Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Three guys walk into a bar - a Roman, a Visigoth, and a Hun ..."

Stumbled across an account of stand-up humor delivered at a dinner hosted by Attila the Hun. Priscus, an attendee, wrote this:

"After the songs a Scythian entered, a crazy fellow who told a lot of strange and completely false stories, not a word of truth in them, which made everyone laugh. Following him came the Moor, Zerkon, totally disorganized in appearance, clothes, voice and words. By mixing up the languages of the Italians with those of the Huns and Goths, he fascinated everyone and made them break out into uncontrollable laughter, all that is except Attila"  - Priscus, recorded in Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey.

Those savage warloads - such tough nuts to crack  :-)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Gordon Fee's story ... and others, too

After my August 14 post, Lunch with Gordon Fee, I received an email from one of Fee's fellow New Testament scholars - also a Pentecostal - who wrote emphatically, "Someone needs to write Gordon's biography!"

I agreed wholeheartedly. But, until someone takes up that project we do have 13 pages of the story from Gordon himself which comprise a chapter in the brand new book, I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan).

Editors John Byron and Joel Lohr have done us a great favor by getting 18 outstanding scholars to tell how they lived out their Biblical faith while being engaged in critical examination of the Bible (of course, "critical" does not in this case suggest a negative or disbelieving approach to the Scriptures).

Besides Fee, the other scholars participating in the project were:  Richard Bauckham, Walter Brueggemann, Ellen Davis, James Dunn, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, John Goldingay, Donald Hagner, Morna Hooker, Edith Humphrey, Andrew Lincoln, Scot McKnight, J. Ramsey Michaels, Patrick Miller, Walter Moberly, Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, Phyllis Trible, and Bruce Waltke.

So eager was I to take in Fee's story (entitled, "Scholar on Fire") that finishing the 13 pages took just a little bit longer than it did to consume my accompanying foot-long sub. If you have appreciation for the work of biblical scholars and have curiosity about their lives this book does not disappoint. Even for a veteran Fee-watcher like myself, there was information in the chapter that I did not know previously.

As the parenthetical Still in the title suggests, working in the academy presents challenges and Fee's story reveals some of those encountered by him and his wife, Maudine. While I am choosing to not summarize those challenges here so as to not take them out of any necessary context or to create a spoiler,  I happily report Gordon's assessment, "So for me it has been a great run, with infinitely far more 'ups' than 'downs.'"

 Following are two videos promoting the book, one each by the co-editors:

Other sources of biographical information for Gordon Fee are a chapter in the book, Biblical Interpreters of the 20th Century: A Selection of Evangelical Voices (Baker, 1999) and a feature article in the September 2010 issue of Charisma magazine, "A Professor with Spirit."

[UPDATE SEPTEMBER 3 - Ben Witherington III wrote about I (Still) Believe on his blog today, "One of the great virtues of a book like this is it makes quite clear that careful Biblical scholarship need not be at odds with piety, even of a very conservative sort. Indeed, as a another Durhamite J. B.  Lightfoot once put it, 'We are called to the highest reason and the fullest faith at the same time.'"]

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Psalm 1

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who mediates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction (Psalm 1:1-6, NIV 2011).

The late Peter Craigie pointed out that, "The state of blessedness or happiness is not a reward; rather, it is the result of a particular type of life. Just as a tree with a constant water supply naturally flourishes, so too the person who avoids evil and delights in Torah naturally prospers, for such a person is living within the guidelines set down by the Creator. Thus the prosperity of the righteous reflects the wisdom of a life lived according to the plan of the Giver of all life" (Psalms 1 - 50, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 61).

Compare this psalm with Jeremiah 17:5-8.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hot off the press!

Picked up my NIV Zondervan Study Bible today (it surpasses in most every way the much-appreciated and widely-distributed NIV Study Bible, which is also published by Zondervan).

It's a whopper - six pounds! (but, then again, the 59-year-old Jon did purchase the LARGE PRINT edition). You certainly would not want to be struck with one of these things :-)

You will notice my artistic editorial comment in the photo below (i.e., the NIV Zondervan Study Bible sitting atop my ESV Study Bible). While the NIV volume will supplant that of the ESV as my go-to study bible, it certainly does not render it useless to me.

