Parallell Temptations

Apple Tree

Recently I’ve been intrigued by parallels and references in three passages of the Bible. The first, is Matthew 4:1-4, the story of Jesus being led into the wilderness and his first temptation. He quotes from Deuteronomy 8, which I mention here only as a reference. The temptation of Christ, however, mirrors the first temptation in Genesis 3:1-19. The Genesis passage is the first temptation of mankind. All three of these passages seem to connect in various parallel ways. What has become most interesting to me about the two temptations is their similarities or differences.

Similarities

  1. Temptation, obviously, takes place in both passages.
  2. Both passages involve food.
  3. Both have Satan (the serpent) as the tempter.

The differences however, bring a striking contrast.

Differences

  1. In the garden, everything they need for food is available. No mention of hunger. Jesus is hungry and apparently has no food. He is in need. Yet, the serpent is successful in the first temptation despite all its plenty. Satan is not successful with Jesus.
  2. The first temptation happened in paradise. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
  3. The serpent approaches the woman. Jesus enters the wilderness and finds Satan.
  4. Eve knew the word of God and ignored it (i.e. Do not eat of the tree in the midst of the garden). Jesus quoted it and lived by it.
  5. The sin brings about death. The obedience brings about life.

These parallels may not be profound or plentiful in number. However, they are interesting parallels, especially if you look at the full context of Deuteronomy 8. There, living by God’s commands is important–it brings life.

The moral of the story? Circumstances don’t make good excuses for disobeying the word of God. Jesus had more difficult circumstance when he was met with temptation. Yet, he did not fall into temptation. He obeyed the word of God and through it found life.

I’m Back! (Or Why I’m Eating Crow)

leerer Hˆrsaal in der Universit‰t / empty auditorium at the university

There is something to that ole saying, “Never say never.” There was a time when I said that I would never go back into any Ph.D. program. But, due to a curious turn of events, close counsel, and encouragement from many, I decided to look into my options last Fall. Of course, it wouldn’t be as simple as expressing interest in returning to the program. I would have to reapply and sit for the entrance exam. On Wednesday I received my notification that I was accepted into the Ph.D. program for Old Testament Studies.

I feel like I have a second chance on pursuing a Ph.D. I hope to correct some errors, misconceptions, and practices that I had the first go round. Here are some things that I hope will be (or will be) different this time. We’ll start with the most obvious:

  1. I’ll be in a different program…sort of: In the fall of 2015 SEBTS is launching a new program solely dedicated to Old Testament studies. I know, you thought I was doing Old Testament before. However, I was technically in the Biblical Studies program with a concentration in Old Testament. Now, I’m focused on Old Testament studies. I’ll still be studying a similar dissertation topic that I had before (fingers crossed), but I’ll be expanding it to other Semitic languages. That is if my advisers agree, which have changed as well.
  2. I know my writing and research process: The first time around I didn’t have my research and writing process worked out. This was tough for me in the program because every semester I had to write a paper on a different topic that I knew nothing about. I rarely was able to write on a more comfortable topic, like say, something related to my dissertation interests. This was exhausting for me. Mainly because I had no method for research and writing. Full disclosure: most of the time the paper I turned in was my first draft. Those who have heard me speak in library workshops have just gasped! They know I tell them to start their writing early, even if it is just summarizing what they are reading. That’s part of my process now. Starting to write early and often in the process helps my thought to mature. I’m not going to go over my entire process here. All I can say is that I have a streamlined process now that works with my personality. It was put to the test this past summer when Logos contacted me to write four articles for their Lexham Theological Wordbook. They were in a bind and I only had ten days to write all four (I had done previous work for them). Without my process, I would not have been able to do it. It showed me that the process is beneficial for my personality type and it helps me to deliver under a deadline.
  3. I no longer feel like a charlatan: There is only one person who ever heard me call myself this during the program. Why did I think this about myself? I thought this because I was a Ph.D. student focusing on Hebrew and Old Testament studies and I couldn’t read Hebrew that well. While most people would tell you I could read Hebrew equal to (or better) than my peers, I knew that I could only keep this up but for a few verses. But since my time out of the program I’ve been reading a lot of Hebrew. In 2012 I began reading the Old Testament in Hebrew for my scripture reading. I made a plan to read the bible through every two years in the original languages.  I’ve completed it once and I’m working through for my second time. What used to be a time consuming process (1 to 1 & 1/2 hours) now only takes a short time (15-20 minutes) in the OT. The prophets still give me some trouble…but not as much as they used to.
  4. The perfectionist in me must die: While the main reason writing was so exhaustive before was due to the fact that I had no process, it wasn’t helped by my perfectionism. Logos also gave me the chance to put that to death when I did my work for them. Editors have a way of doing that for you, really. I’m not looking to write my magnum opus or be the best Ph.D. student this time around. In truth, that’s what I was trying to do before. Now, I hope to do my best and I know that my best will be flawed. If I seek to be perfect, I’ll never attain it. I’ll be afraid to contribute anything to scholarly world for fear of failure. I don’t want to end up being just a brain trust that never benefits anyone with what he is studying. So this puppy must die.
  5. It is about community, not competition: I probably wouldn’t have admitted this years ago, but I viewed my fellow Ph.D. students, especially those in my field, as my competition. In some regards, they were. They were my competition for jobs. But this time, I want to go in with the right perspective about my peers. The true competition is not between me and them. The true competition is between truth and error. In order to compete against error, you have to have a team concept going in. My peers are my teammates not my competition in this. We work together to seek the truth and then winsomely communicate it. My goal is to encourage their scholarship, gently direct their work if I think it is veering from good scholarship, help them to communicate it well, and be willing to receive the same type of constructive criticism to keep me on course. The success of our futures depends on how well we push and encourage one another, not on who gets the job in the end.
  6. It is not about me: There were many reasons why I began the Ph.d. last time and a lot of them centered around me. I felt that I had worked hard to get there (which I had) and therefore, I deserved to be there. I spent a lot of time trying to prove it. This time around, I feel like I have been charged with a greater responsibility that goes beyond myself. The charge is that my work (whether publication, teaching, or things that I learn) will benefit my family, friends, job, school, peers, and church.
  7. Change comes inside out: One of the reasons that I left the Ph.D program was due to little book entitled, Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and The Eclipse of Scholarship. The ideas in that book were magnified when I attended a conference where everyone seemed to be promoting themselves and stepping on others to do it. It disgusted me a little. Both the  book and the conference made me think that I didn’t want that life for myself. But, in the end I realized three things. The first, is that not everyone in the world of scholarship was like the people I met at the conference (in fact, not everyone I met there was like that). Second, not every institution was like the ones described in the book (e.g. SEBTS). Finally, those who changed the way a sport was played didn’t do it by creating a different sport. They just played their sport differently. Some of them fell flat on their face. Some of them changed the game. I may not change the game, but I’ve resolved to play differently (e.g. #5 in this list).

Well those are seven of the differences I hope to see during my “second chance” Ph.D. Some of them I will have to be the catalyst in order to see those changes. I think SEBTS will be the best place for me to make these changes. The environment among professors, administration, and my peers, will be an excellent place for me to improve my scholastic efforts, and work on the changes mentioned above.

Cloud Atlas: A Review (Spoiler Alert)

What can I say about a book that took me two months to read? A book that is built like a russian Matryoshka doll (a.k.a. nesting doll); or for those a little more literally knowledgeable, a chiasmus. Of course, the time it took for me to read a book who’s story-line is not sequential made what story-line was present seem more like a Monet than a Gustave Courbet. (Let the reader understand)

The novel is set around six stories. The first and last is about a notary from San Francisco sailing the south Pacific. I say first and last because his story is broken mid-sentence, interrupted by the other five stories which appear in its place both ascending and descending (the second story continues next to last at the end). The second is that of a musician, Robert Fobrischer. The third, that of an investigative reporter Louisa Rey. The fourth, a Mr. Cavendish (perhaps my favorite). The fifth, a a fabricant, or clone, named Sonmi-451. And finally, at the center of the book, the story of Sloosha, a stone aged type island man (who oddly enough exists, I believe, after the other stories).

