One Week Until Princeton

 

My carved out space in the basement of our tiny house and yes, I'm using totes as walls.
My carved out space in the basement of our tiny house.

This is me, for the next week, as I get ready for Graduate Student Colloquium at the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Seminary.

And people think summer is all about vacation and loafing off? Not for those of us in a PhD program, that’s for sure! It has definitely been a busy #PhDSummer, and #PhDYrTwo is only one month away. Where did this year go?

Embracing the Ordinary: A Reflection on the History of Biblical Interpretation

 

When I was in seminary, there was a theology professor who insisted on calling me “the feminist theologian.” At first I thought it was just a joke, but I eventually realized that he was serious. One day, as we were passing in the hall, he greeted me in his typical manner, and I turned, very politely, with a laugh in my voice, and replied, “Actually, I’m not a feminist theologian, I’m a theologian who just happens to be a woman!”

I tell this story because it is emblematic of how I understand my faith and my identity. My primary calling, before being a wife, a mother, a woman, a Canadian, a geek, etc., is that I am a Christian. Any other designation is simply a modifier or adjective that is secondary to my primary calling. It is an ordinary and yet extraordinary calling. It is ordinary in that to be a Christian is not based on works, social status, or culture, but is the identity of all those who profess faith in, and heed the call to follow, Christ. This ordinary calling is broadly equalizing, making distinctions and signifiers secondary, if not outright irrelevant, in light of the extraordinary work of the One after whom we are named, and in whom we are being moulded and fitted for glory.

 

My professor, Dr. Marion Taylor. I highly recommend her classes!

It is from this context of experience and understanding that I came into my first semester of PhD studies and Marion Taylor’s course, “Reading Scripture through the Ages.” Throughout the semester, both through the weekly class gatherings and the course readings, I was struck by the ordinariness of the interpreters and their interpretative work, especially the female biblical interpreters. These women did not interpret Scripture primarily out of some sort of feminist agenda (whatever that means), but were first and foremost responding to the Divine Word. They were compelled to translate, interpret and share (be it teaching, preaching, or writing) because of their encounter with the revelation of God in Christ, because of their identities as disciples of Jesus, and because of the infilling of the Holy Spirit who is the author and sustainer of Scripture.

Through twelve weeks of reading entries from the Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters, I was introduced to women from diverse walks of life, across cultures, historical periods, life situations, and socio-economic statuses, who all published, preached, taught and interpreted Scripture. I read about women like Dhouda, Katherine Parr, Elizabeth I, and Marguerite de Navarre, who came from families of wealth and/or political power and made use of their connections to find a platform for their interpretative work. There were women like Magdalena Beutler and Elizabeth Smith who lived in poverty, and women like Elizabeth Hands, who worked as a domestic servant. There were women like Catherine Booth and Mary Cornwallis, and Esther Copley,[2] who were married to ministers; women like Briet Bjarnhjedinsdottir and Christine de Pizan who were widowed; and women like Hannah More, Elisabeth of Schönau, and Rebecca Jackson,[3] who were single either because of choice or life circumstance.

What unites these ordinary women, regardless of denomination, is that they are all examples of the biblical image of the priesthood of all believers. They all demonstrated that the Holy Spirit calls Christians, regardless of other identity markers like gender, class, and culture, to respond to, wrestle with, and share the message of the Gospel as recorded in Scripture.

Argula von Grumbach is the best!

Take for example, Argula von Grumbach, who is probably my favourite female interpreter. She was compelled to speak out because she believed in the final authority of Scripture. She had no formal teaching, and even though she came from a noble class, she was title-rich but financially poor.  She knew that 1 Timothy 2 says that women are to keep silent, but the calling of Christ in Matthew 10 to confess Christ, gave her the authority to speak, not from her position as a woman (noble or otherwise), but from her identity and calling as a Christian.[4]

It is this calling that also drives both men and women, from different ages, cultures, and social positions, to wrestle with even the most difficult texts. The modern age suffers two problems when it comes to biblical interpretation. First, it suffers from a self-centred historical amnesia in which we are the enlightened generation and we are the first and only to consider the “obscure” passages of Scripture and we read them, or “recover” them because no one else before us has, supposedly. The second problem is that the modern age suffers from an exaggerated form of political correctness, in which only women can speak to texts about women, and only special interest groups can properly speak into, and claim authority over, difficult parts of Scripture.[5]

