Saturday, April 29, 2006
Marking (or grading) diminishing the pain ::

Whatever you call it the process of assessing student work is a pain for teachers, and for students. For teachers there's the hard graft of reading and evaluating and providing sensible comment, which for a big class is a lot of work! For students there is the fear of failure (to match one's own ideas of what one is worth, at least) and the problem of not understanding why one was marked down... Christopher Heard on Higgaion has a post "Grade my rubric" which includes the finely logical flowchart that he uses. It looks really complex, though I suspect that in use it is much simpler than it looks, and I think would work well as a scheme for the more objective grading of an essay-style assignment.

My own approach has been different, NZQA requirements have lead to a grid which tries to identify different levels of achievement for several key qualities that the assignment is meant to be testing. The grade is determined by the mix of columns that I can identify in a student's work. Something like this for an assignment that requires the student to select an article and both present and critique it:

Marking Sheet – Presentation


Prophets in Context

Name: Date:

Your work will be marked on the qualities listed in the left column. It should reach the standard listed in one of the next three columns. Five out of five at the "acceptable" level are required for a passing grade. The standards for merit and excellence include those for the lower levels.

If you achieve mainly the “acceptable” column then you will get a grade in the C range (C‑, C or C+). If you achieve mainly in the “merit” column then you will get a grade in the B range, while several in the excellence column with one or two in the merit column will get an A range grade.







Presentation attempts to reveal author’s underlying exegesis

Underlying exegesis summarised and presented critically

Critique is appropriate and effective


Social context of text related to author’s work

Relationship critically examined

Explanation is clear and comprehensible

Literary features

Literary features discussed in relation to the author’s interpretation.

Author’s position critiqued in the light of these features

Offers alternative interpretation


Attempts both positive and negative criticism

Critique appropriate to author’s goals

Critique helpful for audience’s approach to subject of criticism


Presentation is clear and appropriate

Presentation is well organised and uses language effectively

Presentation engages interest and stimulates further thought

Consistent referencing, appropriate form and contents of bibliography and appropriate use of formal written language are requirements for satisfactory work at this level.

Thursday, April 27, 2006
Instructions for authors of Hypertext Bible Commentary (draft) continued... ::

Still no comments or suggestions on the site, but a couple of small changes to wording have been suggested in person, please do think about these "instructions" as getting them right could be important to the shape and success of the project!

2. How electronic hypertext and print differ

A text is one continuous sequential series of sentences organised into paragraphs and other higher-level clusters. A hypertext comprises a number of short discrete texts that are interlinked in complex non-linear ways. An electronic hypertext is read on-screen. These two differences (linked chunks vs. sequence, and screen vs. print) make writing effectively for the two media very different.

2.1. Thinking links

Since hypertext is composed of linked lexia, and since readers may have reached any lexia by several (or even very many) different routes, each lexia should stand alone. So (to help you avoid overlooking material you planned to write) compose each lexia as a separate document. As you edit your material, do not always read the lexia in the same order, so you will be more likely to spot where explanation links are needed.

Each lexia should be relatively short and focused. A couple of hundred words is a good length, often if you get beyond this length you could think of splitting the unit in two parts! When writing hypertext, within reason, fragmentation is good since it enhances focus. In a text coherence and structure are vital, however focus is vital in a single lexia (written to work as part of a hypertext).

As you read over what you have written think about what beginners will need explained. Either build in a link to an existing explanation (Bible Dictionary article or lexia you have already written) or make a blank document with a heading that reminds you to write the required lexia. E.g. if the reader needs some summary introduction to “Prophets in the Mari texts” then make a document with this heading, and a brief note to yourself about why it is needed. This way later you can prepare the required lexia, and can build in the necessary link as you are still writing the first lexia.

Similarly where colleagues or other readers may want to know your evidence or reasons create a document and link to it (as “justification”) even if it only has a title at this stage.

2.2. Scanning not Reading

Readers of text on screen have been shown not to “read” sequentially, but rather to scan pages for information.[1] When writing for this medium it is helpful to bear this tendency in mind and adapt one’s style accordingly. Features that have been shown to promote comprehension include:

  • Write briefly – roughly the rule is that halving the usual number of words doubles retention of information.
  • Use short focused paragraphs – focus each paragraph on only one point, keep paragraphs where possible no more than 50-100 words, a focused paragraph is easier to grasp quickly.
  • Use bullet points – a bulleted list is easier to perceive and retain than a traditional sentence!
  • Use more headings – headings that summarise or assist the reader to “locate” themselves are really useful.
  • Start with a summary – begin units: lexia, sections, or paragraphs with a brief summary, this helps readers orient themselves.