Both are very helpful - it is likely that I will use them side-by-side to take advantage of their differing translational and theological approaches.

Regent College faculty contributed to both. J. I. Packer was the theological editor for the ESV Study Bible, while Iain Provan wrote the notes for I & II Kings.

In the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, the notes on the Gospel of Mark are written by Rikk Watts.

Phil Long contributed to both (notes on Joshua in the ESV Study Bible, and notes on Nahum in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible).

Both bibles have beautiful graphics, photos, and maps, as well as, very useful charts and articles on biblical themes. They are clearly the premier study bibles on the market today. If you do not have the funds or inclination to build a biblical reference library, make sure to at least go out and buy one these study bibles (but a word of caution: study bibles do not eliminate the need for more robust biblical reference works, but they do give a reasonable amount of aid to those who do not have access to the more in-depth works).
Better yet - buy both!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lunch with Gordon Fee

With Gordon Fee outside of Regent College after lunch on Thursday.
My family moved to the lower mainland of British Columbia from Orlando, Florida in 2010. "Whatever for?" is a typical response from Vancouverites beleaguered by the rainy, gray shroud that wraps itself around the city many, many days of the year (although it must be noted that this summer the rain, like so many Vancouverites, has gone on vacation - an extended summer vacation, at that).

My response is simple, "Regent College."

And while Regent was the magnet that pulled me away from a sun-splashed resort mecca, for me that magnet's force was the outstanding New Testament scholar Gordon Fee.

Regent had many compelling features (an impeccable evangelical reputation, professors like J. I. Packer & Bruce Waltke, visiting lecturers like N. T. Wright & the late F. F. Bruce, and being situated in a city that is itself known for the ability to attract tourists).

But no feature was more compelling than the prospect of studying under one of the world's premier NT exegetes, who is also a fellow Pentecostal. I knew when I made application to Regent that Gordon was no longer teaching a regular course load, but it was not until I arrived that I found out that not only was he not going to be teaching anymore at Regent, but he and his wife Maudine were moving to New York to live with one of their sons. (By my arrival, Bruce Waltke had also left, but Dr. Packer still teaches an occasional class, and it was a delight to be one of his students for a semester.)
Fee, Stevens, Soderlund
So it was a red-letter day for me when Sven Soderlund, one of my former professors at Regent, arranged a luncheon meeting with Gordon yesterday. (The Fee clan are currently in British Columbia for their biennial gathering at the family cottage on Galiano Island.) Besides Sven, Gordon, and myself, was Regent emeritus professor Paul Stevens ... The Emeriti plus Jon.

Sven, who has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with Gordon, co-edited with N. T. Wright a collection of essays written to honor Fee on his 65th birthday. The festschrift, entitled Romans & The People of God, features among its 19 essays one by Paul Stevens (other contributors include: Rikk Watts, N. T. Wright, Ralph Martin, Richard Longenecker, J. I. Packer, James D. G. Dunn, J. Ramsey Michaels, Craig Evans, Edith Humphrey, Philip Towner, I. Howard Marshall, Michael Homes, Marianne Meye Thompson, Larry Hurtado, R. T. France, Robert Gundry, Barbara Aland, and Eugene Peterson).

Max Turner endorsed the book saying, "This scintillating, profound, and heart-warming set of essays by preeminent contributors is a fitting celebration of the enormous and wide-ranging contribution that Gordon Fee has made as the doyen of Pentecostal scholars."

Sven has been unfailingly kind and supportive both as my professor and as a friend afterwards, and his facilitation of yesterday's meeting with Gordon will always be remembered with deepest appreciation.

While we waited for our food to arrive I shared with Gordon how I stood in a Zondervan bookstore back in the early 1980s and thumbed through a copy of his and Douglas Stuart's book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (now out in an updated fourth edition, it has sold over 900,000 copies).

I had been blessed to have been exposed to some responsible and edifying preaching by Full Gospel ministers like M. D. Beall, her son James Beall, Dwight Niswander, and H. L. Chesser. A charismatic Bible teacher named Malcolm Smith furthered my understanding when I listened to his series, How to Study the Bible.

