Showing posts from April, 2018

On Paul, apocalyptic theology, and the rest of the New Testament

I'm nearing the end of a full academic year teaching the New Testament to freshmen. Many of my students are new to the Bible, or at least to reading the Bible. I taught the Gospels in the fall, focusing primarily on Mark, and this spring I've taught the rest of the New Testament, without skipping any books.

Usually, the way the spring course works is revealed by its traditional title: Acts to Revelation. Both sequentially and substantively, the class is defined by the history Luke tells of the church's mission after the ascension of Jesus, which crystalizes around Paul's work among the gentiles; this, naturally, is followed by an extensive reading of Paul's letters, beginning with Romans. Then the catholic epistles and Revelation invariably find themselves scrunched together at the end.

On a lark, I decided to try to de-center Paul from the course structure, and to see what would happen. Here's how I've taught the course:

Acts (2 weeks)

Jon Levenson on the costs and limitations of historical criticism

“Historical criticism has indeed brought about a new situation in biblical studies. The principal novelty lies in the recovery of the Hebrew Bible as opposed to the Tanakh and the Old Testament affirmed by rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, respectively. Jews and Christians can, in fact, meet as equals in the study of this new/old book, but only because the Hebrew Bible is largely foreign to both traditions and precedes them This meeting of Jews and Christians on neutral ground can have great value, for it helps to correct misconceptions each group has of the other and to prevent the grievous consequences of such misconceptions, such as anti-Semitic persecutions. It is also the case that some of the insights into the text that historical criticism generates will be appropriated by the Jews or the church themselves, and they can thereby convert history into tradition and add vitality to an exegetical practice that easily becomes stale and repetitive. But it is also the case that the hi…

Marilynne Robinson should know better

Like most seminary graduates and all theologians, I have long loved Marilynne Robinson. I read Gilead in the summer of 2005 and The Death of Adam shortly thereafter, and the deep affection created in those encounters has never left me. I have heard her speak on more than one occasion—at a church of Christ university and at Yale Divinity School, my two worlds colliding—and she was nothing but gracious, eloquent, and compelling in her anointed role as liberal Christian public intellectual. God give us more Marilynne Robinsons.

The beauty of her writing, her thought, and her public presence makes all the more painful the increasingly evident internal contradiction at the heart of her work. Others, with greater depth and insight than I am capable of offering here, have drawn attention to a related set of issues; see especially the reviews of her most recent volume of essays by Micah Meadowcroft,James K. A. Smith,B. D. McClay,Doug Sikkema, and Wesley Hill (alongside the earlier critique of…