Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interpreting the NT with Coins

My first post at Near Emmaus has just gone up, and I encourage you to go check it out, if New Testament interpretation is your thing. It involves ancient coins, Revelation, and the mark of the beast.

Hope that whets your appetite.

Numismatics: An Underutilized Tool for NT Interpretation?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Weekly Highlights (2.21.13)

Here are a few blogs/news stories that caught my attention this week:

  • Over at Near Emmaus, Brian LePort considers the pros and cons of BWS (Blogging While 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Exciting Announcement!

As of this week, I will officially become a regular contributor at Near Emmaus, consistently ranked among the top ten biblioblogs on the web over the last couple years. I am incredibly excited to offer my thoughts via this well-established forum.

For those who are uninterested in New Testament biblical studies and theology, fear not! I will still be posting fairly regularly here at Everyday Revolutionary (although if you're not interested in New Testament biblical studies and theology, odds are great that you stopped reading my blog a looooong time ago).

Thank you all for reading and for sticking with this little blog over the last three years, and I look forward to posting more here in the future. I'm coming up on my 200th post soon, and to celebrate I plan to give away several books from my personal library. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Regional SBL Conference

On March 17th and 18th, I will be attending the Central States Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in St. Louis, and I'm already so excited! According to the lineup, it looks like there will be a good variety of papers presented this year—ranging from Luke's use of imaginative geography in Acts to (apparently) how translators edit out Ezekiel's cuss words. I am thrilled about getting the chance to hear Paul scholar Mark Nanos speak, and looking forward to perusing the books in the publishers' book display room. I have already sorted through the sessions I will be attending, and these are a few that I found most appealing:


1:30 p.m.—Jared Chatfield, “What Are the Philistines Doing at Beth-Shean? Archaeological Implications for 1 Sam. 31”

4 p.m.—Mark Nanos, “‘Judaizers’? ‘Pagan’ Cults? Cynics?: Reconceptualizing the Concerns of Paul’s Audience from the Polemics in Philippians 3:2, 18-19” 


9 a.m.—Matthew Wade Umbarger, “‘He Was With the Wild Beasts’: Echoes of 1 Maccabees 2:30 and 2 Maccabees 5:27 in Mark 1:13” 

10 a.m.—Richard Freund, “The Church of the Annunciation and Mary’s Well” 
10 a.m.—Sidney A. Martin II, “Christ the Conquered King: Further Reflections on the Triumph in Mark” 

1:30 p.m.—John E. Christianson, “The Centurion in History and Literature: A Context for Reading in the Gospels” 

3 p.m.—John T. Strong, “Censoring the Prophetic Word: Translating Ezekiel’s Profane Speech for General Audiences” 

4:30 p.m.—Tom Schmidt, “The Rhetorical Use of Irony in the Book of Revelation”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Djesus Uncrossed

Once in a while SNL features a sketch that is genuinely funny and offers a serious critique of pop culture. Last night's episode included a digital short movie trailer for a Tarantino-esque film entitled Djesus Uncrossed, an obvious parody of the popular film, Django Unchained.

The satirical trailer appears to be a critique of our culture's obsession with overblown violence and gore, but also seems to obliquely accuse Christians of recreating a violent Christ in their own image. No doubt there are many fundamentalists out there for whom "Djesus" fits their idea of what Jesus of Nazareth is like. I have posted the short film below, since I'm a sucker for any reference to Jesus in pop culture.

At least the focus of Jesus's rage is on the Romans, rather than the Jews/Judeans. That's definitely something.

My favorite line: "Critics are calling it, 'A less violent Passion of the Christ.'"

(Warning: Graphic violence and language that some people might find offensive.)

I am typically not a fan of violent films, including the majority of Tarantino's body of work. But what do you think? Is Djesus Uncrossed simply irreverent and offensive, or does it offer a valuable criticism of a culture that has forgotten what it means to follow a nonviolent Christ?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Giveaway

For all you historical Jesus types...

