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:
   Stay tuned! MJL

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 Lund Lectures: Paul and Personal Flourishing by Susan Eastman (Day 1)

Dr. Susan Eastman speaking on Paul and Personal Flourishing
for the 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship 
This morning was the first two sessions of the 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship with Dr. Susan Eastman, Associate Research Professor of New Testament at the Duke Divinity School. The theme for the New Testament lectureship was: Paul and Personal Flourishing. Here she presented research from her upcoming book with Eerdmans Reframing Paul's Anthropology
   The title of the 1st lecture was Being Bodies: Paul's Body Language and Ours. The content of the lecture was interdisciplinary and engaged literature from the ancient world of Paul, the cognitive sciences, and philosophers who engaged with the cognitive sciences. 
The central thesis of this lecture was that the internal logic of Paul's body language is solidarity. She shared how the cognitive sciences explain how our neural networks are designed to create cognitive space for "we". Our bodies want to communicate with each other. This is not willed. It is an innate response. It is a shared imitation, examples of which include how babies imitate facial expressions; that is, they see each other through another person's gaze even though the baby is not even aware he or she has a face. 
   Human beings are shaped by their environment. We imitate larger social realities. Ancient views of the body understood that the concept of self-hood includes input from the body, the brain, and "what is out there" which feeds information back into our conscience experience as a systemic loop. Self is a constant traffic between what is outside and inside. The physical body is not a barrier but a bridge to our surroundings, to people, and to God. Bodies are conductors between us and those around us. We internalize our relationships to the point where they become constitutive of who we are.
   If the social systems which we internalize through unconscious imitation are corrupt, fallen, and sinful, it results in damage to ourselves and ultimately death. It takes a divine action to set us free from the social systems and sin which we have internalized. 
   There is more, but I'll let you watch and hear the lecture yourself (below) courtesy of Covenant Church's youtube channel. Susan Eastman is outlining here what she calls a participatory anthropology (jump to 1:42 for the start of Lecture 1)

   The title of the 2nd lecture was: Knowing God: Cognition and the Spirit in Paul's Thought. Here she gave an exegetical interpretation of Romans 8 and explained the Spirit's role in cognition. She focused on divine communication between God and believers through the mediation of the Spirit. There are depths of human awareness that cannot be discovered by human agency alone but are revealed through divine intervention. We can only know when the Spirit gives us new modes of speaking and new ways of knowing. 

   One of the most profound moments in the lecture was when Dr. Eastman used the example of facilitiated communication among autistic children to describe how the Spirit works. "How do I talk and connect with others when my lips do not move and my body does not cooperate?" From this question and subsequent answer, she goes on to discuss how believers speak through our bodies as a shared speech act with the Holy Spirit who – through the interpersonal, interactive relations between the body of believers – mediates to us how to pray, how to speak to each other, how to know one another and God within the church. Hear more from Dr. Eastman directly through the video below (jump to 1:33 for the start of Lecture 2)

   Tomorrow we will have Day 2 of the Lund Lectures featuring Dr. Iain Provan of Regent College speaking on the theme of Were the Reformers Wrong? Some Reflections on Protestant Biblical Interpretation
    Come join us for the public lecture in Isaacson Chapel at Nyvall Hall starting at 9am CST on the North Park University campus. Or, you are welcome to watch the livestream of the lectures here:
    Hope to see you there! MJL

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Coming Soon: The 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship (Sept 28-29, 2016) at North Park Theological Seminary

I can't think of a better occasion to resume blogging than to announce the upcoming 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship held at North Park Theological Seminary here in Chicago. Named after the seminary's 4th dean (1922-54), and held in conjunction with the seminary's annual Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (this year's theme is "Science and Religion"), the #LundLectures feature leading scholars in the States and abroad invited to speak on cutting-edge issues in New Testament and Old Testament studies. 
Nils Lund teaching class as a professor of NT (1922-54)
Photo ©2013 Historical Photo Collection at NPU

This year, for the New Testament lectureship series on Wed morning Sept 28, Susan Eastman, Associate Research Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, will be speaking on the theme Paul and Personal Flourishing. Her lecture schedule is as follows: 
9:00–10:30 amBeing Bodies: Paul's Body Language and Ours
10:30am–12pmKnowing God: Cognition and the Spirit in Paul's Thought

    For the Old Testament lectureship series on the following Thurs Sept 29, Iain Provan, The Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College, will speaking on the theme Were the Reformers Wrong? Some Reflections on Protestant Biblical Interpretation. His lecture schedule is: 

 9:00–10:30amOn the Meaning of Words: The Literal, the Spiritual, and the Plain Confusing
10:30am–12pmEmpty Speculations and Froth: The Reformers and Allegorical Reading

I'm really looking forward to hearing from both our invited lecturers. These lectures will be live-streamed (and hopefully also recorded; if so, I'll post the links on my blog later) and during the live-stream, listeners can send questions during the Q&A through the chat function. The livestream will be available either on the website or on the Covenant Church's youtube channel. I'll try to post an updated link to the lectures once I hear from the tech crew exactly how they will be handling the livestream. But this won't probably be something I can do until early Wed morning before the 9am lecture begins. Stay tuned! MJL

Postscript 9/26/16: I received word from the tech crew. The livestream for the Lund Lectures will be here:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hiatus from Blogging during Summer 2016

I'm not sure how many people follow my blog, but in case you missed my twitter announcement, I'm taking time off from blogging to wrap up some writing projects before the summer ends. When I start teaching again at North Park Theological Seminary this Fall 2016, I'll resume my weekly posting for the rest of the year and beyond. I'll definitely start with posting and writing short articles on the archaeological and historical sites I saw during my post-doc at the Ecolé Biblique et Archéologique Française as well make some comments for the upcoming sessions at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio come November 2016. 
   In the meantime, please follow my twitter feed (to the left or click), for which I do daily tweets and posts on all things theological and pastoral. As a preview of things to come in the Fall, below is a photo from my visit to Caesarea Maritima, the Roman port city built by Herod the Great, with the track of the hippodrome in the forefront, and the Mediterranean Sea in the background. Blessings, MJL
The Hippodrome (horse racing track) in Caesarea Maritima, Israel, built by
Herod the Great (10 B.C.) and restored with a theater added (2nd c. A.D.)
Photo by Max Lee © 2016
And if you are looking for some good scholarly humor, check out this gag reel by Wipf & Stock publishers featuring biblical and theological scholars (i.e., Michael Gorman, Chris Tilling, Doug Campbell, and others) struggling to make a joke, and making me and I'm sure many others laugh wholeheartedly with them.