I am interested in comments from older evangelicals and younger ones alike: has the recent election shifted your opinion of the political influence of evangelicals as a bloc?
Jonathan Merritt has an intriguing article in The Atlantic entitled, "Election 2012 Marks the End of Evangelical Dominance in Politics." Here’s his conclusion:
As I survey the rising generation of Christians in America, I see many who recognize the ways in which the thirst for power has corrupted the faith. They’re eschewing partisan politics as a way to coerce and control the country, and they are finding ways to work with others they may disagree with. They are looking for new ways to live their faith in our rapidly changing world, and they give me hope that American Christians may be on the cusp of a healthier engagement with the public square. American morality is certainly changing, but this in itself doesn’t account for the waning influence of evangelicals. To the extent that the faithful continue to blame their diminished influence on a shift in morality alone, they will continue their descent into irrelevance. If, however, they recognize the opportunity before them to reform their strategy and tactics, this so-called evangelical disaster might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
I certainly agree in large measure with his observations and with this conclusion. I think it is also becoming clearer that the two political parties are very similar in practice and not really interested in changing the status quo. This has contributed to the disillusionment with political action experienced by many young evangelicals such as myself.
I took some time this afternoon to read an entire chapter of Hebrew, which I had not done in quite a while, unfortunately. Things have been busy with speaking, teaching, cancer, music, preaching, hurricane–you get the idea, but each of those is for its own post.
I took the opportunity to read 1 Chronicles 21. This is an important chapter in the argument of my dissertation, which postulates Chronicles as a consensus document mediating Benjaminites and Judahites in the mid- to late Persian period, blah, blah, etc. The chapter is fascinating within the structure of Chronicles as a whole.
But 1 Chr 21 is a striking self-contained narrative in its own right. Two aspects of the chapter jumped out at me today as I read.
First, the theme of confession and penitential prayer is so strong in the book, but perhaps nowhere stronger than in this chapter. David becomes the example par excellence of the penitential sinner. David’s sin is variously understood as mobilization for war, pride in military strength, and/or acting against a Deuteronomic command. But David’s confessions are remarkable. First, he admits his own sin before YHWH (חטאתי מאד); second, after the punishment comes, he wishes that the plague would come upon him and his house rather than on the people, because he alone sinned (ואני־הוא אשׁר־חטאתי).
Second, I have always been intrigued by the nature of YHWH’s threefold punishment options and the reasons for David’s choice. David’s options were: three years of famine, three months of pursuit by enemies, and three days of plague.
When I was a child, sometimes my parents would give me the option of a spanking, writing sentences, or some loss of privilege. I would always choose the spanking, because this was the shortest option. Interestingly, David also chooses the shortest option–though his stated reasoning is different: "Let me fall into YHWH’s hand, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man."
David’s first two options involve YHWH’s passive action against his people: restraining the rain, or permitting enemies to harass David–whereas the third option entailed YHWH’s active attack on his people. Now, philosophically, there might seem to be very little distinction in terms of YHWH’s ultimate responsibility: each of these three would have been punishment from YHWH. We distinguish between sins of omission and commission, but both are sin.
But maybe David knew that YHWH would hesitate to act directly in punishing Israel. David acknowledged that he deserved punishment–but he knew that it would pain YHWH to kill his own people. "On paper," it shouldn’t have made a difference–but David knew that it would make a difference in YHWH’s heart. It certainly makes a difference in my heart: I would rather put my son "in timeout" than spank him or slap his hand.
Conversely, Lamentations in accusing YHWH distinguishes between his permissive punishment (Lam 1: allowing the Babylonians to invade) and his active attack on Israel (Lam 2: YHWH’s barrage against his people). Lam 2 is even more poignant, because YHWH has taken up arms rather than merely turning a blind eye.
YHWH’s hand is powerful. But his heart is soft toward his people. He is not eager to curse, but he is eager to bless.
The last couple of months have been quite busy for me. I imagine that this will continue to be the case for the next 50 or so years, d.v., so I guess that shouldn’t be any excuse for complaint.
On a serious note, we found out several weeks ago that my mother-in-law has cancer. Thankfully, the tumor was discovered at an early stage and the doctors are optimistic about a full recovery. But everything else in your life freezes when you or a loved one hear the “c” word. Plans are put on hold. Work, school and other responsibilities are suddenly second fiddle to your loved one’s treatment and roller-coaster condition. But God has been good to us all through it, and he has given Claudia a peaceful, believing spirit that offers encouragement to all of us.
On a scholarly note, my dissertation rolls along in its early stages. My ambitious goal is to be about one-quarter finished by conference time in November, which means that I have quite a bit to do to get these three chapters in shape. Prof. Jonker is very encouraging, but he can only provide so much help and support–it really is an independent project. In order to keep myself mentally focused and emotionally stable, I’ve revisited some blog posts and emails I wrote last year during the difficult days working on my master’s thesis. I do my best to keep in mind that I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. My thesis was 51,000 words, and my dissertation will be between 80,000 and 100,000–so I try to think in terms of, “a master’s-thesis-and-a-half.”