Anthony Le Donne is giving away two books—The Historiographical Jesus and Historical Jesus: What Can We Know And How Can We Know It?

Hop on over to the Jesus Blog and enter to win.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Because Nic Cage Has To Pay The Bills Somehow

Hold on to yo butts—Nicolas Cage, Ashley Tinsdale, and Chad Michael Murray are starring in a reboot film version of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins's Left Behind.

Like my friend Joel, I too am slightly confused by this whole phenomenon. The books are bad literature, contain bad theology, and the original Kirk Cameron films only compounded this badness. They are—to use a theologically technical term—caca.

Plus, the books themselves are almost 20 years old—hardly relevant. Still, I suppose it really all has to do with our culture's continued fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios that seems to be especially apparent in this year's film lineup.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Today is Transfiguration Sunday

One of the most bizarre and difficult to interpret moments in the Gospels. Enjoy it in musical form. You're welcome.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Blogaloguing Janzen, Part Two

My friend Jay Howard and I are participating in a blog dialogue—i.e. a "blogalogue"—discussing David Janzen's new book, The Intentional Christian Community Handbook. Jay has already posted on Parts One, Two, ThreeFour, and Five of the book. You can read my previous post on Part One here. If you're interested in joining the conversation with your own blog, send me an email with a link to your posts and I will assemble a list of everyone's responses.

Part Two of Janzen's book is subtitled, "Is Intentional Community Your Calling?" The driving idea behind the chapters in this section is the need for practical experience in living intentionally, and how a person called to community might go about meeting and experimenting with various established communities.

Reflections on "Chapter Four: Seeking the Community Where I Am Called"
Chapter Four presents the personal stories of several young people whose deep conviction and vocation led them to seek out community in different settings. Each story offers its own unique perspective as a sort of personal laboratory for "doing community," for what Gandhi called "experiments with truth." For Christians called to intentional community, faith is the catalyst of this experimentation. "The gift of faith," says Janzen, "is always a mysterious thing. It is like a hypothesis for life in which one experiment leads to another with more insight and cause for wonder as you go" (p.66).

Reflections on "Chapter Five: The Gospel Call to Discipleship in Community"
In this chapter, Janzen reflects on the historical and social motivations that led to the individualistic Christendom often promoted from American church pulpits today. On p.68, Janzen laments, "One way to observe how the Good News has been straitjacketed by the individualism of our culture is to pick up any collection of contemporary Christian music and count how many songs are about 'me' rather than about 'us' as the objects of God's love. 'Mine, mine, mine, Jesus is mine.'"

•   I enjoyed the fact that Janzen frequently points out throughout Chapter Five the New Testament inclination toward togetherness, especially in the social ethic teachings of Jesus. The Lord's Prayer does not say, "Give me my daily bread," but "Give us..." Furthermore, Janzen illustrates how communal and monastic living has, from its earliest Christian implementation, been a method for expressing distaste with Christendom: "During Anthony's [Anthony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism] lifetime the emperor Constantine made Christianity the imperially favored and fashionable religion, and multitudes of citizens became nominal Christians. A minimal version of Christianity emerged, focused on personal salvation, assured by participation in the sacraments and belief in officially sanctioned doctrines. At the same time thousands of aspiring spiritual athletes flocked to the desert in imitation of Anthony to recapture a more disciplines way of following Jesus" (p.75).

•   In my opinion, the best part of this chapter was Janzen's treatment of a question I hear all the time: "Does every Christian have to live in community?" Rather than attempt to "answer" the question, Janzen instead suggests that it is an inadequate question from the start—it shares a lot in common with the juvenile attempt to bargain with one's parents: Do we have to? "Let's not despise the question," Janzen says, "but note, rather, that it represents a certain stage of life. The question begs a legalistic answer from an authority that one is already itching to resist and to leave behind. The question does not have a good answer at the level where it is asked. But let us step back and look at the question from a more adult or discipleship point of view. Let's move the question from fear of damnation to love of God…" (p.78). Janzen next offers the parabolic image of God the Source, the Son, and the Holy Spirit leading multitudes of people in a circle dance right in the center square of an ancient city. Those outside the city are welcome to join in, provided they are willing to die to their selves and pick up the self-sacrificial cross of Jesus. However, Janzen points out that legalistic questions like Do we all have to do it? are insufficient and miss the point of the dance to begin with: “We enter into the freedom of the circle-dancing God (perichoresis) by way of a discipleship community where our character is transformed into the likeness of God (theosis). This is the shape of our journey, our home, our hope for a world made new" (p.80).

