New Archbishop of Canterbury

The Telegraph reports that the new Archbishop of Canterbury has been named: Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham.

Sources have confirmed that the Eton-educated bishop will be announced as successor to Dr Rowan Williams as early as Friday, after the Crown Nominations Commission put his name forward to Downing Street.

It marks a meteoric rise for the former oil executive who has been a bishop for only a year, but insiders described Welby as “the outstanding candidate”.

The full article is here.

Katharine Bushnell (1856-1946): “God does not curse women because of Eve”

Two days after All Saints Day, I express my admiration now for a perhaps even lesser-known “saint” than Perpetua, Moses the Black, or John Huss.

Katharine Bushnell lived from 1856 to 1946. She was a doctor, a missionary, an advocate for those without other advocates, and a theologian.  Her commitment to the authority of Scripture was strong. About the Bible she said, “No other basis of procedure is available for us.” She learned Greek and Hebrew, and was particularly interested in applying her knowledge of biblical languages to understanding what the Bible had to say about gender. She spoke seven languages.

Author and theologian Mimi Haddad (where I first learned about Bushnell, via this PDF article) writes about her:

Bushnell grounds the ontological equality of men and women first in the early chapters of Genesis where, according to Bushnell, we learn that Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God, that Adam and Eve were both equally called to be frutiful and to exercise dominion in Eden, that Eve was not the source of sin, and that God does not curse women because of Eve.

Bushnell began a hospital of pediatrics in Shanghai, was part of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and helped found a homeless shelter for women in Chicago.

Psalm 68:11 says, “The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.”

Bushnell joins Perpetua and countless others as part of a mighty throng of women who have proclaimed God’s word in ways that continue to inspire today.

John Huss (c. 1372-1415), who said the Psalms as he burned at the stake

Though All Saints Day was yesterday, I want to highlight two more lesser-known saints today and tomorrow.

John Huss is nowhere near the household name (well… Christian household name) that Martin Luther or John Calvin is. But he tilled the ground for these and others.

Huss taught and pastored in Prague. Like the better-known reformers that would follow him, Huss criticized the established church of his day. He held that the Bible should be in the hands of the masses.  In his view, the only proper “head” of the Church was not any humanly established church government, but Jesus Christ. He advanced the Reformation idea of “Sola scriptura”—that the Bible alone should be the authority in issues pertaining to life and doctrine.

Christian History writes of his death this way:

In November 1414, the Council of Constance assembled, and Huss was urged by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to come and give an account of his doctrine. Because he was promised safe conduct, and because of the importance of the council (which promised significant church reforms), Huss went. When he arrived, however, he was immediately arrested, and he remained imprisoned for months. Instead of a hearing, Huss was eventually hauled before authorities in chains and asked merely to recant his views.

When he saw he wasn’t to be given a forum for explaining his ideas, let alone a fair hearing, he finally said, “I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice.” He was taken to his cell, where many pleaded with him to recant. On July 6, 1415, he was taken to the cathedral, dressed in his priestly garments, then stripped of them one by one. He refused one last chance to recant at the stake, where he prayed, “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies.” He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him.

Luther, who later would stumble on Huss’s writings, said, “I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.”

(I remembered Moses the Black yesterday, Perpetua on Wednesday, and wrote about All Saints Day more generally the day before that.)

St. Moses the Black (4th century)

Happy All Saints Day!

Moses the Black was a 4th century African saint. He has some sweet aliases, too: Abba Moses the Robber and Moses the Strong. As in the image above (which is from here), he is also known as St. Moses the Ethiopian.

The Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black gives a short biography of the saint, which I have also seen (unsourced) elsewhere:

St. Moses the Black was a former gang leader, murderer, and thief in ancient Africa. However, he became a model of transformation. His is one of the most inspiring stories among the African saints.

Moses, an escaped slave, was the leader of a group of 75 robbers. He was a large and powerful man, who with his gang terrorized the entire region. Moses was transformed after he and his group attacked a monastery, intending to rob it. He was met by the abbot, whose peaceful and warm manner overwhelmed him. He immediately felt remorse for all his past sins, sincerely repented, and begged to remain at the monastery.