The best advice from practitioners of writing for screen, as well as empirical studies like Neilsen and Morkes, suggest that as academics we need to reverse our usual writing “logic”. Traditionally we write towards a conclusion. Readers onscreen expect to work outwards from a summary. This is called a “reverse pyramid” – writing towards a conclusion focuses down towards the end, the reverse pyramid puts what is most significant first.

Traditionally, people scan English language documents by reading the first few words of each paragraph. For this reason, put only one idea in each paragraph. And put the main idea right up front, in the first few words…. Never tease people and force them to guess your point.[2]

2.3. Enabling reading not leading readers

The role of commentary is to describe and explain the text. Comment seeks to assist its reader to understand and make sense of the text. To this end difficulties and puzzles in the text are exposed, described and explained, context is explained… However, traditional commentary is driven by the sequential print format to lead the reader towards sharing the commentator’s interpretation of the text.

Hypertext, with its links and varied paths is more conducive to allowing its users to explore aspects of the text that interest them. Thus, although a hypertext commentator can present their “way of reading the book”, it is less easy for them to insist on this way of reading. By contrast the form facilitates offering the user other “ways of reading” also. This openness is a feature of the medium that we are keen to exploit, so authors are asked to present not only their own reading of the text, but also to explore and present material that might be useful or interesting for other readings.

Sectarian reading of the Bible is common (not only religiously sectarian but also "secular sectarian readings" e.g. those that deny the possibility of supernatural events described in the text). Such sectarian readings may be presented, but where possible authors should identify them as such using phrases like “a Christian reader might understand…”, and where possible more than one such reading should be presented. E.g. when commenting on Isaiah 9, New Testament use of the passage to refer to Jesus should not be overlooked, but nor should it be the only understanding presented.

[1] John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen "Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write for the Web" (downloaded 30/06/00)

[2] R. McAlpine, Web Word Wizardry, Wellington: Corporate Communications, 1999. 98.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Instructions for authors of Hypertext Bible Commentary (draft) part 2 ::

The drafty version of part one is below, so if you have not read that please read it first! (No comments on that so far, please do offer comments, I really would be glad of any input you may have at this stage...

1. How the commentaries are organised

The prototype Amos “volume” required numerous articles of the sort found in Bible Dictionaries, and mini word studies for the vocabulary used in the book. However, we hope that the University Bible Dictionary articles will cover most of the need for such articles and will try to get funding for research assistants to prepare the mini-word studies. So this section of the manual will focus on the comment on the biblical text, rather than including also this ancillary material.

1.1. The aims of the commentary

HBC_ aims to equip readers to read/interpret the text. To this end comment should try to provide useful and relevant information about the text and its contexts. The intention is to offer a level of comment that goes beyond what the reader can work out for themselves using Bible software, but to avoid “pushing” one particular interpretative line.

The aim is to provide a similar level of comment to a multi-volume print series. So beginning readers will need technical terms and ideas explained, while biblical scholars will want a justification for a conclusion reached. Thus as well as the basic commentary material two other sorts of lexia will often be needed (for how to handle these different needs see Explanation and justification).

The system will allow readers to seek Bible Dictionary articles for themselves, but sometimes you may want to provide a link in your text to a particular article. Thus you should (usually) not include description of people, locations or widely used concepts (e.g. “Onesimus”, “Megiddo”, “Kingdom of God”) except where some particular detail (not covered in the UBD entry for that term) is needed for your commentary, rather you should link to the entry. (See Signalling links.)

1.2. From Overview to Detail

The commentaries will be organised at more than one level. Most often there will be three levels:

  • book (an overview of the book as a whole, including discussion of why you divide it into the sections you will use)
  • section (comment on each of the major sections)
  • detail (comment on individual pericopae, within this you may deal with wording etc. at verse level using headings)

A really short book (like 3 John or Obadiah) might be handled differently with only one or two “layers” of comment. Authors preparing comment on longer books (like Isaiah or Revelation) may need to add another level. Please discuss such needs with the editors.

At each level lexia should start with a list of the units treated at the next level (which can be links, in case your reader was looking for more detailed comment).