Each story connects somehow to another even though they are set in different periods of time. There are interesting aspects to each story that tie them together: a shared birthmark, a familiar tune (written by our own Robert Fobrisher), or books. Each story having peculiar oddities of its own. The speech of Sloosha reminds one of the speech imitated in Shaw’s Pygmalion. Or Sonmi-451 fighting against corpocracy (commercialism), which uses the word Nike for shoes, or starbucks for coffee. Namebrands that have become common nouns. The story is full of interesting little tidbits like that, which will in the end, aid the story as it moves along…somehow…anachranistically.

My hope is to read it again the the future and break each of the stories out on their own. Perhaps this will actually tie the stories together better for my mind.

There are moments of sheer hilarity in the book. Perhaps my favorite is the second story of “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timoty Cavendish.” A tale about a man who has, in his mind, been wrongly confined to a nursing home by his brother and his attempt to break out of said nursing home. Imagine, if you will, four elderly people stealing a Land Rover and busting through an iron gate at 55 mph; who were scott free when they realized that the map where they had planed their get away was sitting back on one of their nightstands. This map included their first stop for gas and a bite, which was where they were when they realized that their mission had been compromised. Upon this realization in walk their pursuers. And who is the hero? Who delivers the old people from the clutches of the young? Ah, but the octogenarian who has been acting catatonic until he got his big break. Using his keen since of setting (A Scottish Bar) and his pursuers (a man from souther England) yells, “What did you say about the Scottish!?”

The whit in this section gave me a good belly laugh in the middle of the coffee shop I was reading in. If you read no other story in this work, this one is a must read.

If you do venture to read the book, it is worth it to see what his understanding of man’s telos is on page 507-508. I continually find it interesting that works that are dubbed as post-modern always hope for telos, or purpose. This one has a telos, but seems to hint at no purpose, only to reel it back again. It can’t quite let go of that hope.

In regards to living a virtuous life, the outer shell of our nesting doll says:

You’ll be spat on, shot at, lynched,pacified with medals, spurned by backwoodsmen! Crucified! Naive, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than a drop in a limitless ocean!”

Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?

 

And Inkling and a Dolt Find Something in Common

I read the letters of C. S. Lewis daily. Just two to three letters, no more. I enjoy the process quite a bit. Many times my life and what Lewis wrote overlap and I find counsel, encouragement, perspective, and sometimes a good laugh.

The most recent congruence between my life and his letters was the answer to a question that he so graciously provided. I am reading, “On the Incarnation” with a friend and he received a different translation than mine (Mine is John Behr’s–and yes I have the Greek/English copy). No translator was given only the letters CSMV for his copy. We didn’t know who the translator was. The next day I read Lewis’ letter to a Sister Penelope thanking her for her kind dedication to him in her translation of “On the Incarnation” by Athanasius. Next to her name–CSMV. Question answered! But I have diverted from my original purpose of this post. I’ve gone from feeling a connection between myself and another inkling into an apology (think defense) for why I like reading the letters. I, as I so often do, digress….

Lewis was writing to a man by the name of Charles A. Brady on Oct 29th, 1944, and set forth a brief description of J. R. R. Tolkien’s willingness to publish his works. He writes:

His published works (both imaginative & scholarly) ought to fill a shelf by now: but he’s one of those people who is never satisfied with a MS. The mere suggestion of publication provokes the reply, ‘Yes, I’ll just look through it and give it a few finishing touches.’–wh. means that he really begins the whole thing over again.

Now, the great difference between Tolkien and this dolt is that he has a lot of works already written. I do not. I have trashed all of my works for the most part–or my attempts. The similarity is not the amassing of finished work, but rather in our feelings towards them. We never really like them well enough to think they should be published. There is always something we can do better. Ah, the plight of the perfectionist. Die vile scoundrel!

It is nice to know that we are on the same plane somewhere. I am sure it is the only thing we have in common with our writing.

Words to Winners of Souls by Horatius Bonar: A Review

This work by Horatius Bonar, a 19th century Scottish pastor, is all about encouraging its readers to treasure the gospel and to never tire in the labor for the gospel. Bonar’s intended audience are ministers in churches. However, the book may be read by all Christians who desire to see their world impacted for the gospel.

