Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year this 2017!

Photo Credit ©2016 Fengshui Beginner
Happy New Year! Goodbye to the year of the (fire) monkey, and hello to 2017, the year of the (fire) rooster! It's a Lee family clan tradition to begin the new year with prayer and to reflect not only on how we experienced God this past 2016 but also share how we hope to experience Him further in the next year. We all heard a good and challenging word from the evening New Year's Eve service and are considering three questions to pray through for 2017: 

    1) What has the Lord done in 2016 that I want to see continue in 2017?
    2) What do I want to change for 2017?
    3) What do I want to start for 2017? 

I found each question difficult to answer. In fact, I'm not sure how to answer these. But I will be on my knees praying through the questions tonight, today, and the next day. Probably the whole week. But I do know that seeking God's counsel is exactly how I want to spend my first hours of this new year.

May we all begin this 2017 seeking the Lord and His kingdom first with all our might and strength! Blessings!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Intertextuality Revisited: Retrospect on SBL-AAR 2016 and Prospect for SBL-AAR 2017

The panel review of the book Exploring Intertextuality sponsored by the
Intertextuality in the New Testament Section at SBL-AAR 2016
Wrote finals. Gave finals. Graded finals. Celebrated Christmas. Heading into the new year. Trying to write but failing miserably. So if I don't catch up on some overdue blogging now, forget it. Notably I offer some notes on the past meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio last November 18-22, 2016 as a lead-in to a larger discussion on Intertextuality.
Collection of Essays on Method & Practice
born from papers and invited essays from the
Intertextuality in the NT Section of SBL
This past November, the Intertextuality in the New Testament Section featured a panel review of Exploring Intertextuality (2016), a collection of essays from papers read during the past four years of our sessions at the Society of Biblical Literature and some select invited essays. The goal of the book was to provide the landscape of diverse methodological approaches on intertextuality (if you need a primer on intertextuality, click here) and how these (post-)modern literary approaches help illuminate how New Testament authors quoted, alluded, and interpreted the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, Greco-Roman moral traditions, Homer's epics, and other ancient texts to shape their respective messages. In an earlier post, I listed the select chapters from this book under review at the panel and the roster of panel participants. 
    Well, the panel was a resounding success. At one point, we had over 160+ fellow scholars and students attend the session. Within 2 hours after the session, the Wipf & Stock book table sold out on all copies. Wow!
    I can't go over the whole session, but I would say of the four chapters reviewed, the two that received the most "friendly fire" from the reviewers was the chapter on Mimesis by Dennis MacDonald (review by Karl Olav Sandnes) and Multidimensional Intertextuality by Erik Waaler (review by Stanley Porter). For the most part, the chapter on Midrashic Interpretation of Scripture by B.J. Oropeza and Lori Baron received a very favorably response from Craig Keener, who simply added that he saw other midrashic examples of intertextuality applied by the New Testament authors other than the specific type applied by the B.J. and Lori. Likewise, Nick Perrin gave a favorable review of the chapter on Metalepsis by Jeannine Brown and noted that while they both agree that the New Testament author evokes the backstory of the OT text which is alluded or quoted, the disagreement between exegetes who employ a maximalist approach to intertextuality is determining what part of the OT backstory that the NT author intends to highlight. 
   The real fireworks began, however, when Sandnes offered his review of MacDonald's chapter on mimesis, which by way of a general definition, is the way ancient authors of a later period imitate or appropriate narrative elements of works from an earlier author, notably Homer (which MacDonald favors), but also Hesiod, Virgil, Ovid, and other Greco-Roman writers. Sandnes was dubious that Mark's story of the Gerasene demoniac, for example, as MacDonald interprets it, stood as an imitation of various episodes of the Odysseus story but especially Odysseus' encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus. There is a concern that the narrative elements common to Homer and Mark are simply plot points that are commonly shared across many other stories versus Mark's intentional zeroing-in on the Odysseus account. Sandnes wonders if the comparisons between the two stories of Mark and Homer were becoming "more or less out of control." MacDonald rehearsed the specific literary analogues drawn from Homer in his original essay but more intriguely, gave a call to the academy that they might think about intertextuality in a fundamentally different way.
    It is this latter challenge by MacDonald that not only intrigued me the most but also the steering committee members of the section. In short, MacDonald did not find (post-)modern literary approaches to intertextuality helpful. He wanted scholars to examine how ancient authors themselves practiced intertextuality and see if the same ancient methods were applied by the New Testament writers. 
    In response to this challenge, I and some other steering committee members thought it would be worth devoting a few themed sessions to this very topic. For the SBL 2017 annual meeting in Boston, the Intertextuality in the New Testament Section in its call for papers is inviting paper proposals which give a description of ancient Jewish exegetical practices (e.g., rabbinic or midrashic techniques, methods by Hellenistic Jewish exegetes like Philo, and exegetical practices from any other ancient Jewish author) and which explain how a given NT author employs or modifies the same method in their own intertextual readings of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, or other ancient texts. For SBL 2018, the focus will be on ancient Greco-Roman exegetical practices, and I'm thinking of expanding my earlier blog post on this topic into a full paper for 2018. 
    In any case, I'm excited for the next two years of the section. I'm certain we'll have some great papers and perhaps some of these can be revised into publishable essays for our next volume on exploring intertextuality. MJL