In Reading the Bible with the Dead,[6] we see how incorrect these two problems are. The reality of the Christian identity and the importance of Scripture drove interpreters and theologians to wrestle deeply with texts like the narratives of Hagar and Ishmael, Jephthath’s foolish vow and the death of his daughter, and Gomer and Hosea’s marriage. As well, there are the imprecatory Psalms, examples of “heroes of the faith” doing dishonourable and/or villainous things, and social/cultural practices that appear to no longer make sense in a 21st century context.

What characterizes all of this is wrestling. Because of their encounter with the revelation of God in Christ, because of their identities as disciples of Christ, and because of the infilling of the Holy Spirit, who is the author and sustainer of Scripture, these interpreters throughout the history of the Church wrestled with, and tried to make sense of, the whole of Scripture, even the uncomfortable parts. Thompson argues that the difficult passages of Scripture “are actually made more accessible, not less, by consulting the commentators of our distant past.”[7] In his discussion of the story of Hagar and Ishmael, Thompson argues that modern feminist readings of this text are not new and that they can actually be strengthened by “an awareness of how our forebears received and read the story.”[8] This does not mean that the commentators of the past always interpreted Scripture perfectly. For example, Origen, in trying to make sense of Abraham’s polygamy, ends up over-allegorizing Hagar so that she becomes a “virtue of wisdom” and since “a man can never have too many virtues!,” Abraham’s polygamy is virtuous rather than problematic.[9] The danger of over-allegorizing Hagar is not just a danger in the past, but modern feminist scholars also run the risk of over-reading Hagar, even if it is not done allegorically, to the point that she becomes something wholly distinct from the original narrative. By recognizing the ordinariness of interpretation in the past, we can learn to be aware of our own cultural and hermeneutical foibles, and to approach all interpretation with charity, patience and humility.

Related to this, it is also possible that the interpreters of the past may actually have a better experiential lens with which to read Scripture. We can see this in Origen who, though he badly mangles Hagar in an attempt to explain Abraham’s polygamy, offered a sensitive reading of Jephthah’s foolish vow, because he read it through the lens of being the son of a man martyred for his faith. This life situation allowed Origen to wrestle deeply with the apparent gaps or silences in the narrative, and he attempted to make sense of what appears to be a senseless death. For Origen, Thompson notes, martyrdom was a senseless act, but, while “the martyr’s crown may be visible only to faith…it is visible to faith.”[10]

 

Jepthath’s Daughter

History judges the validity of interpretations. Some, like Augustine’s attempt to make sense of Jephthah’s daughter’s death by saying that Jephthah’s vow was okay because he was expecting his wife to be the first through the door to greet him,[11] do not stand the test of time. But it does teach those of us in the 21st century that one day future interpreters will look at our attempts to interpret difficult passages and some of our explanations which we now consider cutting-edge, provocative, or the ultimate solution to the theological or exegetical problem, and may conclude that our interpretations are nothing more than curious footnotes to be dismissed as quaint, overly simplistic, or even too fringe.

Along with this, reading the ordinary interpretations from the past, warts and all, should help us to assess our motivations in interpreting. This is especially true for academic interpretation. In an age where funding, publishing contracts, and tenure are prized, and threaten to overwhelm the heart of the academic endeavour, it can be easy to chase after the interpretation, methodology, or critical engagement that will garner the most funds, land the largest book contract, or secure tenure. The scholar/interpreter then needs to ask: are their interpretation, exegesis, and theological reflections guided by a hermeneutic of provocation, or are they guided by a hermeneutic of faithfulness? By reading the interpretations of ordinary Christians throughout the ages, there is an ever-present reminder that a Christian’s work, be it in academia, in the pulpit, or in the ordinary everyday living out of the faith, is done in and for the Church. The “Church” is more than just a gathering of people in this specific age, culture, and life situation, but also includes the gathering of “saints” from across generations, cultures and life experiences.

