How I’m Keeping Greek and Hebrew Fresh

I’ve been practicing reading Greek fairly regularly all year. Hebrew had fallen a bit by the wayside until recently. As of the last two weeks, however, I think I’ve got a good rhythm now for keeping both fresh.

I know I’m not the only pastor who finds it a challenge to not lose the heard-earned results of semesters and years of Greek and Hebrew in the classroom.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

 

1. Reading through the Greek New Testament, roughly a chapter a day.

 

To become more fluent in reading, there’s no substitute for… you know… reading. I just got through 2 Corinthians, which I think might be the most difficult book in the New Testament—in both Greek and English!

 

2. Working through the Baylor Handbooks.

 

Baylor’s got two solid series in progress: Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (BHGNT) and Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible (BHHB).

 

 

These are books to read cover to cover, especially when you want to move from “rapid reading” to more detailed analysis of the text. I just finished Jonah and have started in on †Rod Decker’s Mark. You can see more about the series in my reviews of Luke and Malachi (here and here).

 

3. Reading my preaching passage in the original language, maybe even making my own translation.

 

Mark 1 in GreekI just preached through Ephesians. I translated much of it as I studied the text—either typing it out or doing it in my head. Especially with Paul’s longer sentences and more involved lines of thought in the first three chapters, this was challenging, but also essential in my grasping the text.

Now with the Old Testament lectionary readings in view (hello, prophets!), I’ll have a chance to reactivate my Hebrew reading.

If you (a) preach somewhat regularly and (b) want to make use of your Greek and Hebrew, why not combine the two endeavors? Both your preaching and your languages will be the better for it.

(NB: I teach a Webinar on this very topic, with more dates TBA. Here’s the handout.)

There’s also an invaluable chapter in Baker Academic’s Preaching the Old Testament called “Keeping Your Hebrew Healthy.”

 

4. Reading Greek with another person.

 

I’m really fortunate to have a reading partner for #1 above, reading through the GNT. This is an immense help and likely deserves its own post. Just remember that skill-building often happens best in community.

 

5. Learning to enjoy reading Greek and Hebrew.

 

Lack of proficiency for me is a great way to not enjoy a task; conversely, the more I read, the more comfortable I am with the text (Galatians was almost easy after 2 Corinthians!). Reading the Bible in its first languages also forces me to slow down and carefully consider what I’m reading. Greek and Hebrew reading fit well into devotional practices. (Great book on this, by the way, here: Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek: Reading the New Testament with Fluency and Devotion).

 

How about you? If you’ve been keeping your Greek and Hebrew active, what’s been helpful? What pitfalls are you facing? What other resources should I and others like me be using?

Probably the Best Broadly Evangelical Systematic Theology

Erickson Introducing Christian DoctrineMillard J. Erickson’s massive Christian Theology is now in its third edition (published in 2013). The hallmark of the 1,200-page book is its evangelical perspective, concern for application to life, and balance in covering multiple perspectives fairly.

There’s also a newly updated abridged version of the work, Introducing Christian Doctrine, which clocks in at a more modest 512 pages.

Introducing Christian Doctrine begins each chapter with an easy-to-grasp one-page summary, featuring “Chapter Objectives,” a short “Chapter Summary,” and a detailed “Chapter Outline.” This makes navigating the work a breeze, especially if you’re after a particular topic–as I am currently, since my five-year-old keeps asking me about heaven!

Erickson offers an engaging read from the beginning:

To some readers, the word “doctrine” may prove somewhat frightening. It conjures up visions of very technical, difficult, abstract beliefs, perhaps propounded dogmatically. Doctrine is not that, however. Christian doctrine is simply statements of the most fundamental beliefs the Christian has, beliefs about the nature of God, about his action, about us who are his creatures, and about what he has done to bring us into relationship with himself. Far from being dry or abstract, these are the most important types of truths. They are statements on the fundamental issues of life: namely, who am I, what is the ultimate meaning of the universe, where am I going? Christian doctrine is, then, the answers the Christian gives to those questions that all human beings ask. (4)

Readers can count on, even in this abridged version, a thorough survey of biblical references and concepts from which to derive a solid theology. Erickson covers well the expected basics: revelation, the nature of humanity, salvation, eschatology, and so on.