Moses was tortured by his past and for years was tempted to return to his old ways. One day, as he was confessing his sins to St. Macarius, it was reported that an angel appeared with a tablet full of his sins. As he confessed, the angel began wiping the tablet clean. The more he confessed, the more the angel was said to have wiped, until by the end it was completely clean. After meeting St. Macarius and St. Isidore, he completely left his old ways behind him and became a monk.

Later, St. Moses was ordained to the priesthood — a rare honor among the Desert Fathers– and founded a monastery of 75 monks, the same number as his former group of thieves. He was known for his wisdom, humility, love, and non-judgment of others. Once a brother had been caught in a particular sin, and the abbot asked St. Moses to come to the church and render judgment. He came reluctantly, carrying on his back a leaking bag of sand. When he arrived, the brothers asked him why he was carrying such a thing. He simply said, “This sand is my sins which are trailing out behind me, while I go to judge the sins of another.” At that reply, the brothers forgave the offender and returned to focusing on their own salvation rather than the sins of their brother.

In 405 A.D., at age 75, St. Moses suffered a martyr’s death when his monastery was attacked by a group of barbarians. He is remembered on the 28th of August. Today he is considered the patron saint of African Americans.

More on Moses the Black can be found here.

(I remembered Perpetua yesterday and wrote about All Saints Day more generally the day before that.)

The Martyrdom of Perpetua (d. 203)

Perpetua was a nursing mother who rejected her father’s pleadings to deny her Christian faith and make the requisite sacrifice to the Roman emperor. As the story goes, depicted above, she had to help guide the sword of her trembling executioner to her throat.

The book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, by Mark Galli and Christian History magazine, recounts her story:

Her father immediately came to her in prison. He was a pagan, and he saw an easy way for Perpetua to save herself. He entreated her simply to deny she was a Christian.

“Father, do you see this vase here?” she replied. “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?”

“No,” he replied.

“Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”

In the next days, Perpetua was moved to a better part of the prison and allowed to breastfeed her child. With her hearing approaching, her father visited again, this time, pleading more passionately….

The day of the hearing arrived; Perpetua and her friends were marched before the governor, Hilarianus. Perpetua’s friends were questioned first, and each in turn admitted to being a Christian, and each in turn refused to make a sacrifice (an act of emperor worship). Then the governor turned to question Perpetua.

At that moment, her father, carrying Perpetua’s son in his arms, burst into the room. He grabbed Perpetua and pleaded, “Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!”

…When [Perpetua and her friends] entered the stadium, wild beasts and gladiators roamed the arena floor, and in the stands, crowds roared to see blood. They didn’t have to wait long.

Immediately a wild heifer charged the group. Perpetua was tossed into the air and onto her back. She sat up, adjusted her ripped tunic, and walked over to help Felicitas. Then a leopard was let loose, and it wasn’t long before the tunics of the Christians were stained with blood.

This was too deliberate for the impatient crowd, which began calling for death for the Christians. So Perpetua, Felicitas, and friends were lined up, and one by one, were slain by the sword.

The whole account can be found here.

It’s easy for me to “want to be in that number” when saints like Perpetua “go marching in,” but the courage and faithfulness she exhibited in the moments leading up to her martyrdom are qualities I can only pray to attain. The Wisdom of Solomon passage I quoted yesterday is apropos:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was considered to be suffering,

and their going from us to be destruction,
but they are at peace.

As All Saints Day approaches tomorrow, I find myself moved and inspired by this committed follower of Jesus. Perpetua, though she was mercilessly separated from her husband, family, and precious little baby, is at peace.

“As sparks through the stubble, they will run about” (All Saints Day)

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, by Fra Angelico (15th century)

November 1 is All Saints Day.  It’s a holiday in the church calendar of multiple Christian traditions: Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and others. Halloween gets its name from All Saints Day.  All Saints Day used to be known as All Hallows Day, and Halloween was a contraction of All-Hallows-Even, or All Hallows Eve.

All Saints Day is meant to remember the saints, or fellow believers, who have gone on before us, walking in the way of Jesus.  The author of Hebrews writes, “We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” We have the example of men and women who have walked with God, who have struggled with God, and who have triumphed in life with God.  As we look ahead to All Saints Day we can pause today to remember their example, and ask God to strengthen our faith, too.  We are part of that number.