And God gives me little tastes of the prize before I win it. I have a week-long teaching opportunity in Wisconsin coming up in October, and a couple of other “irons in the fire.” Also, it seems I’ve suddenly become “That Evangelical Lamentations Guy” in the area. In addition to my upcoming presentation at ETS in November, I have two opportunities to speak at seminaries–one local evangelical seminary, one mainline/Jewish seminary in NYC–on an evangelical reading of Lamentations. It’s very rewarding for an aspiring scholar to say something that others feel is of value.
On silly season: the level of political discourse in this country is lower than the belly of a snake in Death Valley. Conversations about bootleg fundraiser-dinner videos, “You didn’t build that,” taxing now or taxing later (a.k.a., borrowing)–it’s all become so sickening. This morning Corrie and I were watching Ron Paul videos (I’m a fan–don’t agree with everything he says, but he’s honest and by far the most sensible candidate out there), and we came across some debate “highlights” from last year and 2007-08. Some of the “hits” are so crazy that would have thought they were from a sitcom if I hadn’t seen them on TV at the time. These crews of buffoons–irrespective both parties–are leading our country to hell, starting with spending and currency. Democracy is no solution–it’s part of the problem. I really have very little hope for this country. Maybe I should cash out my 401(k) and live it up, or give it all to missionaries. Thankfully, Pete’s sensible post has kept me from going off the edge…
Several weeks ago, a former university classmate of mine asked my opinion about some aspects of Scripture’s teaching on the afterlife. This is something I’ve spoken to others about, and so I thought I would present his question and (an edited verson of) my answer for discussion.
I have always heard of the rules that were used when making our English translations of the Bible, and one of those is that they wanted to consistently use the same English word to translate the same word from the original text. My question is, why do so many translations have the OT ‘Sheol’ translated as ‘death’ or ‘hell’ or ‘pit’ or just ‘sheol’? It appears to me to mean death, or the place of the dead. Why would they use the other words? Are they just trying to fit it with NT doctrines?
Without commenting on the specific translation philosophies of the various Bible versions, I think what we have in the OT and NT presentations of the afterlife is two distinctions. First, the OT’s cosmology is broadly Ancient Near Eastern, whereas the NT’s cosmology is influenced by Hellenism. Second, the OT’s conception of the afterlife is not as fully developed as the NT’s presentation, which is what we would expect from progressive revelation.
The OT seems to reference only “Sheol,” a place of the dead, where “good” and “bad” people go together. The rewards of obedience/election are experienced in this life and vicariously through offspring. I would venture to say that the first mention of resurrection is in 2 Maccabees 7:23, where the sense is that God would give pious martyrs new life in the same bodies. Only in the NT, with the revelation of Jesus Christ and his own resurrection, do we see the doctrine of resurrection to judgment–the damned to eternal torment, the redeemed to eternal life. It seems to me to be a doctrine like the Trinity: always true, but progressively revealed over time.
I think Scripture teaches that the afterlife involves four “locations” (“statuses” might be a better term, since two are spiritual only). Human beings are body and spirit/soul (dichotomist view), and death separates the two.
1) The souls of the dead in Christ go to the presence of God, while their bodies rot in the ground.
2) Similarly, the dead apart from Christ go to a place of the dead that is separate from the presence of God, not a place of eternal torment–call it Hades, or whatever.
3) At the resurrection, the redeemed receive resurrection bodies and live eternally in a re-created New Jerusalem.
4) At that resurrection, the dead apart from Christ are resurrected (not sure what kind of bodies) and cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20) for eternal punishment.
This is a biblical (I flatter myself) presentation that differs from the single-stage, dualistic process that most Christians believe (i.e., the dead go to heaven or hell forever). #2 is an inference from the other three–I don’t know much more to say about it, other than that we haven’t reached the resurrection yet, and Scripture teaches that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”–so the souls of dead non-Christians have to be…somewhere.
I try not to speculate too much about the exact nature of these afterlives, but to limit my formulations to the evidence that Scripture chooses to give–which isn’t as much as we would like it to be on this issue.
"When one speaks of a consensus document, a number of theoretical models are possible for explaining its conception and emergence. One such model is represented by the Pentateuch, namely, a collective anthology that incorporates older diverse strands aIld integrates them into a more contemporary framework. A second model is furnished by the American constitution, which attempted to bridge various conflicting interests and points of view current at the time of its composition. The overarching principle of compromise precluded anyone side from attaining all of its aspirations. Returning to our subject matter, the production of Chronicles appears to have been guided by yet a third model, in which the work was focused a priori on the linchpins that together had come to form the most basic common denominators of national identity: the Jerusalem temple, the Davidic monarchy, and the Mosaic Torah. The Chronicler’s emphasis on unity would account for his essentially selective use of older materials. By way of contrast to the first two models just mentioned, however, the Chronicler also aimed at inclusivism, though not by incorporating different views side by side or by negotiating between various ideologies but, rather, by highlighting and developing one particular outlook that had the greatest chance of resonating on the popular level. In so reconstructing Israel’s history, the Chronicler may very well have been aiming for a more expeditious acceptance of his own work than the written Torah itself had achieved only after an extended period of gestation."