Bonar first calls for ministers to focus on their one object: to win souls. In order to do this, the minister must first be a Christian. This may seem obvious but Bonar presses this point. For him, the minister’s Christianity should not be a stale Christianity. Anyone can do that. The minister’s Christianity must be on fire. In order to do that they must lay aside everything to seek God. They should rise early to seek God before they give their day to anyone else. He states, “Let us seek the Lord early. ‘If my heart be early seasoned with his presence, it will savor of him all day after.'” (p. 10) For Bonar, rising early is focused on prayer, contra most of our contemporary culture which focuses on bible reading. In fact, the remainder of the paragraph deals with prayer.
The minister must focus on his own soul and must walk with God.

Bonar also calls out the laziness of the minister’s in his day (which also calls out our ministers today). He pushes for all ministers to set their hearts on winning lost souls. He writes,

“No; really to give anything to God implies that the will, which is emphatically the heart, has been set on that thing; and if the heart has indeed been set on the salvation of sinners as the end to be answered by the means we use, we can not possibly give up that end without, as we before observed, the heart being severely exercised and deeply pained by the renunciation of the will involved in it. When, therefore, we can be quietly content to use the means for saving souls without seeing them saved thereby, it is because there is no renunciation of the will–that is not real giving up to God in the affair. The fact is, the will-that is, the heart–had never really beens set upon this end; it is had, it could not possibly give up such an end without being broken by the sacrifice…The soul and eternity of one man depends upon the voice of another.” (p. 22 & 24)

This quote was from the most convicting chapter for me. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It demonstrates a very mature, gentle, bold encouragement for the reader to labor diligently in gospel service.

John Donne, Hugh Grant, Bruce Milne, and the Church

“No man is an Island.” At least, that’s what John Donne said. And somehow, by some ironic twist of fate, this statement has forever formed a connection for me between a christian book and a secular movie. The book is We Belong Together by Bruce Milne which deals with what it means for the church to have true fellowship together. The other is a movie entitled About a Boy (trailer) starring Hugh Grant. Both the book and the movie begin with Donne’s words (the movie returns to it again in the end). And now, you have a sure fire way to win the Seven degrees of Kevin Bacon with the author of a book—winning.

Milne’s work has greatly influenced me these past couple of weeks as I read through it for my internship. I will share a great deal of what he says in several blog posts here over the next couple of weeks. However, what I want to do in this blog post is discuss the movie a bit. So if you haven’t seen it, please watch. If you do plan on seeing it you may not want to read past this point. If you don’t plan on watching it just take my word for it or watch the trailer above.

Why do I want to discuss the movie? Because I think the movie portrays a community (or fellowship) more closely related to biblical fellowship. The movie begins by unfolding the habits of Will Freeman (played by Grant), which lead the viewer to see him as a self-centered philanderer who doesn’t want to care for anyone at all. And, on top of that, he doesn’t really care that no one cares for him. He likes it that way.

But like any other movie, a transformation of the protagonist takes place. Through the course of events he meets a young boy whose mom is completely messed up. She’s depressed, crazy, and even attempts suicide after she meets Freeman. The boy keeps showing up at his door asking him for help. All the while Freeman is sucked into a community without realizing it– a community which accepts, and challenges, him and his self-centeredness. And, in turn, he accepts the crazy depression and seeks to transform the mom’s world too. By the end of the movie, he’s in a community of love which ends up being hard but worth it.

This type of fellowship, I would contend, is like the fellowship that the church should have. A body of messed up people, saved by Christ, changed by his love, and seeking to love everyone into a fuller understanding of his grace. We are just a whole bunch of messed up, sinful people. Life together is hard, and far too often we abandon it for an “easy” Christian life where we are separated by great thick walls; not willing to realize what Freeman realizes in the movie….that messed up community is better than none. And quite frankly, it is what God has set up to protect and nurture our souls.

Like I already mentioned, I will be referring to Milne’s works over the next couple of weeks. I hope that this will have the same wonderful effect on you that it has had on me.