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Blessings 2016

Photo of a painting I purchased from a Christian artist during my trip to the
Democratic Republic of Congo entitled "Nativity" © May 2015
As I was reading Luke 1 during our family "7 Day Countdown to Christmas," I was just struck by the future tense verbs in the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary:

  • And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come (ἐπελεύσεται) upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow (ἐπισκιάσει) you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God...  For no word from God will ever fail (οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει)."
  • "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:35-38)

The same Spirit which by God's word that created the cosmos in Genesis 1 was about to overshadow the virgin Mary and by God's word, the Word would conceive and be born as the Son of the Most High. 
   All of world history hinged on Mary's obedience. The Holy Spirit will come, and the power of the Most High will overshadow, but the Lord wanted Mary to respond to this grand invitation to partake in His divine plan for humanity. God's word did not require, but the Lord nevertheless sought, Mary's faith so His word can do its work in her and through her. 
   She was at most a teenager from a politically insignificant village of Nazareth in Galilee, a blip to people like Caesar Augustus, or governor Quirinius, and the powers at Rome (2:1-2). Yet without her faith, would Christ have come? It's a mystery we need not ponder because she did obey. She did surrender herself to God's word and will. And God's word was fulfilled by the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, gave death's its death blow, and rose as the Son of God. 
    May we all be humbled by Mary's example and seek to have the same obedience of faith as Mary's (Rom 1:5). May the Lord bless you with His presence this Christmas and may His word to you be fulfilled to the fullest. Amen! 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

Blessed Thanksgiving this year of 2016
Photo Credit by @HWCDSB
Ever since the Symposium on Science and Religion held at North Park last month, I have not been doing much blogging. But I have been active on twitter. I think, for the time being, given my increasing duties at the seminary (I'm now the chair of the biblical field, and the whole faculty including myself is currently working on the ATS report for the seminary's reaccreditation), I will continue this habititude of tweeting actively and only occasionally posting on this blog. I do, by the way, have some reflections on the past SBL-AAR in San Antonio that I would like to share here after the holiday has passed. But generally you can find me on my twitter feed (see the side bar) and randomly posting something on this blog where a tweet will not suffice (hopefully 1X a month). 
   As for now, I would like to wish everyone a Blessed Thanksgiving this November 2016! Personally I have been reflecting on Romans 14:8 "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's (τοῦ κυρίου ἐσμέν)." In the midst of a morally confused and rapidly changing world, I have only one assurance: I belong to the Lord. I can count on Him who will never let me go. So whether I live or die, experience loss or gain, suffer in the present or find unexpected moments of peace this day, my life rests on God's kingdom and purpose unfolding in my life at His speed, His timetable, not mine. 
    So Lord Jesus, thank you that whatever my family, my church, or I might experience in this earthly life, we can count on one thing: we are the Lord's.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Science and Religion (Part 2): More Papers from the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture

