Monday, December 21, 2009

disaster averted

Today my hands were definitely FULL.  We hadn't even made it to breakfast this morning (the first official day of winter break) when Eliana (8) announced that she was "leaving."  Apparently the gross injustices of life in our household had taken their toll and she was calling it quits.  My infraction (i.e. giving Emma the bowl to lick and Eliana only the beater) was unforgivable, and the suitcase was already out and ready to be packed.  Emma was pretty concerned that Eliana would be gone forever, and wondered if she could go along.  (Though both of them planned to stop back by on Christmas morning for their gifts).  When they heard that little girls who run away don't get any Christmas presents they were sobered.

I suggested that Eliana eat a good breakfast before she hit the highway.  She lit up and decided that was a good idea.  By the end of breakfast we were all laughing again, and decided that winter really is a bad time to run away anyway.  Eliana postponed her rebellion "until warmer weather." Phew!

My only concern now is that there are still 13 days left before school starts again ... What will tomorrow hold?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

more unlikely witnesses ...

Eliana had big news to share this afternoon after school.  On her bus ride home she sat beside a first grader who said that her mom was a student.  Eliana said her mom was in school, too, studying the Bible.  The first grader didn't know what the Bible was!  Eliana was quite excited to tell her about it.  "It tells about how God made the world and everything in it.  He even made you and me!"  Her seatmate didn't know who God was either. 

As we talked about it after school we realized that this little girl might know all about God and the Bible but just not know the English words to talk about it, because though her English is good, she's hispanic.  Eliana must have a bit of the apostle Paul in her, because that was disappointing news to her.  She was thinking she was the first one to tell this gal about Jesus! (Rom 15:20)

While she was still at school, I was meeting with 2 Jehovah's Witnesses in our home.  They have offered to come weekly for a Bible Study.  And while they are hoping that I will "see the light", I'm hoping to be one.  I shared with them what I was discovering this morning as I studied John chapter nine.  Probably the biggest difference between us (I'm guessing, from what I know of their beliefs) is our doctrine of the Trinity.  And while they are right that the word "Trinity" never occurs in the Bible, and the church did not set down a clearly articulated trinitarian confession until the fourth century, I have expressed that I'm struck by how strongly John portrays his understanding of Jesus' divinity.  For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it's right there!

The example I shared today is from John 9:5 where Jesus says "I am the light of the world".  We could assume that He is simply hunting for an analogy that would express how His teaching brings understanding.  OR we could search the Scriptures for the background of this image so that we approach Jesus' statement with the right expectations.  Isaiah, which echoes throughout John 9, had a lot to say about the light that is to come.  Check out these highlights (pun intended):

"The people walking in darkness see a bright light; light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness." (Isaiah 9:2 NET)  In the context Isaiah is describing what will happen when "the son" reigns on David's throne forever.


Later Isaiah reports what God says to "The Servant" (a name which initially applies to Israel but later is given to the Messiah): "I will make you a light to the nations, so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6)  This is the mission of His Servant.

But here's the best part:

"Arise! Shine! For your light arrives! The splendor of the LORD shines on you! 2 For, look, darkness covers the earth and deep darkness covers the nations, but the LORD shines on you; his splendor appears over you. (Isaiah 60:1-2)

"The sun will no longer supply light for you by day, nor will the moon's brightness shine on you; the LORD will be your permanent source of light– the splendor of your God will shine upon you. 20 Your sun will no longer set; your moon will not disappear; the LORD will be your permanent source of light." (Isaiah 60:19-20)

When Jesus says he is the light of the world, he is saying something very alarming!  Not only is he claiming to be the Messianic Servant, sent to restore Israel and give light to all nations, but he is claiming to be God Himself!

Needless to say, my friends and I did not succeed in ironing out the doctrine of the Trinity.  But it was a start.  And I have lots more examples where that came from.  And they're coming back next week!  Meanwhile, Eliana is busy learning key words like "God" and "Bible" in Spanish so she can try them out on her friend tomorrow.  We're thrilled!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

slow and steady

The kids and I read 'The Tortoise and the Hare' this morning.  I have always liked that story where the unlikely turtle wins the race through discipline and perseverance, while the rabbit, who takes for granted his victory, naps in the shade.