But questions remained - the Bible is not as simply read and interpreted as some would lead us to believe. Written in Classical Hebrew and Koine Greek (and a few passages in Aramaic), with its varied authors and genres, as well as all that goes with its antiquity, the Bible is a mine that requires skilled miners if its treasure is to be fully excavated and enjoyed.

My mind was excited as I saw on page after page that Fee and Stuart were addressing so many of the questions I had - and were providing answers that seemed intelligently helpful, all the while never losing a passion for the God of the Bible. Deep study of - and reflection on - the Scriptures must be held in tension with a passionate spiritual pursuit of the Living God or it can be counterproductive, leading to an exaltation of study itself - or even self-exaltation of the mind doing the studying.

Sven and N. T. Wright say in the foreword to Romans & The People of God that Gordon felt a divine prompting to be a "scholar on fire":

"With his vision clear and his resolve firm, Gordon entered a Ph. D. program at the University of Southern California and graduated in 1966, having submitted a thesis in the area of New Testament textual criticism under the supervision of Professor Eldon J. Epp. As it turned out, this research area would become one of his academic specialties.

"In the years that followed, Gordon's name became synonymous with 'scholarship on fire,' not only a model for many in his own denomination but also an inspiration for generations of students from all backgrounds. Even when lecturing on textual criticism, it was rumored that Gordon engaged the subject with such passion that he could hold an altar call at the end!"

Donald Carson, himself a premier NT exegete, has written that Fee's "passion for the truth is contagious" and that "Fee could not be boring if he tried. The zest of his prose makes him exciting to read, and his scholarship is always rigorous" (New Testament Commentary Survey, 7th edition, Baker Academic, 2013).

Fee's commentaries include: 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, the Pastoral
Epistles, and one on the Revelation. Among his monographs are the highly-regarded God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul and Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study. Also, there is one of his books that I think is exceptionally useful: How to Read the Bible Book-by-Book: A Guided Tour. If I could get all Christians to read just one book besides the Bible it would be this one (I am not speaking of getting people to read just one Fee book, I mean one book by anyone!)

It was interesting to hear how How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth came to be. Gordon leaned forward as he recounted being a speaker at a charismatic conference in Pittsburgh in the late 70s. He decided to use his four lectures to share how one goes about reading the Bible well (YouTube has a video of Gordon giving a similar talk from that era). Gordon said that after one of the lectures about 30 people gathered around him, wanting to hear more and asking, "Why haven't we heard this in our churches?" On the flight home to Boston he outlined what would become the structure for the book.

I shared with Gordon on Thursday that after purchasing How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth I tried to find out more about him and Stuart (not such an easy task in pre-internet times!) When I stumbled across an ad for the video of a talk that Gordon had given to a Full Gospel Businessmen's International gathering in Boston, I eagerly sent for it.

F. F. Bruce
The day it arrived I immediately popped it into the VCR and about 20 minutes later when my wife arrived home for lunch she saw tears coursing down my face. "Is everything alright?" was her concerned response. "Actually, things have never been better," I managed to get out, "You can be smart and be a Pentecostal!" That was, of course, shorthand that expressed my great joy and relief at hearing such an eminent scholar talk about the Lord and his Word with the passion and conviction that is common to many Pentecostal believers (but certainly not them exclusively!) Growing up, I heard fundamentalist radio preachers decry Pentecostals as demon possessed, while others with somewhat less vitriol merely intimated that Pentecostals were, let's say, unhinged. Now here was this scholar to whom F. F. Bruce would later entrust the editorship of the New International Commentary on the New Testament series weeping while talking about his experiences of God the Holy Spirit (you can read more about Bruce and Fee in my profile of Gordon on this blog). New Testament scholarship is not a dry academic exercise for Gordon, who grew up the son of an Assemblies of God pastor.

Maudine and Gordon
Gordon is 81 now; for over 50 of those years he was married to the late Maudine (nee Lofdahl). Gordon enjoyed recalling for us their days as students at Seattle Pacific University, where Eugene Peterson (The Message) also studied (Peterson graduated in 1954, two years ahead of the Fees).