Johnny Lin, Senior Lecturer & Director of Undergraduate Computing Education
at the Univ of Washington (right) with respondent Linda Eastwood, Affiliate
Faculty at McCormick Theological Seminary (left) with questions moderated
by Jay Phelan, Senior Professor of Theological Studies at North Park (center)
Continuing from my last post on Sessions 1-4 of the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture, here I introduce and reflect on the remaining Sessions 5-8. 
    Session 5 featured a paper by Joshua Moritz, Lecturer of Philosophical Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif (my old stomping grounds BTW), entitled Made as Mirrors: Biblical and Neuroscientific Reflections on Imaging God. The response was given by Tyler Johnson, pastor at Albert City Covenant Church, Albert City, Iowa and one of our seminary's alumni. 
    This was another paper that made my head spin as I tried to wrap my mind around two concepts that I simply have not thought about it. First, in discussing the image of God, Dr. Moritz argued that homo sapians alone and no other homonids, including Neanderthals with whom we share genetic material, were created in the image of God even though other hominid species possessed the same capacity for complex language, advanced tools types which indicate a high degree of metacognition and symbolic thought, abilities for art and the abstract, and other cognitive functions. So the imago Dei not only distinguishes human beings from other animals but also from other homonids who did not belong to homo sapiens
   Moritz is able to make this claim because secondly, he defines the imago Dei not as innate capacity unique to homo sapiens (e.g., Karl Barth believed that our freedom to act against instinct is what reflected God's image because above all else God is free). Moritz defines God's image in terms of election. Out of all the other homonids, only homo sapiens were elected by God to a particular priestly office. This is a historical election, not classical or Calvinist, because this election forms the starting point and basis for a particular vocation or call to service unique among homo sapiens
   To hear more, follow the video below of the session (jump to 2:50 for the start of the paper)   
 

    Session 6 featured a paper by Susan Eastman, Associate Research Professor of New Testament at the Duke Divinity School and this year's NT Lund lecturer, entitled Paul and the Person: Perspectives from Cognitive Science and Philosophy. The response was given by A. Andrew Das, Professor of Religious Studies at Elmhurst College. There was some overlap with her Lund lectures on Paul and the body but in many ways the paper was also an advancement from what she shared earlier.
   One of the best parts of her paper was her analysis of what she called Paul's grammar. She noted that Paul's syntax of identity looks something like this: It is no longer I who [verb] but [subject+verb] in me. This grammar occurs in two places for Paul: 1) Romans 7:17 (and again in v.20) where Paul says "It is no longer I doing it, but sin dwelling in me." and 2) Galatians 2:20 where Paul says: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Galatians 2 is parallel to Romans 7 as its qualitative opposite.
    Eastman noted that past commentators like J. Louis Martyn and even her own doctoral supervisor Richard Hays were wrong in thinking that somehow the subject of "I" is replaced by another agency: either sin, or Christ. Rather, she argues that "I" still remains the subject. Paul is not talking about a replacing the "I" but a new constitution of the "I" from the ground up where in relationship to sin, I  get damaged and experience death but in relationship to Christ, I live. Paul describes a genuine intersubjectivity with distinct subjects but with sin, it vacuates human agency and destroys the person. But with God the intersubjectivity allows for the "I" to remain intact without entertaining a competition where one is undone by the other. Worth every minute, click below for the full session (jump to 6:58 for the start of the paper) 


    Session 7 featured a paper by Johnny Wei-Bing Lin, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Computing Education at the University of Washington in Seattle who also serves as an Affliate Professor of Physics at North Park University. The title of his presentation was Knowing in Part: The Demands of Scientific Religious Knowledge in Everyday Decisions. The response was by Linda Eastwood, Affliliate Faculty at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
    Dr. Lin presents several working models on how science and religion impact everyday decision making where the components of revelation, reason, intuition and feeling all have their contribution to make in each respective model. I was surprised to see how both can potentially work cooperatively with one another quite well and in fact already inform many every day decisions in real life. Click below for the session (and jump to 3:40 for the start of the paper).



   The last session of the symposium, Session 8, featured a paper by Hans Madueme, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Georgia, entitled 'A Rock of Offense': The Problem of Scripture in Science and Theology. The response was given by Matthew Maas, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Anesthesiology at Northwestern University. 
   Dr. Madueme, who completed his medical degree and internship before deciding to pursue a doctorate in theology, reflected on the relationship between science and Scripture. He argued that while conflict between the two bodies of knowledge can act as a catalyst for Christians to make new theological conceptualizations and re-articulate doctrine for a new generation and setting, there are also times when some conflicts between science and theology should not be alleviated by theological revision. To hear more on those instances where doctrinal truth should challenge some scientific theories where the phenomenalogical data has yet to be confirmed, watch the video of the session below (jump to 0:55 for the start of the paper).