Reflections on "Chapter Six: Searching for Your Community"
In Chapter Six, Janzen again turns the narrative over to the stories of several young people who began looking for community but were unsure of a good starting point. 

•   The purpose of the chapter is to attempt to answer the question, "How do young people go about testing [their] call to community, what are their experiences, and what counsel can we offer in their search?" (p.81). I found it interesting to consider that at this point, the intentional Christian community movement is so large and diverse that different people have the luxury of sharing different callings to different types of community. Vocations toward intentional community are now as diverse as the vocations to be found within the institutional church.

•   I appreciated Celina Varella's criticism of Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution, a book that has inspired an entire generation of young people inclined toward communal living (including myself and some friends of mine currently living in community!). The book she says, "is very attractive and has inspiring stories. But it tends to leave out some of the difficult realities, so some young people come with grand hopes that living in community will be the quick solution to every social ill” (p.86). When I first read Claiborne's book back in 2006, I was indeed greatly inspired by his stories, and spent the next several years sorely frustrated by friends and communities that failed to live up to my expectations of what a community should be like, per Claiborne's descriptions. The Irresistible Revolution, unlike Janzen's book, did not speak to the gritty details and spiritual pain that comes with cultivating a mind and spirit tuned to living intentionally.

•   Janzen also provides a bit of commentary about our societal norm of delayed adulthood leading to a general unwillingness to commit to a specific community. He likens many people from my own generation to the spiritual wanderers (gyrovagues) mentioned in Chapter 1 of Benedict's Rule for Monasteries. These gyrovagues, which Benedict calls the most detestable kind of monks, are "always on the move, with no stability, indulg[ing] their own wills."

•   Finally, Janzen offers some good advice for people who want to explore their vocation within a community setting, including seeking out a mentor, visiting a wide range of different communities, “giving yourself fully” to each experience, and stepping out into unfamiliar territory to listen and share with unfamiliar people.

Reflections on "Chapter Seven: Novice Membership"
In this chapter, Janzen offers a series of questions that might be helpful in discerning one's place and purpose in community. These are basically "interview questions" that a community might ask a potential new member, and are therefore useful in examining one's own vocation before seeking out a community to join. Rather than reprinting the questions here, I would highly recommend reading Jay's succinct paraphrase of the chapter.

•   Janzen's critique of the self in this chapter is very insightful. He criticizes religious practices that find the self at their center (like many New Age meditations, etc.), and reveals just how counter-cultural communal living can appear in our current context: "Given the hypermobility of our society and the high virtue it places on 'keeping our options open,' making an open-ended commitment to join an intentional Christian community sets off alarm bells in friends, family, and one’s own individualized soul" (p.94).

•   Jay dislikes the phrase mutual submission, and prefers instead Janzen's language of "mutual love and care" (p.96). "It is just not in me to 'submit,'" says Jay, "even to authority figures (unless they have pepper spray) but I do have it in me to 'commit' to a person or group and do what I can to care for their needs." I appreciate Jay's thoughts here. The concept of mutual commitment is absolutely central to any intentional community. However, I am a fan of the term mutual submission. The word "submit" has a lot of ugly baggage these days, and has been used in the past to justify the subjugation of women, minorities, and pretty much anyone who is not a straight, white male. But the very definition of submission also carries with it an intrinsic connotation of self-sacrifice. Add the word mutual to that, and you have a deeply community-oriented phrase that seeks limitation of the individual and puts emphasis on concern for one's neighbor. The abdication of personal power in favor of the needs of one's sister or brother means not always "looking out for number one," and being willing to lay aside one's own concerns for the good of the whole community. When members of a community live in mutual submission, then, ultimately no one carries an authority above anyone else. It is the very premise behind Chapter 3 of Benedict's Rule for Monasteries.