It made me think of my seminary experience.  I am often asked, "How do you do it?"  The idea of managing a home, mothering 3 active children, keeping in touch with friends and family, volunteering at church, and adding a masters degree to all that is rather overwhelming.  But I, like the tortoise, just take it one step at a time.  One book at a time.  One paper at a time.

Every day is full of choices about how we can spend our time.  Being a student means a lot of those choices are made for me (and Danny!).  During Easton's morning nap I study.  During the kids' afternoon rest I study.  After they go to bed I study some more.  It's true, there are no time slots left for TV or scrapbooking or facebook or manicures.  But all those 1 hour chunks really do add up!  That's the steady part.  As for the slow part ... consider this:  Just 18 months from now I will graduate with a 2-year degree ... that I started in the spring of 2004.  For those of you who are not math whizzes, that means I've crammed two years of study into seven.  :) 

And that, my friends, is proof that the Ethiopian proverb is true:  Little by little the egg will walk.
Or to put it in American jargon: Slow and steady wins the race.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

unlikely witnesses

Yesterday evening I attended a chapel service that was such a great reminder of how God's work in sending Jesus was all backwards and inside out. 

Dr. Tim Laniak shared:
"In light of certain rabbinic texts, it appears that shepherds in first century Palestine were not highly regarded. Assuming they were prone to dishonesty, herders were not legitimate witnesses in court. Luke deliberately highlights the “unlikely” people who participate in the Nativity account: an unwed mother, a barren woman, a widow in the Temple courts, and these field shepherds."

After spending the semester in the Gospel of John, I can say that he, too, was mesmerized by God's upside-down way of doing things.  In John 3 we meet Nicodemus, a Jewish ruler, who dialogues with Jesus but is slow to understand and slow to believe.  (We don't see any clear evidence of his faith in Jesus until after Jesus dies!)  But in John 4 we meet a unnamed Samaritan woman with a dodgy reputation, who meets Jesus and then runs off to tell the whole city about him.  Of this woman, whose testimony - like the shepherds' - would not be heard in court, it is said, "From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified" (John 4:39).  Shocking, really!

In John 9 we're introduced to another nameless character, a man blind from birth.  As the story develops it becomes evident that this once-blind-man can see much better than the Jewish leaders.  While they continue to argue and quibble over Sabbath laws, the man born blind sees Jesus for who he really is and worships him. (John 9:38)

And then if we fast-forward to John 20 we have a stunning picture of the way in which God is re-building His community and re-writing all the rules.  Who is the first to come to the tomb and see the stone rolled away?  Mary of Magdala, a woman.  She bears the news to the disciples.  Who sees the angels?  Again, Mary.  And to whom does Jesus first appear?  Mary.  Mary, a woman of questionable background, is the first witness of the resurrection of our Lord.

And while we could add many more to this list, the point has been made.  The fact is that God's kingdom is filled with unlikely citizens, and the truth of His message is attested by unlikely witnesses.  As witnesses to his resurrection we're in great company: shepherds, blind men, and disreputable women.  It is just such a kingdom where a stay-at-home, seminary mom, wannabe teacher belongs!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

be there or be square ...


Today is the LAST day for early bird registration!

Monday, November 30, 2009

lunchtime theology

Emma (age 4) and I are having lunch together right now.  A few minutes ago she asked,

"Is God real?"  I suppose her question was prompted by yesterday's conversation about whether or not Santa is real.

"Yes!" I told her, "God is the realest one that is!"

She considered this for a moment.  "Is it REALLY his birthday?"

Hmm ... how to answer that one?  I explained that we call Christmas his birthday celebration because it helps us to remember when he was born, but it's not like our birthdays because Jesus is not actually getting older every year.  He has always existed.

"Mommy, what is he doing right now?  Standing or sitting?"  She has no idea what a good question that is!

 "Well, the Bible tells us that right now Jesus is standing beside God the Father in heaven.  When all his work on earth is done, He'll sit down.  But He still has work to do."  (I'll have to check that one out later and see if that's how the Bible really does describe it.  This was theologizing on the fly!)