This is not to say that there should not be innovation in interpretative frameworks, or that there should not be “fresh” readings of texts. There should be, but these innovations cannot be done apart from the legacy of 2,000 years of Christian interpretation, because the Holy Spirit, who is the author and sustainer of Scripture, is also the author and sustainer of the Church.

On the first class, Professor Taylor quipped, “you can have dead mentors.” And as much as I like theological giants like Karl Barth, I find myself wishing I could devote more time and research to highlighting some of the ordinary voices that have been lost in the currents of history. There is something inherently ecclesial in recovering those ordinary voices which have been neglected not because of faulty or heretical interpretations, but simply because of the progress and sweep of history. This ecclesial listening and researching is a holy work that not only benefits the current age of Christianity, but builds up the whole body of past, present, and future ordinary saints.

 

[2] Copley is interesting because it appears that she ghost-wrote many of her husband’s sermons when he was inebriated. See, “Esther Beuzeville Hewlett Copley,” 139.

 

[3] Jackson was married when she received the call to celibacy. See, “Rebecca Cox Jackson,” 284.

[4] see her letter to the University of Ingoldstadt in Peter Matheson, Argula von Grumbach: A Woman’s Voice in the Reformation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995).

[5] I wonder if part of this can be traced to an overall decline in biblical literacy both in the broader culture and in the church, where people are not being exposed regularly to the whole of Scripture, but are instead exposed to a pericope approach to Scripture, where only snippets of Scripture are taught.

[6] John L. Thompson, Reading the Bible with the Dead (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2007).

[7] Ibid., 9.

[8] Ibid., 17.

[9] Ibid., 19.

[10] Ibid., 37.

[11] Ibid., 38.

The Gravity of Sin: Some Thoughts on Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion

the crucifixionIn chapter four of The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge sets out a theology of sin that is focused primarily on Sin as a power, rather than sin(s) as misdeeds. This is not to say that sin(s) as misdeeds is irrelevant or unimportant, rather Rutledge argues that there is a specific relationship between the two, in which Sin as a power is the cause and sins as misdeeds are the consequences.[1] In other words, Sin is “an active malevolent agency bent upon…the utter undoing of God’s purposes” and sins are “signs of that agency at work; they are not the thing itself.”[2] Sin has two aspects: it is a “responsible guilt” and an “alien power.”[3] These two aspects require atonement and liberation, respectively. These two aspects of Sin parallel Rutledge’s overall thesis of the book, in which she proposes a two-part approach to understanding the crucifixion: the death of Christ is both “God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin” and “God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death.”[4]

According to Rutledge, any discussion of Sin (and sins) can be done only in the light of an awareness of God’s prevenient grace. This grace “precedes our consciousness of sin, so that we perceive the depth of our own participation in Sin’s bondage simultaneously with the recognition of the unconditional love of Christ, which is perfect freedom.”[5] Rutledge demonstrates this by analysing Psalm 51. In this penitential Psalm, she notes that there is a definitive “relationship between understanding sin and knowing God.”[6] In other words, “sin can be understood only from the vantage point provided by God.”[7] The Psalmist’s confession of sin and cry for forgiveness stems from a relationship and knowledge of God and his laws.[8]

Next, Rutledge surveys the New Testament and lays out the biblical texts that speak of the relationship between Christ’s death and Sin. She sees several prominent themes. First, there is an emphasis on the forgiveness of sins and the overcoming of Sin. Second, there is an emphasis on Sin as a Power, particularly in Paul where Sin is both a verb and a dominion.[9] This then has implications for a robust doctrine (and practice) of repentance; so much so, that repentance functions significantly differently in the Christian tradition than in the 2nd Temple Jewish tradition that Paul inhabited.[10] According to Rutledge’s reading of the Pauline texts, repentance is not the first action to secure forgiveness of sins. Instead repentance is the response to God’s first action. In other words, “for Paul, the sequence is not sin-repentance-grace-forgiveness, but grace-sin-deliverance-repentance-grace.”[11]