Psalm 85:8 in the NIV says, “I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints.”  Some 30 times Paul addresses congregations of believers as “saints.”  We who follow Jesus are rightfully called “saints.”  We are part of a narrative that is much bigger than ourselves, much bigger than any one community, and much bigger than this period in history.  We are a part of a timeless, worldwide communion of saints—the body of Christ.

Wisdom of Solomon (yes, it’s from the Septuagint!) puts it beautifully:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was considered to be suffering,

and their going from us to be destruction,
but they are at peace.

For even if in the sight of human beings they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality,

and having been disciplined a little, they will be greatly benefited,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;

as gold in the furnace, he tested them,
and as a sacrificial whole burnt offering, he accepted them.

And in the time of their visitation they will shine out,
and as sparks through the stubble, they will run about.

They will judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will be king over them for ever.

Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will remain with him in love,

because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his chosen ones.

–Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 (NETS)

In the coming days I’ll post about a series of lesser-known “saints” in the Church’s history, righteous ones whose “souls…are in the hand of God.”

Praising God through Academic Biblical Studies: Less Hypermodernist Objectivism, More Affect!

Why such an emphasis on wanting to get as close to the “original text” of the Bible as possible? Or, as some scholars call it, the “earliest attainable text”?

Earlier this week I wrote a bit about scholarly editions of the Jewish Scriptures, both the Greek and the Hebrew.

But I began asking myself today, why am I so interested in a rigorous scholarly pursuit of the text of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek?

One reason is that I love to learn. On the Strengthsfinder assessment I came out with “Learner” as my top strength both times I took the test. “Achiever” was not far behind. (See here for the descriptions of the 34 strengths themes in that assessment.) Here’s an excerpt from the description of the “Learner” strength that applies to me:

You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.

All true, except that when it comes especially to my pursuit of biblical studies, the process, the content, and the result are “especially exciting” for me.

Why?

The late Arthur Holmes articulates beautifully:

Christ the Truth becomes the dominant motivation in intellectual inquiry. No dichotomy of sacred and secular tasks can be allowed, and no subject is exempt.

The student will therefore welcome truth and submit to it wherever it is found, out of obedience to Christ. Academic work becomes an opportunity to extend the Lordship of Christ over the mind; thought merges into worship.

“Thought merges into worship.” I love this. And I think this is why–more than just being a “Learner”–I so love to delve into the depths of Scripture, in the most “original” form that I possibly can.

I’m not overly fastidious about Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic–as if God really spoke through those languages and then anything else is just mediated and somehow a dilution of God’s actual words. (Isn’t all language already mediation anyway?) If the word of God is “living and active,” it can be living and active in its faithful translations into other languages.

But one reason I geek out so much about the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible is that in my study I feel myself getting closer to that amazing time when God gave his word to humanity to be transmitted to future generations: first orally, then in written form. And I love seeing how the translators of the Hebrew Bible wrestled with putting the Hebrew into Greek. I love seeing how the New Testament writers grappled with, contextualized, and recontextualized the Old Testament.

I don’t even mind that at the moment I’m a bit perplexed by how Paul could both praise the law as being from God yet also refer to it as a “the ministry that brought death.”

Why?

Because for me, as of late, my thoughts and my studies of Scripture–even at a scholarly level–have begun to “[merge] into worship.” How can I not praise the God behind these amazing words? Though we may never know what the autograph of any part of Scripture actually said, I believe we can get close.

And somehow the closer I get to the text of the Bible–in a scholarly setting–the closer I feel to God.

Not always, of course–sometimes I’m just confused. (Dash the heads of infants against rocks? And we pray these Psalms in liturgical settings???) But there’s been a real richness for me lately in delving into the Bible in its original languages, comparing variant readings across manuscripts and versions, trying to figure out why one Synoptic Gospel said it this way, why this one said it another way…. Even in seeking to answer those questions, I know that I am seeking more of God and God’s revelation.