That's it. Enjoy and be blessed! MJL

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Science & Religion: Papers from the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture at North Park (Part 1)

Gerald Cleaver, Prof. of Physics at Baylor University (right) with respondent
Stephen Ray, Asst. Prof. of Physics at North Park (left) responding to
questions moderated by Hauna Ondrey, Asst. Prof. of Church History (center)
This past Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon (Sept 29-Oct 1, 2016), North Park hosted its annual Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture. Each year the seminary invites scholars across the nation and abroad to present papers on how Scripture speaks to a particular theological or contextualized theme. The conference is interdisciplinary, and so we attempt to invite biblical scholars, theologians, ethicists, pastoral care practitioners, and especially for this year, scientists in fields ranging from cognitive development to theoretical physics. 
    The papers from this symposium and their responses are eventually published in the journal Ex Auditu. We live-streamed the paper sessions and their video is available below. Since these videos are unedited, be sure to look where to scroll for each video (time in red print) so you don't have to wonder where to begin.  
    Session 1 featured a paper by Paul Allen, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Concordia University, Canada entitled: Evolutionary Psychology and Romans 5-7: The 'Slavery to Sin' in Human Nature.  The response was given by Chris Lilley, a doctoral candidate in theology and philosophy at Marquette University.
     Dr. Allen began his lecture quoting Habermas that secular modernity has lost the langugage to describe the phenomena of sin. We have translated sin into concepts of guilt, suffering and offense with the result that the need for forgiveness has been replaced with a non-sentimental desire to undo suffering. In an attempt to bring the Christian concept of sin into secular discourse, Dr. Allen points to the findings of evolutionary psychology and its description of addiction. He finds analogues between clinical addiction with Paul's discussion of sin, the flesh, and the "I" of Romans 5-7. The most provocative comparison was how addiction as a complex of disease and human agency creates a genetic pre-disposition toward destructive practice which does not suspend human responsiblity for addictive behavior. (Jump to 2:35 for the start of the paper)


    Session 2 featured the paper entitled Multiverse: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives by Gerald Cleaver, Professor and Graduate Program Director for the Department of Physics and Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics, and Engineering Research at Baylor University. The response was given by Stephen Ray, Assistant Professor of Physics and Engineering at North Park University. 
    Anyone with teenage sons or daughters (I have the former) knows that there is a popular version of the multiverse embedded in the screenplays of DC television shows (think: The Flash) and Marvel movies (think: the upcoming films Dr. Strange and Infinity Wars). So, even just as a parent, I'm grateful to able to separate science from science fiction by hearing Dr. Cleaver explain in such clear terms what the multiverse is and why it is theologically relevant for our understanding of human freedom and the activity of God as Creator. 
    The most intriguing possibility that I gleaned from the lecture is hearing how before the "Big Bang" there was what theoretical physicists called a kind of "space soup" which in the process of expansion/inflation produces multiple universes (Level 2), each bound by their own set of physical laws (Level 1). Physicists readily think that the multiverse is a true description of reality and we likely have an infinitesimal number of them (but this is not the kind of multiverses found in Dr. Who or other science fiction; these are called Everett multiverses or Level 3). 
    However, if (and this is a big if) there is only one universe, it requires the kind of fine-tuning of the "space soup" likened to turning up the heat on a stove in such a precise way that only one bubble (= equivalent of one universe) is produced instead of many bubbles (multiple universes) from the soup. While Dr. Cleaver prefers to posit the existence of multi-universes, it is possible also to think theologically that God as Creator did fine tune the multiverse into just our one universe. As of this lecture, there is still no phenomenalogical evidence for the multiverse. Astrophysicists are still using radio telescopes to search for phenomena. Everything still remains in the theoretical stages, but even if multiverses turn out to be true, theologically it does not take anything away from the truth claims of Scripture on the origins of time and space. (Jump to 1:42 for the start of the paper)