Rutledge emphasizes that there is nothing inherent in the human condition that can make the reality of Sin disappear; not sentimental approaches to the atonement,[12] and not overly optimistic understandings of human progress.[13] Nothing that humans do can overcome the gravity of Sin[14] because it is more than just misdeeds; it is a Power that rules over all of humanity. It is from this Power that God has liberated humanity, through the atonement by Christ on the cross, and it is in light of this first act of grace that the gravity of Sin is realized, and that “the people of God go to their knees to acknowledge their need for a deliverance from Sin that they have already received.”[15]

There are two practical applications for the life of the church that we can extrapolate from Rutledge’s understanding of the gravity of Sin in light of God’s prevenient grace. First, attempts to tell society that it is sinful, or to preach a ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God’ type of message is not necessarily going to work in a post-Christian society that has either a poor concept or no concept of sin. Rutledge argues that the predominant North American model of convincing people of their sins so that they will come to Jesus is backwards. It is only in light of the message of salvation that “the sense of sin will come as a consequence” and it is only then that “the knowledge that the danger [of Sin] is already past will result in profound and sincere repentance.”[16] This has implications not only for preaching (preachers are one her key audiences in this volume), but also for evangelism and discipleship. So, adapting and translating Rutledge’s examples into a Canadian context, practices like the evangelical tent/church revival meetings of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the “Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Flame” [17] dramatic presentations of the late 20th century, for example, only worked because the culture at the time was culturally Christian at least in worldview or culture, though not necessarily in practice. The preacher, then, is to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, including the forgiveness of sins, and it is from and through that proclamation that the hearer may be convicted, by the Holy Spirit, of both the great mercy of God and then of the grave reality of their sin. In other words, sin is not the starting point; God’s abundant love, mercy and grace is.

Changing the starting point does not mean that the language and theology of sin should be eliminated from Christian discourse, because the second practical application that can be extrapolated from Rutledge’s chapter is the need for a robust practice of confession of sin. This practice is done by Christians who stand in the light of this prevenient grace, and is itself a form not only of discipleship, but also of witness and evangelism. By regularly confessing and acknowledging sin, praying for forgiveness and mercy, and hearing the words of absolution, the Christian community is testifying to the work of Christ, and to the prevenient grace of God’s justice and mercy. As Rutledge notes in her conclusion, confession is the sign, rather than the cause of God’s reconciling work with humanity.[18]

Throughout this book, Rutledge critiques contemporary Episcopalian liturgies which have omitted or glossed over key biblical and theological statements concerning the doctrine of the atonement. In this chapter, Rutledge laments the omission of the classic phrase “there is no health in us” because it was through this form of the General Confession that the Church was able “to teach that sin is not individual transgressions, but a universal malady.”[19] In confessing our corporate sins, Christians are evangelizing and testifying to the world to show how deficient modern North American conceptions of Sin (and sins) can be.[20] This same critique can be applied to the Book of Alternative Services in the Canadian Anglican context. Like the American Book of Common Prayer, the BAS downplays the language of sin. In the service of Morning Prayer, for example, the Penitential Rite is entirely optional, and when it is used, it does not contain the General Confession (including the line “there is no health in us) from the original BCP. Instead, the confession of sin emphasizes sin as misdeeds with no reference to Sin as a universal malady or a Power.[21]

This robust practice of confession of Sin (and sins) can also be strengthened by the observance of Lent. While Lent is an ancient Christian practice, it has only been in the last twenty-five years that low churches (particularly evangelical) have embraced this portion of the church year.[22] The rhythm of forty days set aside prior to Easter, allows the Christian community to not only acknowledge the Power of Sin and Death (starting with Ash Wednesday’s declaration of death’s inevitability), but also to learn more deeply how to pray, how to repent, and to better understand the gravity of Sin. It is in this context, then, as a form of discipleship, that the pastors and leaders of the church can move between proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel and teaching about the pervasive destruction of Sin in such a way that calls the gathered Christians to confess, repent and respond to God’s gracious act of Jesus’ atoning and liberating work on the cross.

This chapter (and the entire book) serves as a good introduction, that pastors, preachers, and teachers can use as a way to frame sermon series, Bible studies, and introductory theology classes on the doctrine of sin and salvation in a way that is both faithful to the biblical and theological witness and accessible and applicable for a church serving and living in a 21st-century post-Christian culture.