This is not a taken-for-granted view of things in the field of biblical studies. Take this, for instance, from Michael V. Fox:

In my view, faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship, whether the object of study is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Homer. Faith-based study is a different realm of intellectual activity that can dip into Bible scholarship for its own purposes, but cannot contribute to it.

I haven’t contacted Michael V. Fox to confirm this, but I’d wager that what I’m describing above constitutes some sort of “faith-based study,” or at least, study that is informed by and that enriches faith.

But a bit more context from Fox:

The claim of faith-based Bible study to a place at the academic table takes a toll on the entire field of Bible scholarship. The reader or student of Bible scholarship is likely to suspect (or hope) that the author or teacher is moving toward a predetermined conclusion. Those who choose a faith-based approach should realize that they cannot expect the attention of those who don’t share their postulates. The reverse is not true. Scholars who are personally religious constantly draw on work by scholars who do not share their postulates. One of the great achievements of modern Bible scholarship is that it communicates across religious borders so easily that we usually do not know the beliefs of its practitioners.

I’m okay with trying to set aside a “predetermined conclusion,” though skeptical of that possibility. (Does Fox believe in the modernist project?)

Fox goes on, “The best thing for Bible appreciation is secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic.”

Sigh.

Taking the Psalms as an example, one cannot appreciate the Psalms who does not pray the Psalms. And wouldn’t good scholarship (religiously motivated or not) call for us to engage the text on the author’s terms? How can one do good scholarship on David, for example, if one is not willing to engage the text in the way that David intended for it to be engaged? If he wrote a Psalm for corporate singing or reciting, is the individual in her or his library carrel who seeks to bracket out faith commitments going to get anywhere near to uncovering the meaning and import of that Psalm until she or he sings it with others?

Fox’s whole article is here.

Parker Palmer has a good rejoinder:

Objectivism—which is a complete myth with respect to how real people have ever known anything real—has great political persuasiveness because it gives us the illusion that we are in charge.

But gospel truth, transformational truth, says that we are not masters but are subject to powers larger than ourselves—and that we are blessed with the chance to be co-creators of something good if we are willing to work in harmony with those larger powers.

If we embrace a gospel way of knowing, we can create a different kind of education and perhaps a different world: a world where all of us are called to embody whatever truth we know; where we gather together with others to check, correct, confirm, and deepen whatever insights we may have; where we understand that, even as we seek truth, truth is seeking us; and where there can be those vital transformations, personal and social, that might take us a step closer to the beloved community.

So when it comes to biblical studies, I say: less hypermodernist objectivism, more affect! Let’s allow our thoughts–as Dr. Holmes suggested–to merge into worship; our studies into praise; our reading into praying.

My quest for the earliest attainable text of the Bible, I am realizing, is driven by scholarly interest and a general drive to learn, yes. But more than that, I want to know God more fully through this academic pursuit. My insatiable desire to master Greek noun declensions, Hebrew verb parsings, and intertextual allusions is in the end a desire to be mastered by the God who stands behind the words of Scripture.

But that kind of a posture doesn’t compromise scholarship, in my view. It makes it richer, deeper, and directed toward its most proper end.

New President for Princeton Seminary

Princeton Seminary has just announced a new President, Reverend Dr. M. Craig Barnes:

The Board of Trustees of Princeton Theological Seminary is pleased to announce the unanimous election of the Reverend Dr. M. Craig Barnes as its seventh president, and as professor of pastoral ministry.  Barnes, a 1981 Master of Divinity graduate of Princeton, has also served as a trustee of the Seminary. Dr. Barnes currently serves as the Robert Meneilly Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Leadership at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and pastor of the 1,100-member Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.

Here is the announcement in full.

“Worship that Welcomes”

Furthermore, what are we teaching our congregations about worship music? If it is always the same thing over and over again; isn’t this unfair to them? We say things like, “we are multi-generational,” “we are racially diverse,” “we are multi-ethnic.” We say, “we are global Christians” (of course what we probably mean is that we sent a mission team to the Caribbean this summer) and the list goes on and on. Yet, our setlists never change.

David M. Edwards raises some interesting questions (and explores answers) in his post, “Worship that Welcomes.” I don’t agree with everything here, but the issues he brings up are good ones for worship leaders to consider. The full article is here.