"Wow!  He's been working a LONG time!"  She paused for a while.  "Mommy, are there lots of Gods?  Like good ones and bad ones?"  (I wonder where that one came from!)

"No.  There is only ONE God, the one who made us.  He's the one we worship.  There are bad angels, but they aren't powerful like God is."

"Ohh!"  She seemed glad to hear it. 

And I was sure glad to tell her!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

on the horizon

One of the most exciting things about ETS was the opportunity I had to meet outstanding biblical scholars and discuss potential research ideas. 

+I spoke with Andreas Kostenberger (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) about a paper I'll be writing in December on the book of John.  He has recently published a book on the theology of John's gospel, and wrote the chapter on John for Beale and Carson's Commentary on the Use of the OT in the New.  After talking with him I decided to write on Jesus' use of imagery from Isaiah in healing the man born blind.  He had made passing reference to the idea in his chapter for Beale and Carson, but he agreed that it's an idea worth further exploration.

+I met with Daniel Block (Wheaton Graduate School) to talk about Deuteronomy, his passion and mine.  We discussed two upcoming projects of mine: (1) A paper for my spring class on Biblical Theology where I plan to trace a concept which Moses introduces in Deut 6:10-12 that later occupies the minds of many of the Old Testament prophets.   Around our house we call it the "Fat and Happy Theme", but in its next life as an academic paper I'll probably call it "Satiation and Spirituality".  (2) My thesis (to be written Spring 2011) on the use of Deuteronomy in 1 Peter, with special emphasis on the idea of Israel (and then the church) as God's "treasured possession" (Deut 26:18 / 1 Peter 2:9). 

I was talking with the lady beside me on the airplane on my way home.  She wanted to know what I was planning to write my thesis on.  She didn't seem particularly knowlegable about the Bible (she wasn't sure what Deuteronomy was), but she got downright excited when I explained my thesis proposal to her.  "Peter," I told her, "is taking words which Moses used to talk about Israel as God's chosen people, and he's using them to describe the church, made up of both Jews and non-Jews.  He's saying something pretty radical - that we are now just as special to God as the Jews were in the Old Testament times."  I wish you could have heard her.  "If you're right," she exclaimed. "Then people really need to hear this!"  She started telling the man next to her all about it.  I was so tickled.  I think she thought I had discovered something brand new.

And that's why I'm excited about all the studying I get to do in my last 3 semesters in seminary -- because these ideas really do make a difference, and they really are GOOD NEWS for us in the 21st century.  Some may argue that Biblical Studies is somewhat of a 'dead' discipline because everything that can be said about the Bible has already been said (a debatable notion, to be sure).  But at the very least these truths need to be recaptured and rearticulated for a new generation.  I can't think of anything else I'd rather do!

Monday, November 23, 2009

catching up on butterfly kisses ...

This has been a week to remember.  I took off my "mommy" hat for 3 1/2 days and headed to New Orleans for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.  It was FABULOUS! 

Meeting new friends and old ...
Conversing with great Christian scholars about their work ...
Gaining insight into God's Word ...
Eating alligator stew ...
And sensing profoundly the Spirit of God directing me and guiding me in big things and in small, using every moment to accomplish His design in my life.

I'll share snippets later, but for now I'm catching up on butterfly kisses and bedtime prayers ...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

a giant heart ... promoted to glory

Gil Woo was a man with a heart, a BIG heart.  We met him and his wife Vivian on our first day visiting what was then known as Northridge Community Church in Milwaukie, Oregon.  They gave us such a warm welcome!  He was so interested in getting to know us, and we bonded right away.  It was only at the end of the conversation that we learned it was their first Sunday there, too!  And that's the kind of guy Gil was.  He had a way of caring that just poured out of him without stopping.  I never knew him to stop and nurse his own wounds.  He was as others-centered as a person can be.

Gil and Vivian have supported us generously since we first became missionaries.  Month after month, faithfully investing in God's work in and through us.  But we never were a "project" to them, just the dearest of friends.  Each time we've traveled back to Portland to see family, friends, and supporters to report on the work that God has been doing through SIM they have graciously opened their home to us and dozens of others who wanted to see us.  Desserts, coffee, gifts for the kids, and the warmest of fellowship were always present in abundance.