Rutledge’s chapter, “The Gravity of Sin” serves as a helpful reminder to the preacher of how and why to preach the Gospel. It serves as a helpful reminder to theologians that any theological and philosophical analysis of the doctrine of sin can only occur in light of the Gospel which illuminates, identifies, and names our sins. Finally, this chapter serves as a reminder to the church that there is no way to escape either the universal human question of justice (the topic of chapter three), nor the centrality of Christ’s death and the myriad of biblical motifs used to explain and describe the atoning and liberating work of the cross (chapters five thru twelve) because Sin rules and defines human existence apart from Jesus Christ.

[1] Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2015), 168.

[2] Ibid., 175.

[3] Ibid., 181.

[4] Ibid., 209.

[5] Ibid., 171.

[6] Ibid., 183. Emphasis in the original.

[7] Ibid.

[8] This emphasis on the necessity of a relationship and revelation of God’s grace prior to understanding sin was a completely new idea for me. But looking back at my conversion experience, it does appear to fit Rutledge’s ordering. It was a full year of encounters with Christians and the Bible before my conversion, and it was only after I had personally encountered Christ in an act of mercy (literally, a miracle), that I could surrender and confess my sins and my utter and complete need for salvation and forgiveness.

[9] Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, 189.

[10] For example, Rutledge discusses the difference between the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Christian understanding of atonement that takes place in Christ’s crucifixion. Ibid., 171–172.

[11] Ibid., 192.

[12] Ibid., 195–197.

[13] Ibid., 197–200.

[14] Ibid., 202.

[15] Ibid., 204. Emphasis original.

[16] Ibid., 173.

[17] I am not dismissing the “Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Flame” drama productions outright. It was through one of these at a Pentecostal church twenty years ago that I came to faith in Christ.

[18] Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, 204.

[19] Ibid., 194.

[20] See for example, Rutledge’s humorous example of the “Sindex.” Ibid., 193.

[21] “We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

[22] This is due in large part to the work of Robert Webber. See, for example, Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999).

A Typical Bedtime in the Life of a PhD Student

Sleeping

SCENE: 11pm. Amanda has changed into her pyjamas,  turned out the lights, and has snuggled under the covers. Her eyes close and she looks forward to drifting off to sleep.

 

Manda’s Brain: Conway’s ameliorative punishment is significant because x, y, z. And its influence can be seen in a, b, c.

*Manda’s brain continues to recite an entire paragraph that would be perfect for Amanda’s paper.*

Amanda: Grrr. Really?! Now?

*Amanda rolls over and tucks the cover up over her head.*

*Manda’s brain begins to formulate the next paragraph.*

Amanda: Fine!

*Amanda throws off the covers and fumbles for the light switch, and with squinting eyes, opens up her laptop. Type, type, type.*

Amanda: There. Done. Now I can go to bed.

*Amanda shuts the laptop, turns off the light, and crawls back into bed.*

 brainManda’s Brain: You know, while we’re at it, here’s a beautiful paragraph for that other paper you’re writing.

Amanda: No. I’m going to bed. It is time to sleep. Be quiet.

Manda’s Brain: But this is really good.

Amanda: I don’t care.

Manda’s Brain: Yes you do care.

Amanda: Fine. I care. I’ll care more in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: No you won’t.

Amanda: Yes I will.

 Manda’s Brain: You know that abyss in “Inside Out” where thoughts and memories are annihilated?

Amanda: ….yeah…

 Manda’s Brain: That’s where I’ll punt this beautiful paragraph if you don’t get up right now and write it down.

Amanda: You wouldn’t do that. You’ll file it away, nice and safe, and I’ll remember it in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: Oh, I would so totally do it. You’ll be asleep. You won’t be able to stop me.

Amanda: I don’t care. I’ll come up with an even better idea tomorrow.

Manda’s Brain: Are you sure about that? Where did I put that writer’s block?

*Manda’s brain begins softly whistling.*

Amanda: You wouldn’t.

Manda’s Brain: Tomorrow’s your writing day, right? No classes. Just writing. You have big plans to get lots accomplished.

Amanda: You wouldn’t sabotage that! There’s only two weeks left in the semester!