•   Importantly, Janzen notes: "Neither the novice nor the community is a finished product" (p.96).

Friday, February 8, 2013

Jesus Mythicists? I Don't Believe They Exist.

R. Joseph Hoffmann over at The New Oxonian has recently been posting a series of biting critiques of the recent (though semi-annual) surge in Jesus Mythicism. His latest post is called "The Passion of the Christ-Deniers," and can be found here. Hoffmann suggests that the urge for mythicists to "prove" the non-existence of a historical Jesus comes from an overreaction against conservative fundamentalist theology and high ecclesial bureaucracy, and points the finger at folks on both sides of the aisle (so to speak).

I agree with most of Hoffmann's sentiments. The question of a historical figure's existence is not an inherently theological issue, nor should it be. I have seen few non-Muslims and non-Buddhists question the historicity of Mohammed or Siddharta Gautama. However, I do find it perfectly reasonable to allow one's theological perspective to be informed by historical questions, and using them to help to frame his or her perception of the past.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Blogaloguing Janzen, Part One

My friend Jay Howard and I are participating in a blog dialogue—i.e. a "blogalogue"—discussing David Janzen's new book, The Intentional Christian Community Handbook. Jay has already posted on parts One, Two, Three, and Four of the book. If you're interested in joining the conversation with your own blog, send me an email with a link to your posts and I will assemble a list of everyone's responses.

One of the first things you learn when you become interested in intentional community is that there are a lot of crazies out there—especially within the category of self-identifying Christian communities. A quick browse through the Fellowship of Intentional Communities online database turns up all kinds of different community enthusiasts, from King-James-Onlyists searching for pious perfection to Revelation Literalists holed up in the mountains awaiting the end of the world. Small wonder that when Alyssa and I try to talk about our passion for intentional living with our families, we are often met with confusion or misinterpretation—'re saying you want to join a cult? or mean you want to start a church?

David Janzen's book is brilliant precisely because it illustrates the thoughtfulness with which one might enter into the intentional Christian community discussion. According to Janzen, intentional Christian community offers an radically alternative third way—neither fundamentalist fanaticism nor comfortable complacency—for living out the Reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. Below are my thoughts, presented chapter by chapter, on Part One of The Intentional Christian Community Handbook—a book that I hope you will pick up and read, regardless of your interest level in intentional community.

What did I find most meaningful from the Preface?
On p.4, Janzen says “Unless we let go of our ideal community, we will end up hating the sisters and brothers who, inevitably, do not live up to our expectations, and so, Bonhoeffer warns, we become the destroyer of that very real community God is already growing up around us," and then on p.8, "I discovered that others experienced me as a judgmental, principle-driven idealist who had a lot to learn about listening and extending grace in relationships." As I read the preface, I quickly recognized many of these traits as my own. I spent years grumbling about the lack of genuine community in my college town while failing to recognize the community in which I spent much of my undergrad career as a "real" community. The same was true of later communities I became a part of, as well. Because each of these settings failed to match up to my rigid idea of what an intentional Christian community should be, I in turn failed to see the community for what it was—a genuine expression of togetherness for that particular moment in time. And when others failed to live up to my expectation of purposeful community, I judged them harshly. Today, as a person not living in community for the first time in about 6 years, I deeply regret my criticism of the friends and families I have had the pleasure of living and working alongside.