Gil gave, and gave, and gave some more.  We were not surprised to learn that even from his hospital bed, without the ability to speak, he wrote messages to ensure that his family and employees were cared for in his absence and knew that they were loved.  No thought for himself.  And today he was promoted to glory.

We will miss you, Gil.  And the tears have flowed.  But we know that you are up there cheering us on like you always have, finding new ways to give of yourself to those you love.  I wonder, how is the View from the Ridge?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bill of 'Whose' Rights?

I'm reading an article by Dr. Daniel Block, from Wheaton Graduate School, on the relevance of Old Testament law for us today.  He says something very profound about the Ten Commandments (literally: 'Ten Words' found in Ex 20 and Deut 5), which he calls "ancient Israel’s version of the Bill of Rights." 

You know ours, right?  According to the Constitution of the United States we all have the right to a fair trial, the right to bear arms, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc.  But God's Bill of Rights is really quite the opposite!  Block points out that in contrast to our nation's Bill of Rights, the Ten Commandmants are "concerned to protect not my rights but the rights of the next person."  Those of us who enter into covenant with God are bound to behave in such a way to respect God more than ourselves, and to protect the freedom of others rather than our own. 

This preference for God and others is why Jesus can sum up the whole law in just 2 commands:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27 NIV)  Jesus wasn't writing a new law in order to do away with the old one.  He simply made plain what was there all along.

Quotes taken from "Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians" Part 1, Ministry May 2006.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

free rice!

One of Eliana's teachers just clued us in to a really great website.  At http://www.freerice.com/ you can test your vocabulary, practice identifying countries of the world, quiz your math skills and more.  And it's better than free!  For each answer you get right, sponsors will buy 10 grains of rice for undernourished families through the UN World Food Program.  Harvard developed the website and it's slick.  The computer quickly figures out your knowledge level and works to increase it, recycling questions you get wrong so you can answer correctly the next time.

Eliana and I are both addicted to it.  As we play the grains of rice pile up before our eyes!  It's a better-than-free way to get ready for the GRE and the EOG (End-of-grade test for 3rd graders).  And it accomplishes the unlikely task of uniting all 3 of my passions: my kids, academics, and missions! 

Check it out!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

why I need a graduate degree in theology ...

... to answer my children's profound questions!

After watching the 'balloon incident' on the internet, where a 6-year old boy was thought to be trapped in a homemade weather balloon sailing across the Colorado sky, Eliana and I were talking. The whole matter must have touched a deep chord in her because the questions started pouring out one after another:

-Is there something beyond space?
-How will we go from here to heaven? Will we just drive out into space until we get there?
-When someone dies, isn't it really God's fault because He didn't stop it?
-I think there will be some sorrow in heaven because we'll look back on our life and say, 'Uh, why did I do that?!'

We were thankful to hear a few hours later that the boy had been found safe, and hadn't been in the balloon after all. But I was also glad for the glimpse into the mind of my 8-year old. I didn't expect "the problem of evil" would be part of our conversation at this stage in her life, but it's truly a joy to engage such profound theological questions right here at home!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

a million mistakes

Easton, who will be 16 months old next week, is an avid climber. Neither of the girls did much climbing, but Easton climbs everything in sight- couches, chairs, bikes, strollers, curbs, beds, bathtubs, ladders, you name it. One day he made it to the top bunk all by himself! Unfortunately, his legs are not quite long enough to handle the predicaments he gets himself into, and his head circumference is off the charts (think: topheavy!). This is not a good combo. Case in point: he can climb halfway into or out of the bathtub, and then he is quite stuck and has to resort to diving ...clunk! His poor head gets quite the beating every day!

His climbing adventures parallel mine with biblical languages, I'm afraid. Our professor was warning us last week that we know enough Hebrew at this point to be dangerous. The word looks familiar. We think we can guess at what it means. Perhaps we remember the passage in English well enough to fill in the blanks. We're pretty sure at some point we remember learning a grammatical rule that would explain what we're seeing in this verse. But, quite honestly, we're stumbling around in the dark. The rule turns out not to be a rule at all. The English verse we remember was a bad translation in the first place. Our guess is off the mark. It's not a word we've learned. The important thing, I suppose, at this stage is to remind ourselves constantly that we have a long way to go before our hunches can be trusted and we can speak confidently about Hebrew.