Balanced as he is, there are occasional areas that deserve further nuance, even in the unabridged version. In the larger edition, for example (preserved in the abridgement), Erickson says, “Jesus did not make an explicit and overt claim to divinity” (611). He means that Jesus never explicitly said, “I am God,” although verses like “I and the Father are one” seem to counter Erickson’s claim here. What follows, though, is a great read on Jesus: there are what can only be divine “prerogatives Jesus claimed” (611).

The Unabridged Version
The Unabridged Version

To take just one example, Jesus forgives the sins of a paralyzed man in Mark 2:5-10. The teachers of the law object, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They are right, of course, that only God can forgive sins. Jesus here is exercising a divine role: “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10). Jesus also exercises an authority reserved only for God when he re-casts the Decalogue in his Sermon on the Mount with a refrain of, “But I say to you.” And when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11, he displays power over life and death themselves, a power available to no mere human being. This is not to mention Christ’s own resurrection, showing his divine power over death.

Erickson offers some nice turns of phrase, too. Speaking of God’s age, he says God “is no older now than a year ago, for inifinty plus one is no more than infinity” (91). Together with the Scriptural support Erickson gives for God’s being “infinite in relation to time” (91), one easily sees how useful Introducing Christian Doctrine can be in church settings.

The abridged version does a impressive job at condensing Christian Theology without significantly compromising or neglecting the content. One surprising move in the abridged version is that the chapters are re-ordered and numbered differently from the full edition.

This may be inevitable with an abridgement, but most readers will want to be able to know how the two titles relate, for purposes of accurate cross-referencing and further reading. Future editions ought to bring the abridged chapter numbering in line with that of the fuller version. Even the section headings change, so that Part 5 of the condensed version is “The Person and Work of Christ” (spanning chapters 23-27), while Part 5 of the unabridged edition is “Humanity” (chapters 20-24).

The annotated Table of Contents (see them here) in Introducing Christian Doctrine do, however, allow the reader to easily locate a given theme and sub-topic.

There’s much more to interact with in Erickson’s book, but it’s the best broadly evangelical theology of which I’m aware. Erickson blends academic thoroughness with pastoral concern, an approach I love.

And now, some link love: You can find the condensed Introducing Christian Doctrine here (Amazon), here (Baker), and in electronic form here (Logos) and here (Olive Tree). The fuller, unabridged Christian Theology is here (Amazon), here (Baker), and in electronic form here (Logos) and here (Olive Tree).

 


 

Thanks to Baker Academic for the copy of Introducing Christian Doctrine, which they sent me for review, but with no expectation as to this review’s content.

 

Honing in on Your CQ (Cultural Intelligence)

CQDavid Livermore’s goal in Cultural Intelligence is to effect cross-cultural transformation, rather than just impart information (12). Across the barriers of difference and “the barrage of cultures around us” (11), we still “have so much in common” (11). As we navigate the tensions of sameness and difference, Livermore notes, “These points of difference are where we find both our greatest challenges and our greatest discoveries” (11). Yet Livermore wants more than just cultural awareness. He says, “We must actually become more multicultural people so that we might better express love cross-culturally” (12).

Undergirding all levels of cultural intelligence is Livermore’s call to love, coupled with a robust theology of the Incarnation. I appreciated this theological and practical grounding. He writes, “The language of God is Jesus. The incarnation is the ultimate form of contextualization, the fullest embodiment of cultural intelligence” (33). As a result, Livermore warns those who think the Gospel can only be expressed in “one right way” (34). Jesus himself was a culturally situated figure, and yet a liminal one. The Gospels show Jesus’ interaction with 1st Century Palestine’s institutions and structures, where sometimes he embraced and other times he protested against the cultural values and practices of his day. Even if some readers will find his theological exposition familiar territory, it is nonetheless compelling.

CQ (cultural intelligence quotient) goes beyond educating ourselves about culture—even if it must start there. CQ “measures the ability to effectively reach across the chasm of cultural difference in ways that are loving and respectful” (13). An important step toward a fuller expression of love across lines of difference is growth in self-awareness. One must not only learn about other cultural mores and traditions, but one must know one’s own cultural heritage, and how that shapes one’s identity.