Manda’s Brain: Found the writer’s block, now to set an alarm so that it activates at 8am and lasts til…oh I don’t know, how’s 24 hours?

Amanda: NO!!!! Fine. I’ll get up and write it down.

*Grumpily, Amanda throws off the covers, fumbles for the light switch and opens her laptop.*

Amanda: You know, I really hate you sometimes.

Manda’s Brain: You know you love me.

Amanda: Okay, what was the paragraph again?

Manda’s Brain: …oh wait…um…

Amanda: REALLY?!

Manda’s Brain: Hang on…I’ve got it…Oh right. Here we go!

*Amanda types out the paragraph, hits save, and shuts the laptop.*

Amanda: Are we done? Can I go to sleep now?

Manda’s Brain: Yup. All done.

Amanda: Are you sure? If I climb into bed, close my eyes and you start jabbering again, I’m going to ignore it. I don’t care if the idea ends up in the abyss of forgotten ideas to be annihilated.

Manda’s Brain: I’m sure. Go to sleep. I’ll be fine.

*Amanda turns off the light, climbs into bed, pulls the covers over her head and closes her eyes.*

Manda’s Brain: Hey Amanda.

Amanda: ….

Manda’s Brain: Do you worry about what people would think about this?

Amanda: You mean, do I worry about what people may think about the fact that I have internal arguments with myself?

Manda’s Brain: Yeah. What would your husband, the psychologist, say?

Amanda: *laughing* Are you kidding? We’re completely normal compared to him. At least this conversation is happening internally. When he’s in writing mode he paces back and forth and has the argument out loud. We’ve got nothing to worry about. Good night Manda’s Brain, I love you.

Manda’s Brain: I love you too. Good night.

The Latest Craze

Shhh. There’s a new thing that all the cool people are doing.

Have you heard about it? It’s all the rage.

But shhhh, we don’t want it to be publicized too widely because once the world hears about it there will be nothing but armchair moralizing by people who have never done it, or tongue-clucking by people who had done it years and years ago but have managed to forget how complex the ritual is.

This ritual happens all year round, but there are swells of participation usually clustered around the last week of November and first couple weeks of December, and again around the last week of March and into the first couple weeks of April.

Most often this ritual is done individually, without a partner, but what appears to be a lonely exercise is actually a synchronized activity performed by thousands of individuals simultaneously.

It happens in tiny cells that each consist of a desk, a bookshelf if you’re lucky, and an uncomfortable bed that looks older than dirt and feels even older.

It happens in tiny wooden carrels tucked at the ends of row upon row of narrow corridors, with walls plastered with signs that say “this is a quiet zone. No food allowed. Only drinks with tight-fitting lids permitted. Please silence all cell phones.”

It happens in coffee shops, where, for only a couple of dollars, you can sit for hours nursing a hot beverage that gives you the energy to perform this ritual into the wee hours of the morning, while making use of an essential prop called “free wifi” (which the coffee shop offers because all the other coffee shops offer it, but secretly they curse because it means that you stay for hours on end).

It’s a rather dizzying and tiring display of bluster, clumsy false starts and, more often than not, tears.

Two steps forward. Three steps back. One step forward and a couple of shuffles to the side.

Repeat the pattern, only not necessarily exactly the same. And this time, you make sure to keep an eye on the clock as its tick-tock rhythm forces you to complete the sequence of steps more quickly.

Two steps forward. Two steps back. Three steps forward and one shuffle to the side. Faster!

One step forward. Your breathing becomes laboured.

Half a step back. You can’t feel your hands or feet. Faster still!

Two shuffles to the side. Your vision begins to blur.

One twirl, a backflip and, finally, collapse into an over-dramatic bow.

It’s called the Paper Writing Waltz. #PhDYrOne

10 Reasons Christians Shouldn’t Read The Patristic Fathers #TBT

10. They’re boring. They don’t talk about anything interesting. Ever. And they are polite and never ever disagree with each other.

9. People were baptized naked. Yup. Naked. Oh my victorian/evangelical sensibilities!

8. What do you mean there were women in leadership in the early church?! Church Mothers? Desert Mothers? Everyone knows that the only biblical model for women is one where the woman is at home in high heels and has supper in the oven.