But we watch our professor skim a page of Hebrew script to find the particular verb he knows is there in order to illustrate his point. We hear the way he rattles off Scriptures verses which he has memorized ... in Hebrew. And we determine to keep chipping away so that someday we too will know God's Word as deeply as he does.

They say you have to make a million mistakes in order to learn a language. And if mistakes are a measure of learning, then I must be well on my way! Does a child need to fall a million times in order to learn how to walk? If so, then Easton's bruises tell me I'm in good company!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

hearing God

Tonight we had a great talk in our family meeting about prayer, how it's not just talking, but listening, too. Danny and I shared stories about times we've sensed God speaking to us. Eliana was totally absorbed in the conversation. Then we opened the book we're using for family devotions (Right Choices by Kenneth Taylor), and were all shocked to see that today's lesson was about the importance of prayer (could God be saying something ...?). Eliana supposed that if we really stopped to pray about our meeting and allow God to be in charge then we would likely start "spilling out confessions". Indeed!

Emma was very interested to hear how God answers prayer. She's been praying for a Filipino friend who is battling cancer. Emma has never met this woman, but prays almost daily "that You would come down and give Aunt Connie a miracle." We just heard a story this weekend about a 4-year-old boy with terminal cancer who was completely healed, so we know God is still in the miracle business! After our prayer Eliana reported that just then she sensed God speaking gently to her about something. Confessions followed shortly thereafter (as predicted!). There is nothing more precious than to see your own children open their hearts to the Lord!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

what I'm reading in the carpool line ...

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

It's official! I'm a student member of the ETS. And the book reviews in their journal are just about the right length for the carpool line. :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

to do justly

For my Old Testament Prophets class I am reading selections from Abraham Heschel's classic work entitled "The Prophets". He explores the role of the prophet in ancient Israel and seeks to understand their experience of God. Here is some food for thought:

"The purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness," Heschel says (1:17).

"The prophet is prepared for pain. One of the effects of his presence is to intensify the people's capacity for suffering, to rend the veil that lies between life and pain." (1:179) Later he explains, "Through suffering lies the way to restoration and to the implanting of His will in the hearts of regenerated people." (1:187)

"It is an act of evil to accept the state of evil as either inevitable or final. Others may be satisfied with improvement, the prophets insist upon redemption." (1:181) This reminds me of Walter Brueggeman's book, "The Prophetic Imagination" (another great read), which speaks of the prophet as articulating an alternative way of viewing reality, giving a God's-eye view of history to the masses who are blinded by the dominant worldview which says that things are just fine the way they are.

At the end of the first volume Heschel devotes an entire chapter to the concept of JUSTICE in the prophets, and his penetrating insights bear repeating. Heschel argues that justice is not simply the absense of oppression, it is preference for those who cannot defend themselves (1:201). Justice is to be sought and pursued (1:207). Justice is so important that we cannot really know God without practicing it (see Jer 9:23-24; 22:15-16. Heschel, 1:210-211).

But here's the thing that really grabbed me. Heschel argues that "justice is not important for its own sake" (1:216). It is not as if there is a principle entitled "JUSTICE" upon which the world is founded and which must be maintained. No, "there are no ultimate laws, no eternal ideas. The Lord alone is ultimate and eternal. The laws are His creation, and the moral ideas are not entities apart from Him; they are His concern." (1:217)

According to the prophets, Heschel says, justice is primarily relational. "An act of injustice is condemned, not because the law was broken, but because a person has been hurt" (1:216). Ultimately, the relationship affected is that between people and God.

Gone is the idea of justice for its own sake. We "do justly" (Micah 6:8) not because it's the "right" thing to do in an abstract sense, but because God requires it of us, and we desire to be in "right" relationship with Him.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

well, well, well

What I'm about to write is not a startling new insight in the world of biblical studies. Scholars have long noticed it. But I'm not sure the average Bible reader appreciates how radical and suggestive Jesus is being in John 4. We call the story, "The Woman at the Well", but does it jog our memory? This is not the first biblical story where a man meets a woman at a well. It's not the second either. And both Jesus and John leave us plenty of clues to alert us to the fact that they have these earlier episodes in mind.