Livermore divides Cultural Intelligence into four basic types, which constitute the major sections of the book. First, there is Knowledge CQ, which pertains to a basic “level of understanding about culture and culture’s role in shaping behavior and social interactions” (48). This is CQ at the level of cognitive awareness. There are several important kinds of awareness: my awareness of my culture, my awareness of your culture, and my awareness of your perception of my culture (49). Livermore provides some practical metrics to help readers measure their Knowledge CQ: fluency in other languages, awareness of how other cultures resolve conflict, knowledge of cultural differences in how Christianity is expressed, lack of projecting our values onto others’ cultures, and so on (58, 61). Especially helpful is Livermore’s division of culture into three domains: socioethnic culture, organizational culture, and generational culture (93). His description of these domains addresses what would otherwise have been a concern of mine: that “culture” is not just a racial-ethnic phenomenon. I’ve worked at churches where the socioethnic culture and even generational culture were similar, but the organizational culture (“shared personality”) between the two was vastly different. Ministry methodologies and initiatives that worked in one church simply would not fly in the other.

Second, there is Interpretive CQ, which is metacognitive, since it relates to thinking about how one thinks. Interpretive CQ is essentially applied Knowledge CQ. If Knowledge CQ is basic exegesis, Interpretive CQ is hermeneutics. A key virtue here is that of empathy: “noticing what’s apparent about another person and trying to tune into her or his thoughts, emotions, and feelings” (158). Livermore connects Knowledge CQ and Interpretive CQ together into “cultural strategic thinking.”

Third, Livermore outlines Perseverance CQ, which is “our level of interest, drive, and motivation to adapt cross-culturally” (213). Anyone who has sought to form deliberate partnerships (or even just close friendships) across cultural lines is aware of the potential for discomfort, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and frustration, especially as intimacy builds. Perseverance CQ is the desire to push through these feelings for the sake of expressing love across the cultural gaps the author describes. Livermore offers an important set of questions and considerations:

What fuels our motivation? Why are we reaching into a new cultural context in the first place? We have to honestly face the motives behind our service, travel, and work. And we have to bear in mind that we are the Other to billions of other people. (225)

To push back, one may find oneself in cross-cultural relationships without deliberately engaging in service, travel, and work. They may exist “at home,” so to speak. Even so, the questions are worth asking. And the emphasis of othering the self that pops up throughout Cultural Intelligence is a needed (if difficult) perspective.

Finally, there is Behavioral CQ. This is the on-the-ground evidence that we love the Other. Livermore describes it as “the extent to which we appropriately change our verbal and nonverbal actions when we interact cross-culturally” (233). True CQ leads to action. We will not be able to “accomplish flawless cross-cultural behavior” (240), but we can become more faithful in “reflect[ing] Jesus to the Other through culturally intelligent communication” (241).

Cultural Intelligence concludes with a practical “What now?” chapter with “Twenty-four Ways to Advance Your CQ” (242). Then follows a CQ self-assessment, which is a brilliant inclusion. I first took the CQ self-assessment six years ago. I was surprised then to have tested so high (“excellent”) in the last two modes of CQ: Perseverance and Behavioral. Re-taking the test in 2016 I oddly dipped in Perseverance and Behavioral CQ, but went up in my “Cultural Strategic Thinking” (Knowledge and Interpretive CQ).

I wonder whether this is because my cross-cultural awareness has grown over the years, while my comfort with my own culture (and my being content with that comfort, to some degree) has led me to make cross-cultural stretching less of a priority. It’s not that I don’t interact with people from different cultures on a regular basis (whether socioethnic, organizational, or generational cultures); it’s just that given the choice I might default to monocultural settings, since they are “easier” (in some senses) to navigate. This is especially true when it comes to workplace and organizational culture. This may be sin I need to repent of—or just a reflection of my plate being over-full already, and the fact that my focus is strained until I graduate from seminary! I found the assessment to be somewhat limited, with its forced choices.

Readers will likely note at the beginning of Livermore’s book that the tasks the author sets out could be more difficult for “white” people who think of themselves as people who “have no ethnicity.” The outdated (but still present!) “Ethnic Foods” aisle is instructive here. “Ethnic” is understood all too often in opposition to “non-ethnic,” or “regular,” which then becomes culturally normative. The insidious danger is when this move happens subconsciously. Everyone has ethnicity, and all foods (and churches) are “ethnic.” The question is rather, “Of which ethnicity?” Livermore’s book reads, in some senses, as being geared toward such a person. However, even those who have done more extensive reflection on their own ethnic and cultural identity can benefit from his work.