Fee said that he, Maudine, and Peterson were all members of a campus gospel mission for which Peterson was the main preacher. When Eugene left, Gordon took over that responsibility. He laughed as he recalled that his frequent trips to the mission's office - where there were opportunities to be near Maudine - prompted a faculty member to ask, "What's that Fee guy doing in here so much!" When she responded that they needed to plan meetings, the faculty member opined that it couldn't be possible that that much planning needed to be done!

Another humorous anecdote involved the Peterson family cabin in Montana that Eugene made available to the Fees for their honeymoon. When Gordon failed to open the fireplace's flue the ensuing smoke left so much soot on the ceiling that the newlyweds had to spend two days cleaning. "But that's the stuff life is made of!" he said, laughing.

For over three decades Gordon Fee has been a most positive influence on my life, and Thursday, thanks to the efforts of my good friend and teacher, Sven Soderlund, I got to tell Gordon so. I am glad that life is made of stuff like that, too.
Gordon Fee and Sven Soderlund

Gordon Fee, Paul Stevens, and James Houston (one of Regent College's founders) at the college on Thursday, August 13.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A master's degree retrospective

J. I. Packer strolls through the stacks in the John Richard Allison library.
Friday night is the annual convocation for Regent College in Vancouver. A night for wearied - but academically and spiritually enriched - students to walk for their master's degrees. I am honored to be among those graduating students this year.

My anticipation of Friday night's celebration evokes a variety of memories from my Regent experience. Here are some:
  • Choking back tears as we sang Be My Guide in orientation back in September 2010. They aren't just smart people - the new fifty-something student thought - they really love the Lord!
  • Delight as Carolyn Hindmarsh was careful to incorporate devotional thoughts into our study of New Testament Greek.
  • Gratitude as Phil Long simply smiled patiently at my tongue-tied attempts to pronounce Hebrew words in an oral test.
  • Chuckling at Iain Provan's comments on Daniel 6:10: I think a lot of Christians have read rebellion into Daniel's actions, as though he opened the windows and said, "Hey boys, I'm up here praying, whatta ya think about that?!" (The humor of the remark was enhanced by his dulcet Scottish accent.)
  • The approbation received from J. I. Packer for a paper written about two of his Anglican contemporaries, John R. W. Stott and Michael Harper:  Factually exact - Packer wrote, adding - (as I can testify first-hand).
  • Gratitude that Gerry Schoberg gently corrected me for advancing a wrongheaded argument in the NT Seminar: Jesus and Paul. (My wife is very amused by the fact that this particular wrongheaded argument was first advanced by .... N. T. Wright. I had protested to Gerry, "Wright says ...." to which Gerry responded, "I'm sure he does.")
  • Receiving spiritual healing from the injury caused by some lifelong misunderstandings. The healing came via the reading of John Stackhouse's Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World. (Remember the comment above: academically and spiritually enriched.)
  • The button-popping moment when I read Bryan Burton's comment on one of my papers about the doctrine of justification: One of the best engagements with Wright & Piper I have seen with students. (You wouldn't seriously think I could resist printing that, right?)
  • The edifying fellowship that developed in our Soul of Ministry small group. Sherlene, Cindy, Casey, and Jeremy received, strengthened, and informed this old guy  :-)
  • Getting a very high mark (yep, that one!) in the Gospel of Mark from world-class Markan scholar Rikk Watts. Such courses, expertise, and evaluation are the sweetest joy of graduate level education.
  • The beauty of my final 90 minutes at Regent College listening to the Missa Solemnis and appreciating Sven Soderlund's guidance through it (Sven has been such a helpful mentor in so many ways it was only fitting that my final moments at Regent would be enriched by him).
Time to walk  :-)

No syllabi or notes here ... this notebook is reserved for every paper I wrote at Regent College.
[UPDATE 7/9/14]  Shaking hands with Regent College president Rod Wilson after receiving my master's degree at the convocation in May. (Ken McAllister Photography)
[UPDATE 7/9/14] The Chan Centre - the site for Regent College's 44th convocation. (Ken McAllister Photography)