Genesis 24 - A man (Abraham's servant) on a long journey outside the promised land stops to rest at a well. A woman (Rebekah) comes to draw water. He asks her for a drink. Her offer is the grounds for a marriage proposal to his master (Isaac).

Exodus 2 - A man (Moses) on a long journey far from home sits down by a well. He helps some girls by watering their flocks. His kindness spawns a marriage proposal (Zipporah).

John 4 - Jesus, tired from a long journey, sits down by a well. A woman comes and he asks for a drink. She is shocked. (And we should be, too!) He offers her living water. Is this a marriage proposal? She may suspect it, because she denies having a husband.

Craig Keener (whose commentary is quite good once you make it past the 400-page introduction!) notes the possibility that we are to see a parallel here: “The Son had pursued this woman for the Father, perhaps as Abraham’s servant pursued Rebekah for his master”, implying that she is His bride (619). The story has already included direct references to Jacob, one of the patriarchs. It is his well where the incident takes place. Keener suggests, "The allusion to the finding of matriarchs for Israel may invite the reader to contemplate the ultimate identity of this Samaritan woman whom God is seeking, not on the basis of her past but on the basis of God’s calling: she will become foundational to a new community of faith and obedience.” (586)

This should shock us as readers. The Samaritan woman is a poor parallel to virgin Rebekah. She's been through 5 marriages already and is trying out a 6th. But Jesus offers her living water. And in doing so He makes a loud statement to His disciples that His kingdom will be built by sinners and outcasts -- those who have come to grips with their desperate need for His life-giving presence, not by the religious elite -- those who think they have it all. Well, well, well ...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

family meeting

We're trying something new at our house. And ... WOW ... is it working!

Every Sunday evening we gather in the living room for a "Family Meeting". First we check last week's list of what each of the girls was working on (e.g. 'obeying right away', 'not spitting', 'putting toothpaste away after brushing', etc). Danny asks the girls how they did and we cross off anything that is no longer an issue. We talk about strategies for improvement. We each share something positive we noticed about each other. Then we spend time asking each of the girls if there has been anything on their mind that they want to talk about. We have been totally amazed at what comes out of their mouths! We've witnessed a literal outpouring of confession, blessings, heartfelt concerns, and general family bonding.

At our first meeting (about a month ago), Eliana asked if we could please set aside a few minutes each week for Mom to share about what she's learning at school. What fun! Every week she's the first to remind me to share. It's a wonderful test of how well I've understood what I'm reading and studying to have to explain it to an 8-year-old! I'm forced to make my comments concise, simple, and interesting ... or risk being axxed from our weekly agenda.

I'll take the challenge - any intersection between my two worlds is most welcome!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

bosom buddies

I laid down on Emma's bed this afternoon, and she snuggled up to me, putting her head on my chest. Such a sweet moment of quiet together!

I had just been working through John 1:1-18, and wrestling with the tricky grammar in verse 18. My own translation is this: "No one has seen God at any time. The uniquely beloved God, the one who is nearest to the Father's heart, He made Him known."

I elected not to use the word "bosom" (NAS) since it has become quite obscure. But seeing that word triggered my memory of another unusual verse in John. During the last supper Jesus is preparing his disiples for what is to come. They are all reclining at the table together (in Jesus' day, tables were low to the ground, surrounded by cushions for reclining), but one disciple, the "one whom Jesus loved", is said to be "reclining on Jesus' bosom" (John 13:23 NAS). This has always struck me as so strange! Evidently men's need for 'personal space' was less, and there's no indication that we're to read anything queer going on. But why does John tell us that he and Jesus were, in effect, snuggling?

The "bosom" idea throughout Scripture seems to indicate intimacy (though not in a sexual sense), something or someone held very dear. It can describe the embrace of a husband and wife, or holding a child on a parent's lap. Here it appears to describe a unique friendship.

So why are John and Jesus said to be bosom buddies? I think John was being very deliberate.