7. We may have our view of communion challenged. What do you mean they celebrated communion weekly? Everybody knows you should only celebrate it monthly otherwise it becomes stale and rote.

6. The Reformers read the Church Fathers and look at how badly that turned out for Christianity.

5. They wrote in Greek (which is too hard to learn) and Latin (which is a dead language).

4. If we read the Patristics we may come to find that the heroes weren’t always noble and honourable and the villains (heretics) weren’t always the bad guys.

3. Everyone knows that “communion of saints” only refers to this current generation.

2. Their issues are in no way our issues today. All of our issues theological and ecclesiological are brand new and have never been experienced by any other generation of Christians.

1. Karl Barth was heavily influenced by the Church Fathers and everyone knows that if Barth liked it it must be wrong!

****

This post was originally published 5/11/12 and is re-posted as part of #TBT (Throwback Thursday).

Announcement

I received word that I got into my top two choices for PhD programs. After much prayer and discussion I have accepted the offer of admission to the conjoint PhD program in Theological Studies at Wycliffe College and the University of Toronto. In my admissions research proposal, I expressed my desire to continue my research on Karl Barth, specifically looking at his lectures on the Gospel of John (In my MA thesis I looked at Barth’s exegesis of John 1:14 and compared his original exegesis in these early lectures to three places in the Church Dogmatics where he once again exegetes this foundational verse that gives shape to his entire Christological method). As a result of that proposal, my PhD supervisor will be Dr. Joseph Mangina. I am excited and thankful for this opportunity. It’s going to be an interesting season of life as I embark on this new adventure.

Prayers would be appreciated as plans and preparations begin. As well, pray that I may get adequate funding. I received a scholarship that will cover my tuition but I still need to fund my living expenses (dorm, meal plan, flights back to Saskatchewan, etc.)

Wycliffe College Here I come!

 

Adventures in Thesis Writing

phd100802s

 

I’m halfway through a two-week intensive thesis writing spree. Here are some of the things that I have observed about the thesis-writing process:

The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. I’ll say it again: The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. Sure it’s okay if you only need to pull a plum quote or two, thumb but if you want to read an entire chapter, or, heaven forbid, the entire book, the EBSCO reader is clunky, ugly and very user unfriendly. Yes, it does have a function where you can export sections to a PDF for convenient reading, but this usually only covers 15-25 pages. So you’re stuck reading the book on your laptop and the interface is so ugly that you usually get a headache from reading the book on the computer screen. And when you’re in the e-book reading and the system decides that you’re taking too long to read, if another person decides to read the e-book, you get booted from the system. It would be like if you had taken a book from the shelf and started to read it, and someone comes along and takes it right from your hands. What makes it worse, most libraries will not allow a patron to fill out an inter-library loan request to get a physical copy of the book if it is available as an EBSCO e-book.  After a day of complete frustration, I finally caved and ordered a copy of the book I was needing on Amazon. It should arrive in a week or so.

 

I’ve come up with the next episode of Castle: death by library stacks. The BR-BT section of the McMaster library (basically the Bible-Biblical Studies-Theology section) is on these moveable library shelves that all squish together when not in use. So what you do is you find the row that you need, press a button, and the shelves move so that you can walk down the row to find your book. Each time I walked down the row, I kept thinking that at any minute the system was going to reset itself, and I’d get squished between Christology and Hermeneutics. Death by stacks. Yup, definitely a good opening for an episode of Castle.

 

“Just one more source” becomes a great way to procrastinate from writing. Oh, I should look up just one more source before I start writing. Okay, now I should look up just one more source. Six hours and twelve “just one more sources” later means that not a single sentence was written. Are those “just one more sources” helpful? Sometimes. But those six hours could have been spent writing a page or two with the material already collected.

 

The writing chopping block looms over my shoulder constantly. My greatest fear is that when I submit this chapter to my supervisor he’ll say that I’ll have to reduce all that beautiful hard work, that took hours and hours, to one single footnote and then start again.

 

The more highlighters you have the better. I think I now own every single colour of highlighter ever created. They can turn the most boring source into a beautiful rainbow of whimsy. Trust me, this is important, because, oh my, some (most?) of these academic tomes are so dull they make normal dull look sharp and sparkly.