1.2.1. Book level comment

This comprises one basic lexia with as many sub lexia (for explanation or justification) as are needed. It should discuss such topics as:

  • the structure or organisation of the book
  • the genres used
  • the Gattung of the book
  • its historical setting
  • what it “narrates”.

In general this material is likely to be less comprehensive than in a conventional commentary, since some of the traditional material included in the “Introduction” may be linked from lower level lexia.

1.2.2. Comment on the major sections

These lexia are likely to be among the longer units you will write, but should not become too long (be alert for occasions when you should prepare a separate [linked] lexia with some of the material). In this lexia you are likely to describe:

  • the component pericopae and how they “fit” together
  • the coherence of the section
  • its rhetoric
  • motifs, themes etc.

1.2.3. Detail

The lowest level should deal with a single unit. It is likely to treat questions of genre, rhetorical purpose, imagery etc. the list of headings will differ according to the genre of the text, and the commentator’s interests! This is one case where internal links should definitely be used, so that discussion of the elements (e.g. of the wording) can be included under a subheading (e.g. the verse number).

General comment can be organised under headings, it is convenient for readers if (where possible) you use the same list of headings (omitting those not needed). Those I used most often for Amos were:

  • People and places (this might be rendered unnecessary by the Bible Dictionary…)
  • Form
  • Setting
  • Language and imagery
  • Function

1.3. Explanation and Justification (see also the “how to” section)

Apart from links to Bible Dictionary articles (whether from the University Bible Dictionary or written specially for your commentary[1]) there are two main types of lexia to which the material you write will link:

· explanations provide readers who lack technical knowledge with the means to understand what you write

· justifications allow readers who are interested to see the reasoning and evidence that supports a conclusion that you simply stated in the lexia you were writing

When signalling a link to another lexia you should identify it as one or the other of these categories. Bible Dictionary entries will provide a third category of link. Users will be able to tell in advance which sort of material a link leads towards, e.g. by a tooltip that reads “explanation” or “justification” or “Bible Dictionary”.

Almost always explanations are aimed at lay or beginning students, while justifications are more likely to be sought by “experts”.

Because you are writing more tersely than for print (see below), as you write you should be thinking about where you need to supply such “explanation” or “justification” lexia. I suggest that you make a new file for these required lexia with a heading and brief reminder of the purpose and note from where the link comes so that later you do not overlook providing this material. (“Explanation” lexia may often be used from more than one location in your commentary, while “justifications” are more likely to refer to one particular locus.)

1.4. Bible Dictionary material

Much of the necessary background information can be found in existing or expected future University Bible Dictionary articles (see the list at *****INSERT URL*** or in articles written at our request) [2] – if so you can link to them. Some more specialised information you will need to supply yourself as an “explanation” (or possibly “justification”) lexia.

The UBD is a separate project, but we have the right to use its articles, and are represented on the editorial panel. Articles will usually be around 1,500 words, we expect the first 100 entries to be complete in 2006. Authors are being recruited upon recommendation, and all entries will be approved following a peer review process.

The University Bible Dictionary (UBD) is a general reference work that makes biblical scholarship accessible online to undergraduate students and general readers. The resource offers original articles on books in the Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha, and New Testament, and on individuals, groups, artifacts, locations, events, and institutions. Articles are concise (no more than 1500 words in length, excluding bibliography); authoritative (subject to peer review and periodic revision); academic (descriptive and historical, not prescriptive and confessional); and introductory (giving an overview and recommending further reading).[3]

[1] When you need an article that does not (currently) exist in the UBD, either we can commission such an article or you can prepare one, these options should be discussed with the editors.

[2] That is, if you think that the current list misses a topic that should be covered in the UBD we can commission an article. If however you need an article with a particular slant or emphasis, or the article is likely only to be needed by your commentary, then you should provide the entry yourself as a lexia.

[3] Cited from the draft “Instructions for contributors” being prepared for the UBD project.

Anzac day ::

It is ANZAC day, Aussies and Kiwis remember the wars of the 20th century, with mingled pride and sadness. I'm not a Kiwi by birth and none of my ancestors were ANZACs, but my family is also scared by the Century of War. My father never knew his father who died as a medic in the "Great War" (earning an MC for bravery). He himself was an ambulance driver collecting the casualties (broken and torn human waste) from battlefields in North Africa and the Anzio Bridgehead. As a result of these experiences he suffered a "breakdown" whose consequences were still evident till his death.