Jesus, he argues in chapter 1, is the one most intimate with the Father, and therefore the best person to "explain" Him to us. His testimony can be trusted. John, called "the disciple whom Jesus loved", was the one most intimate with Jesus, and therefore the best person to testify about Him to the church (i.e. by writing this gospel). In case that sounds like bragging, John does remain anonymous in the book. It's clear he's not looking for accolades. But he did leave enough clues about his identity that we can figure it out. And he concludes the book:

"This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true." (John 21:24 NAS)

How do we know his testimony is true? Because he and Jesus were bosom buddies. He is the best qualified to "explain" him to us.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Historical Criticism meets "Panda in the Park"

I am currently reading Craig Keener's commentary on the book of John. More accurately, I am reading the INTRODUCTION to his commentary on John - all 363 pages of it. How is it possible, you ask (at least I did!), to write that much without getting to the text itself? Allow me to illustrate with one of Easton's current favorites, Panda in the Park. It does not contain the usual authorial designation on the cover, which raises a number of questions. Was this book written anonymously? Was the text of the book merely generated by the publisher, indicating that readers should not expect a high degree of rhetorical style? Was the author's name accidentally exised from the original manuscript? Do we have access to other surviving copies of this work? Are those copies similarly anonymous? An important preliminary question, of course is the nature of literature from the period in which we assume this book to have been written. Did children's books from this period normally indicate authorship? If we can ascertain the location of the publishing house, this too could shed light on our project. Perhaps a regional preference for anonymity in children's literature could be demonstrated. Better yet, have any subsequent works quoted from this book? Do those works give us any ideas about who the original readers assumed the author to have been?

In the course of our very exhaustive analysis of every available source of information about this book and others written in its time, we make a startling discovery. The BACK cover of this book includes the following designation: "Written by Anna Milbourne". We find this fascinating. Now we have a hypothesis which we can test. How reliable is this designation? That remains to be seen. In the absence of any other specific proof of authorship (either internal or external), we must return to hypothetical reconstruction of the milieu in which the book was written. We are aware of the possibility of ghostwriting and even pseudonymity. To what degree was either practiced during this period? We find that ghostwritten books did account for a surprising percentage of sales during this book's publication, but in every case the author listed on the cover was well known. This spawns a host of other questions. Have any other works been attributed to Anna Milbourne? Were they widely distributed? Would the average reader have recognized her name as an author? Does the genre, vocabulary and style of this book significantly overlap other works proportedly written by Anna Milbourne? Can we verify that she was even alive when this book was published? If not, is there a plausible explanation for its posthumous publication?

As you can see, writing an introduction which well exceeds the length of the work itself (in our case 49 words exclusive of the title) without actually commenting on the text is not as difficult as it may sound. And these are merely the questions which need to be addressed; we haven't even hinted at the answers! However, in the absence of any strong supporting evidence to the contrary, we will probably conclude that Anna did, indeed, write the book entitled, Panda in the Park, as John likely wrote the gospel that bears his name. As Keener thoroughly demonstrates, no compelling evidence exists to exclude the possibility that he was the author. And the best evidence we do have points to him.

By now it should be abundantly clear how much this reading of Keener has enhanced my role as reader of bedtime stories to my little ones. In case it's not obvious, I will put it plainly. A book which for years has brought delight to my children, now intrigues me as well. As I recite its lines over and over from memory, my mind can engage with more fascinating questions which previously did not occur to me. And such a small price to pay!

recommended for you

Amazon inspired this blog. Side by side on their list of recommendations for me have appeared such titles as "Goodnight Moon", "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics", "The Climax of the Covenant", and "If I Ran the Zoo". Somehow they have managed to capture the two sides of my life - motherhood and biblical studies - and hold them together on one page without tension or need for explanation. I know it's just a computer program that has figured me out. Even so, I can't help but feel as if I'm 'known' and accepted for being just who I am. :)

Some days I spend more time with Dr. Suess than I do Richard Bauckham or N.T. Wright. Other days the reverse is true. At times I wonder how to balance both worlds and stay sane. But the norm is feeling incredibly blessed to be able to do both things I love at the same time. Yes, my hands are full, but so is my heart. And here in this blog my two worlds intersect, interact, and (hopefully) enrich each other.