What did I find most meaningful from Chapter One?
The first chapter featured several stories from people who have experienced community firsthand. I enjoyed reading Luke Healy's account of helping to establish a community in the attic of a Missionary Baptist church in Kansas City, Missouri. I met Luke (who has recently left the community) and the other members of Oak Park back in May, right before Alyssa and I left for Israel, and became deeply impressed by how much they had accomplished in their neighborhood in such a short period of time. If you're ever in the Kansas City area, I recommend looking them up and spending some time (maybe a board game or two!) with this wonderful little expression of the Kingdom of God in one of the toughest parts of town.

What did I find most meaningful from Chapter Two?
Chapter Two (written by Brandon Rhodes) is largely a critique of 21st century capitalist Western culture and the concept of Christendom (which Rhodes refers to as "Constantine's captivity of the church," and defines as "the historical monolith that assumes church/Christianity and Western culture are basically one entity, that church membership and [national] citizenship constitute the same circle" (p.34). Intentional Christian community, says Rhodes, offers an alternative lifestyle for those fed up with the images of Christ and Christians most recognizable in today's society. In a culture that worships individualism and consumerism as idols, values the Constitution more than the Sermon on the Plain, living in mutual submission is extremely countercultural. I also appreciate that Rhodes fully recognizes our current context as "post-Christian" (p.35)—while institutional churches struggle to boost membership and woo potential seekers with glitzy offers in hopes of maintaining cultural relevance, Rhodes says that we should instead embrace the fact that the Church no longer rules the social and political roost. Rather than mourn the fall of Christendom, we should happily embrace a truth known in the Anabaptist tradition for generations, "that, like the early church, [Christian communities] are to be pockets of an alternative politics, an alternative society within a crumbling empire" (p.36).

Included in Chapter Two is a nifty table featuring various categories of intentional Christian communities (see below—sorry about the spelling/grammar-check lines in the image). This helped me to visualize for the first time the incredible diversity among Christian community charisms and purposes. When Alyssa and I attempted to form Anavah House, I think one of the biggest problems we ran into was trying to cover too much ground—we wanted to be like the Simple Way, Rutba House, Reba Place, and Koinonia all rolled into one. But this neat chart shows the vast array of community types, and treats them all (for the most part) as playing an equally important role.

What did I find most meaningful from Chapter Three?
Part One of the book concludes with a chapter featuring common cultural pitfalls that lead to difficulties within communal settings. The author refers to these as cultural contours, and following each critique offers a consideration for how each contour might be overcome. My favorite contour Janzen mentions is the general suspicion of anything "structured," "traditional," or "organized," and the favoring of the "authentic," "genuine," and "organic." Janzen argues that this is both problematic and unnecessary:
"We’re sick of religion, man, and just want spirituality. We push the biblical vision of church as 'people, not programs,' and 'relationship, not religion' into a needless contention between schedule, faithfulness, and shared practices on the one hand and spontaneity, relationship, and freedom on the other" (pg. 49). 
Instead, we should recognize that both structure and spontaneity have their place in the common life. An organic garden can only be cultivated after years of careful preparation of the soil.

Additionally, I appreciated Janzen's experience with varying community commitment levels. For many years I wanted to be a part of a high-commitment community, and was frequently disappointed when others didn't appear to be as dedicated to the community as me. However, Janzen offers the opportunity to look at the problem differently. Rather than categorizing communities as high-commitment or low-commitment, perhaps we should allow people living in community to categorize themselves as high or low-commitment. To this end, Janzen offers three categories of commitment levels from his own experience: 1) Novice—exploratory, 2) Practicing—called here for now, and 3) Vowed—no longer actively looking elsewhere (p.52).


Types of Communities chart from Chapter Two (pp.40-41)

The types of communities with which I most identify are New Monastic communities, New Radical churches, and farming communities, but I also have a special place in my heart for Catholic Workers.

Friday, February 1, 2013

David Smith on Jesus and Nonviolence

Check out this excellent little blog post by David Smith. He summarizes the Gospel narratives with regard to Jesus's response to violence. I'll give you a hint: Jesus chooses non-violence. Every. Single. Time.

David Smith: Violence & My Lord: What Did Jesus Do?

It's a short post. Well worth your time.