Glatt-Gilad, David A. “Chronicles as Consensus Literature.” Pages 67-75 in What Was Authoritative for Chronicles? Edited by Ehud Ben Zvi & Diana Edelman. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011.
The last couple of months have been somewhat sparse in the blogging dep’t. In June I taught an accelerated introductory hermeneutics course at
PBU Cairn University, so most of my spare time in May and June was spent prepping for the class. It was certainly intense–4.5 hours on Friday night and 9.5 hours on Saturday, three weekends in a row–but I feel that it went quite well for my first graduate class. The students responded positively to the material, and, though they entered the course with varying degrees of experience and ability, I believe they all learned quite a bit, judging from their assignments. I certainly hope that I will get to teach the course again, since there are quite a few things I would do a little differently.
But it’s just as well that I don’t have any courses on the horizon–just a week teaching Pentateuch in Wisconsin in October–because I need to get started on my dissertation. Monday is the day that I have designated quite melodramatically as “Dissertation Day,” the first day of a two- to three-year project on Chronicles. I’m sure that it will be a struggle at first to resume my train of thought after working so hard in March and April to get the proposal approved. But I’m looking forward to a fresh challenge as other aspects of my academic and church life conclude. My
PBU Cairn students will be submitting their post-course work by Saturday evening. Sunday is my final Sunday-school class on Numbers and Deuteronomy. At work, things are quite busy, but we seem to be getting caught up–not as much pressure for me to work overtime.
Suffice to say, I am looking forward to resuming what was my normal rhythm for much of 2011: work, church, family, research.
There were two notable blessings in the last few weeks in the academic realm. First, I received confirmation that my article on Lamentations was accepted by Old Testament Essays and will be published in the last issue of 2012. This article was the fruit of my thesis–mostly chapter four. Second, I was notified that my paper proposal for the national ETS meeting in Milwaukee (November 2012) was accepted. Now I just have to write the paper! Fortunately, I have quite a bit to work with on Lamentations already.
Thanks for checking in. I hope to post something more substantial in the weeks to come. With election season heating up, I can’t imagine that I will lack fodder for parody, mockery and satire.
I, along with all members of the Society of Biblical Literature, received this information in an email from the Executive Director this week:
The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) has released the results of its Fall 2010 Survey of Contingent Faculty Members, Instructors, and Researchers. The survey inquired about course assignments, salaries, benefits, and general working conditions as members of the contingent academic workforce experience them at the institutional level….
CAW is a group of higher education associations, disciplinary associations, and faculty organizations committed to addressing issues associated with deteriorating faculty working conditions and their effect on college and university students in the United States. When faculty members are not sufficiently supported, they are not able to provide students with the highest quality learning experience. The survey finds that faculty employed in contingent positions are not provided with the support resources necessary to excel and consistently provide such a learning experience for their students. Faculty employed part-time and paid the low wages documented in this report would likely need to find some other means for supporting themselves, which takes time and energy away from their teaching and interaction with students. Moreover, while the survey primarily addressed material working conditions, comments received at the end of the survey confirm the common belief that such faculty operate under inordinate stress and uncertainty, often self-censor in various ways out of a fear of repercussions or losing their jobs, and are left out of governance discussions that affect them.
These problems pervade higher education. According to data from the United States Department of Education’s 2009 Fall Staff Survey, of the nearly 1.8 million faculty members and instructors who made up the 2009 instructional workforce in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, more than 1.3 million (75.5%) were employed in contingent positions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants….
Dr. Kutsko obviously considers this news disturbing, given the goals of the Society and other academic professional organizations. It is certainly disheartening for an aspiring academic professional such as myself. Many other scholars/bloggers have offered advice about the perils of graduate education in biblical studies (and the humanities generally) and the job situation: Peter Enns and James K.A. Smith, for a start.
Yet this problem–too many PhDs and not enough jobs–seems to be both obvious and unavoidable. It’s simple math: a professor who supervises three doctoral candidates at a time, and graduates one every year for 25 years as a tenured professor, will produce 25 candidates for his one job when he retires. One of them will be hired onto the tenure track, while the other 24 will wander the country, adjuncting here and there, writing articles and presenting at conferences, eventually giving up at age forty and going into another industry.
I think that we’ve subsidized education too much and for too long. I believe in liberal education, but there is no reason why we need so many intelligent people pursuing PhDs in the humanities. They could be doing something else productive for society. We need college professors, but not that many. I say this as someone who will probably be part of the 75.5% described above who will be left out of the tenure track: this is a foolish system. As much as it pains me to say, let’s get gov’t out of the business of humanities education and let the market determine how many English, history and Bible PhDs we need.