     Session 3 featured the paper entitled Forming Identities in Grace: Imitatio and Habitus as Contemporary Categories for the Sciences of Mindfulness and Virtue by Michael Spezio, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Scripps College. The response was given by Kirk Wegter-McNelly,  the John and Jane Wold Visiting Professor of Theology at Union College. 
    Dr. Spezio explored the connections between 2nd person neural science and its description of cognitive imitation with the concept of imitatio Christi in Christian contemplative traditions. It was interesting to see how parts of Dr. Spezio's paper connected with the content of Susan Eastman's Lund lectures on how imitation is a form participation in the life of God and the communion between the Holy Spirit and the members of the church body. (No need to scroll; paper begins at 0:05)



    Session 4 featured the paper entitled On Bringing Home the Bacons: Reflections on Science, Faith and Scripture by Iain Provan, Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College and this year's OT Lund lecturerThe response was given by John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Here Dr. Provan gave a history of how the church in the past from Augustine, through the Reformation, as far as the Enlightenment and modernity engaged with the new discoveries of science. He challenged all of us that science and faith need not be at odds, and that was certainly not how the Reformers engaged scientific discovery. Learning from the educational principles of Roger Bacon (Franciscan monk of the 13th century) and Francis Bacon (16th century philosopher), Provan argued that when new scientific findings might potentially challenge the theological claims of Scripture, the church should see this as an opportunity to wrestle afresh with the data from science as an invitation to read Scripture more closely, deeply and faithfully. (No need to scroll; paper begins right away at 0:01)



This concludes my reflections, summaries, and links to the first four sessions of the Symposium. I'll post the same for the latter four sessions 5-8 some time in the evening. Enjoy! MJL

Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016 Lund Lectures: Were the Reformers Wrong? by Iain Provan (Day 2)

Dr. Iain Provan asking the question: Were the Reformers Wrong?
for the 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship
This morning we held Day 2 of the 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship with Dr. Iain Provan, the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College. The theme of the Old Testament lectureship was: Were the Reformers Wrong? Some Reflections on Protestant Biblical Interpretation. His two lectures are based on a current book project on Protestant Biblical Hermeneutics. 
  The title of the 1st lecture was: On the Meaning of Words: The Literal, the Spiritual, and the Plain Confusing. This presentation made my head spin a bit. Dr. Provan wanted to recover a proper understanding of a "literal" reading of Scripture that was not "literalistic" but was defined as the Reformers understood literal vs. an allegorical interpretation of the biblical text. He cited Calvin and Luther who demonstrated, to my surprise, a remarkable sensitivity to grammar, historical context, the text within the larger canonical context, and other communicative acts between the author and the reader. In the past, I always made a distinction between the historical critical method and a literal reading of Scripture, favoring the former over the latter. But under Provan's redefinition of "literal" according to Calvin and Luther, the historical critical method and a literal reading of biblical texts are not competing but mutually informing. Listen to what he has to say on this topic directly by watching the video of his lecture below:



    The title of the 2nd lecture was: Empty Speculations and Froth: The Reformers and Allegorical Reading. Here Dr. Provan traced the history of an allegorical reading of texts beginning with Homer, through the patristics, and into the Medieval Age. He argued that the primary purpose of allegory was to domesticate the text and remove its offense. Hence Heraclitus removed the embarrassment that the Greek gods of Homer were barbaric, crude, and no better than vicious humans were by allegorizing the gods as symbols of something else less offensive. When applied to Scripture, Dr. Provan argued that the allegorical reading seriously undermined the authority of Scripture because it often removed the offense of a "literal" reading (note: "literal" as redefined by the Reformers).
   Rather than allegorical, or typological, Dr. Provan believes the biblical authors employed "iconic mimesis" or a figural reading of Scripture, the example of which he gave was Paul's use of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31 translating ἀλληγορούμενα as "figuratively" and not "allegorically." Provan compared Philo's allegorical reading (i.e., symbolic mimesis) of Genesis with Paul's figural one (i.e., iconic mimesis), giving a clear example of the differences between the two. You can listen for yourself with the video lecture below: 


   With this last lecture, the Lund series concluded this morning. But the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture began the same day later in the evening and will continue on the theme of Science and Religion through Saturday afternoon. Since the schedule is packed, I may not be able to post summaries and links to the video until after the symposium ends. But like the Lund Lectures, the sessions are being livestreamed here:  http://livestream.com/northpark/lund-and-symposium
   Stay tuned! MJL