Cultural Intelligence is an excellent primer for anyone seeking to enhance their cross-cultural fluency. Livermore is patient with the reader, but not overly so—he’s not afraid to challenge where needed. His truth-telling and practical step-by-step explanations combine to have a powerful impact. Anyone who gets lost in the various interdisciplinary concerns of the book will have a handy Glossary to refer to. Church leaders, Christians, and concerned citizens alike should carve out the time to not just read but also work through the concepts of the book—maybe even with someone with whom they have cultural differences.

You can find the book here at Amazon or here at the publisher’s page. Go here to read a .pdf sample.

Two New Greek-Related Books Coming from Baker Academic

Invitation to the Septuagint 2nd EdDecember 1 is a long way away. But it’s the release date for two Baker Academic books I’m looking forward to checking out. (HT: Cliff Kvidahl.)

 

1. Going Deeper with Biblical Greek: Reading the New Testament with Fluency and Devotion, by Rodney A. Whitacre

From what I can tell, Whitacre explains lectio divina… using the Greek text. I had never even considered the possibility, but it sounds amazing.

 

2. Invitation to the Septuagint (Second Edition), by Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva

Jobes and Silva update and revise their classic work in Septuagint studies.

I’ll do what I can to report more on each of these books when they arrive. They are both volumes to eagerly await.

 

†Rod Decker’s Koine Greek Grammar

May Prof. Rodney Decker rest in peace. One of his final contributions (gifts) to the Greek-learning community was this exciting new grammar, which I just received in the mail from Baker Academic yesterday:

 

Decker Grammar

 

Here is the description from Baker’s site:

This in-depth yet student-friendly introduction to Koine Greek provides a full grounding in Greek grammar, while starting to build skill in the use of exegetical tools. The approach, informed by twenty-five years of classroom teaching, emphasizes reading Greek for comprehension as opposed to merely translating it. The workbook is integrated into the textbook, enabling students to encounter real examples as they learn each new concept. The book covers not only New Testament Greek but also the wider range of Bible-related Greek (LXX and other Koine texts). It introduces students to reference tools for biblical Greek, includes tips on learning, and is supplemented by robust web-based resources through Baker Academic’s Textbook eSources, offering course help for professors and study aids for students.

Looks great! After a quick flip through, what stands out most is that the vocabulary lists at the end of each chapter include frequency counts for both the New Testament and the Septuagint.

I’ll post more later–find the book here.

This Just Went to the Top of My Reading Stack

Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker

 

For months I’ve been waiting for this book to come out. Today I received it in the mail. As it weds two of my loves in life–youth ministry and Bonhoeffer–it’s going straight to the top of my reading stack.

About Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker:

The youth ministry focus of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is often forgotten or overlooked, even though he did much work with young people and wrote a number of papers, sermons, and addresses about or for the youth of the church. However, youth ministry expert Andrew Root explains that this focus is central to Bonhoeffer’s story and thought. Root presents Bonhoeffer as the forefather and model of the growing theological turn in youth ministry. By linking contemporary youth workers with this epic theologian, the author shows the depth of youth ministry work and underscores its importance in the church. He also shows how Bonhoeffer’s life and thought impact present-day youth ministry practice.

With appreciation to Baker Academic. I’ll post a review here this fall. Check out the Table of Contents and first chapter here. You can also pre-order the print book on Amazon or the Kindle edition.

 

“The Biblical Picture is Not of What Someone Receives from the Church….”

Bock BECNT Acts

Here are some words of wisdom from Darrell L. Bock, writing about Acts 2:42-47, on which I’ll be preaching tomorrow:

The biblical picture is not of what someone receives from the church, although one does receive a great deal, but of what one gives and how one contributes to it. The portrait of the early church in Acts shows that community and the welfare of the group were a priority. …[T]he believers’ preaching was matched by their community, making a powerful testimony for their mission. When the early church said that God cared, the care they gave their own demonstrated this.