 

For all the hard work and stress that it is, I’m actually really enjoying the thesis writing process. Oh no! I’m doomed!

 

 

 

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Upcoming Barth Project

Jessica DeCou is working on a book on Karl Barth’s trip to the United States in 1962. She has launched a Kickstarter project to help fund her travel expenses to several library archives.

“A Fantastic Affair”: Karl Barth in America, look 1962 (a.k.a. “KBUSA” – under advance contract with Fortress Press, ISBN: 978-1-4514-6553-2) provides the first detailed chronicle of Barth’s sole visit to the U.S. in 1962. Barth arrived at a tumultuous moment in American history and found himself embroiled in some of the nation’s fiercest conflicts: touring prisons and inner city neighborhoods and meeting with communist groups, State and Defense Department staff, civil rights activists, business leaders, and White House officials – just to name a few. The book, therefore, will not only shed light on Barth’s later life and work, but also provide a snapshot of American culture in the early ‘60s – from the highest levels of government to the tourist cultures built along with and alongside the developing Interstate Highway System; from Seminary campuses to high security prisons; from Napa Valley to East Harlem.

Of course, completing this project requires extensive travel to various institutions around the country where relevant archives are housed. Research funding in the humanities can be difficult to come by these days, but I will not let that stop me!!  I’m turning to Kickstarter in the hope that, with your help, my research can continue unabated in order to meet my publication deadline (Summer 2014).

There are gifts for those who contribute to the project (yay for gifts!). You can pledge your support for this project here.

 

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On Writing a Thesis

thesis prayer

Your thesis proposal has been approved. You are now officially writing a thesis. You sit at your desk and the worries and doubts begin to overwhelm. All of the emotions and frustrations that you laughed at when reading PhD comics are suddenly no longer funny. How are you going to survive the next year of thesis writing?

1. Find some accountability. Maybe it’s about setting specific due dates and deadlines for yourself. But more useful is finding someone to sit down with once every couple of weeks, health who will ask you straight out “what you have done this week?” This person will most likely not be your supervisor. It could be another student who is also in thesis mode, cialis or someone who has previously written a thesis.

2. Just write something. The most paralyzing thing is a blank computer screen. The idea does not have to be fully developed before you put it on the screen. Even if it’s a half-formed thought, putting it on the screen (or on paper) will help get you started. Remember there is plenty of time to edit, re-write and rearrange (especially when your supervisor takes a red pen to your submitted chapter and slashes it to smithereens).

3. Stop researching. Sometimes research stops being useful and instead becomes a procrastination tool. Do you really need to track down one more book? Probably. But not right now. Get out of the stacks and start working with what you’ve already researched. You can, and will, get back to that “one more source” and you’ll have no problem incorporating it into what you’ve already written.

4. Print off and read what you’ve written. This is especially helpful if, like many people, you only have a few days a week devoted to thesis writing. By printing off what you wrote the session before, it is easier to pick up your train of thought and start jotting down notes of where you want to take your argument. It also can serve as an encouragement, “hey, what I wrote last week isn’t half bad.” And, there is something about reading your work on the printed page rather than off the computer screen that changes how you understand and respond to your writing.

5. Go for a walk. Sitting down with your thesis for eight hours at a time isn’t as productive as it sounds. Your body will need a break from sitting at the desk, and your brain will need a distraction. Break up your day by going for a mid-morning walk or by spending an hour at the gym. The exercise will clear your head allowing your afternoon writing session to be more productive.

6. Keep a notebook. It will be inevitable that on the days that you’re not working on your thesis, your brain will spin out the most brilliant argument that you just have to include in your chapter, usually at the most inopportune time like in the middle of family dinner, in the middle of a good night’s sleep, or while you’re at work. By keeping a notebook handy, you can jot down the idea so your brain doesn’t have to try to desperately remember the idea until your next writing day. Trust me, the brilliant thought you had on Monday will most definitely be forgotten by the time you sit down to write on Wednesday unless you write it down.

7. Turn off the Internet. A quick “I’ll just take two minutes to check my email, Twitter, news feed” inevitably becomes an hour…or two…or three.