Friday, June 20, 2008

Getting Down To Business

This week I began my pastoral studies in earnest. I read the introduction and first chapter of Darrell L. Bock's and Daniel B. Wallace's "Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture's Quest To Unseat The Biblical Christ." I had originally wanted to start with something else, but this book is current and causing some stir among some Christian blogsites. I wanted to see what the controversy is about. Anyway, the bibliography is a good guide to current research concerning the topics covered by the book.

The introduction contrasts two distinctive views of Jesus and His Word: the Orthodox Christian view and a departure from orthodoxy that the author's label "Jesusanity." "Jesusanity" arose from various sources including the use of modern historical methods of studying scripture, a new way of viewing history, the division between the Jesus of the scriptures and the historical Jesus, modern archeology, the interaction between the proponents of Jesusanity and the media and a reaction to what Bock and Wallace call a "brittle fundamentalism."

The first of six claims underpinning Jesusanity examined by Bock and Wallace concern the work of New Testament scholar Bart Erlman, author of "Misquoting Jesus." Erlman states that it is impossible to know the original meaning of the New Testament writers because the originals cannot be recovered, scribes before Constantine's era made too many mistakes and later scribes altered the manuscripts to change their meaning to fit their notion of orthodoxy. The problems in recovering the original message of Jesus are so insurmountable, according to Erlman, that he has lost his faith in orthodox Christianity. Bock and Wallace criticize Erlman for creating the impression that the recovery of the original gospel message is impossible. They accuse him of making insinuations concerning the accuracy of the gospels we do have rather than making concrete claims. The authors challenge his assertions that we do not possess enough early manuscripts, that there are so many copying errors and insertions of personal opinion that they radically change the meaning of many of the books of the Bible. I will not give a detailed review since this post is not for that purpose, but just a record of my reading.

I read the first two chapters of "Preaching to a Shifting Culture: 12 Perspectives on Communicating That Connects" edited by Scott M Gibson. The first chapter, by Gibson, focused on the need for pastors to preach the Old Testament and examined why this portion of scripture is neglected. Some of the issues dealt with are whether or not the Old Testament is valid and relevant in light of Jesus' mission and the New Testament, whether the Old Testament is more than a source for illustrating the New. The author even states that to call the Old Testament "the Old Testament" is counterproductive. Gibson prefers to refer to it as "the Hebrew Scriptures." Gibson also advocates utilizing the "Speech Act" theory in preaching. The second chapter deals with what the writer, Vic Gordon, believes is the main message of the New Testament, the Kingdom of God. This has been my view as a preacher and I tried to emphasize it to my parishioners. According to Gordon, it is the consensus of the Christian academic community that the main trust of the New Testament message is the Kingdom of God: not only is it the focus of the New Testament, it is the key to unlocking the Old Testament as well. Gordon recommends the reading of George Eldon Ladd on the subject. Reading this article has convinced me to read the Ladd books I already own sooner rather than later.

I also finished the second part of Part II of Wesley's "Doctrine of Original Sin." My purpose in reading this now is to ascertain rather what I was taught concerning Wesley's views were correct. Particularly, did Wesley believe that when Adam fell, we still retain some of the image of God so that we could respond to God's grace and be saved. Or did he side with the Calvinists who maintain that at the Fall, man lost the entire image of God in which he was originally made? I have yet discovered any definitive answers.

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