church, for example, we put on our religious robes and pious masks and pretend we got our sh*t together. No wonder it’s so hard to find genuine fellowship with other believers. He goes on to ask, “Is there anything more toxic than the fear of being judged? Judgment shuts us down and makes us hide. It keeps us from being ourselves, which keeps us from connecting with other people.” (143) We say we believe God has accepted us in Christ but are we really living out that truth in our lives? Furthermore, we are commanded to “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you” (Rom. 15:7; CSB).

Relationships are messy: manipulation, codependency, obsession. Intimacy and vulnerability is painful and scary because it means we have to be “naked” before each other—but we’re not comfortable removing the fig leaves we’ve covered ourselves with. Not everyone wants to be “scary close”; many people have inscribed on their foreheads “please keep your distance!”

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Which leads me to the final point: ultimately our deepest longings can only be satisfied by God. But even then, that longing will not be fully satisfied here, but will have to wait until the eschaton when we will be finally and fully transformed. Miller himself discovered this as well: “I realized there was a subconscious longing in my heart that could never be resolved by another human being.” (213)

But knowing the reality of unfulfilled longing doesn’t dampen the desire for deep connection, for fulfilling friendship/fellowship and intense intimacy; and yet, the ache of that unfulfilled longing is actually for our good. For that yearning in our heart is a compass to point us Godward and a daily reminder that no substitute will satisfy.

It’s All Greek to Me

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!

Your love is like radiant diamonds
Bursting inside us we cannot contain
Your love will surely come find us
Like blazing wild fires singing Your name

God of mercy sweet love of mine
I have surrendered to Your design
May this offering stretch across the skies
And these Halleluiahs be multiplied

The Priority of Prayer

This message is for me:

My Trio of Troopers 2

“And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim.” (2 Sam. 23:13; ESV)

Not only am I blessed to have a fellow soldier like Chuck, the Lord also added blessing upon blessing by placing my dear brother Frank in my life. Frank grew up in a nominally Catholic family and by the time he reached his teen years, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and brawls filled his life as a gang member. Incidentally, Chuck too was headed down the path towards the gangster life before God sovereignly saved him. Perhaps this is why God is more real to them than to me …

After God delivered Frank from the bondage of sin and Satan, he told me he would spend hours each day on his knees in prayer and in the Word. He would often experience “demonic attacks” which drove him to even more prayer. I met Frank in a “Brethren” assembly (not the same one where I met Chuck) and his reverence/hunger for God drew me to him. Eventually, Chuck got to meet him too, and I can remember fond times of fellowship with both of them.

Though the world (and sadly some Christians) may look upon him as just a lowly janitor, God used Frank for His glory. Chuck and I gave him some advice on books to aid in his study of God’s Word, and God has opened doors for him to feed the Lord’s sheep: at this point, he has preached over 300 sermons in various assemblies. But it’s not how many times he’s preached; it’s what he’s preaching. Though I’ve only heard  him preach a few times, his sermons always have a devotional quality to them, an aroma of Christ that the saints can savour and be nourished with.

Frank also has a heart for the elderly saints and he would often drive them to meetings and have sweet fellowship with them at their homes. In fact, for over 20 years, he has been meeting at the home of a widow with a few other elderly saints every Sunday evening for spiritual conversations. These are not your typical “tea and cookies” get togethers that so often passes for Christian fellowship; no, no—there would be earnest prayers, singing and sharing of the Word and food, encouragement and exhortation, and lots of laughter and love too. It’s just church in its simplest form. No wonder Frank would be positively glowing as he recounted for me what he learned from the lives of these dear saints.

Being around older believers, it is inevitable that he would see his share of suffering, sorrow and death. Indeed, he has spoken at more than one funeral; in particular, how difficult it must have been a few years ago when he preached the funeral sermon for a sister-in-the-Lord: a dear friend who was like a mother to him. But he’s also had to watch a former gang member friend die of AIDS, comfort a brother who lost both arms due to an industrial accident (and whose plight was largely ignored by his Christian employer) and a young father die of cancer shortly after his wife gave birth to their daughter, among many other stories of tears and tragedy.

When I strayed from the Lord for many years, not a day passed by that Frank did not but intercede for me, pleading with God that I might turn from my rebellion and return to the Author of my salvation. He would call me frequently, saying that God had moved him to pray specifically about something the Lord had laid on his heart—and the thing is, often it would be when I was very discouraged or about to do something I shouldn’t be doing.

While other Christians were rather blasé in their response to the good news that the Lord had restored and revived me, Frank responded like the prodigal’s father. A few weeks ago I paid him a visit to retrieve some of my books I had given him when I began my downward slide many years ago. As soon as he greeted me and welcomed me into his apartment, he said, “Paul, before anything else, let’s pray” and he promptly got on his knees and lifted his voice to his Father.

The entire time I was with him, there was no levity; the conversations centered on God and the blessings of our salvation and the spiritual warfare that we are engaged in. He would spontaneously interrupt our conversations and pray. He would share of his struggles and confess his sins in my (and God’s) presence. He would thank me for the books I gave him, even as he handed back many of them to me, saying it was time for me to use them.

Prayer is a priority and a reality for both Chuck and Frank; I am doubly blessed to have their example to follow. Without them in my life, where would I be today? I owe so much to their example, intercessions and encouragement. Our God is good!

“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.”