My grandparents generation hoped that their war would be "the war to end all wars". It wasn't! My parents hoped that their experiences would make us pacifists. It hasn't - quite. I was glad when the Belgian and French paratroopers came to Kinshasa to protect us from Mobuto's rampaging presidential guard. But I hate war and violence, and was glad before the invasion of Iraq to join thousands of others (in a city of about 1 million, in a country "not involved") protesting the plans. I think NZ has it's military policy about right:
  • past - a proud military history of brave and disciplined troops
  • present - armed forces whose role is primarily "peacemaking" (currently NZ troops are deployed in peacekeeping and minesweeping roles in about a dozen countries)
  • broad public support for such a role, making peace not war, national forces trained and disciplined who can when needed be used to protect ordinary people from armed villains and gangs of thugs!
Today's PodBible chapter is more problematic: Deuteronomy 9 can seem a celebration of genocide. Thank God that the Bible is not "God's Word" in the sense that every word of it records God's thoughts! But rather as the record of God's interaction with humanity from which we can learn about the divine desires and plans for us.
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Sunday, April 23, 2006
Manual for authors - draft for comment ::

One of the writing projects I'm working on at present is a Manual for Authors for the Hypertext Bible Commentary series. At present it is in (what Paul my Principal calls) very drafty form. But I will take a leaf out of Robert Frenay's book (or at least RSS feed) and put the draft in installments here for comment. Here's the first section:

Writing for Hypertext Bible Commentary

0. Introduction

Hypertext is a collection of smaller textual units (lexia) which can be thought of as separate files. Lexia are joined by hyperlinks. This encourages readers to follow different paths through the material. Thus usually any particular lexia may be reached by more than one (often many different) routes. Therefore each lexia must either be able to stand alone, or must contain links to the material that enables readers to understand it.

This difference poses some problems of adjustment to scholars operating with a codex (or even scroll)[1] as their mental “map” of the nature of text. Instead it is helpful to remember that each lexia stands alone, yet at the same time works collaboratively with others (see “Thinking links”).

This is inconvenient for a document - like a monograph[2] or this manual - that seeks to lead the reader to particular conclusions or results. By contrast it is most convenient if the aim is to equip the reader, e.g. in a commentary that seeks to equip its readers to read the original text for themselves.

This manual will begin with a section on the practicalities of how material for a commentary in the series is organised (section 1), include some background on how text and hypertext differ and some consequent suggestions about rhetoric and style (section 2), before dealing with the technical details of “how to” prepare material for publication in the HBC_ (section 3).

[1] As I discovered when I began the Amos prototype, and found that the ease with which onscreen text can be scrolled tempted me initially to write long documents with many internal links! Some traces of this phase of writing Amos can still be detected in the published Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary. E.g. Tim Bulkeley, “GENRE: Kinds of Literature”, Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary, Auckland: Hypertext Bible, 2005.

[2] See Tim Bulkeley, "Form, Medium and Function: The Rhetorics and Poetics of Text and Hypertext in Humanities Publishing", International Journal of the Book 1, 2003, 317-327

Pulse again: is Biology the new Physics?
RSS, Trackback and Ping again, too ::

Just read today's installments, the basic point of these chunks is that biology is the new physics, and that our dominant paradigms need to be drawn (or are beginning to be drawn) from life not mechanics.

The argument that we should/are changing our dominant thought and cultural paradigms from mechanics to biology makes good sense to me. My problem is that Robert Frenay doesn't argue for it so much as hype it. If you are not already convinced there is little but hyperbole here to change your mind...

At least one reviewer of the book seems to agree:
But readers looking for in-depth analyses may be left wanting more.
Wrote Aparna Sreenivasan in the San Fransisco Chronicle
As for the blog format, the problem, once again, is RSS. I read Pulse in my feedreader, I comment on my blog... No connection. Now, I know the answer is something called "trackback and ping", but I'm not techie enough to have worked out how to understand or use them. If they are so important how come they are not built into the Blogger interface?

Saturday, April 22, 2006
New Biology (Pulse "the first networked book") ::

I found out about Pulse from Rachel's blog (she was working on the project). Names@Work were hired to publicise the book, they have taken an "open" approach to this commercial goal:
Our guiding principle is give before you get. Readers can read the entire book without paying a penny by subscribing via RSS or email. By making Pulse easily available, we're encouraging people to share, discuss, and pass on the ideas in this fascinating book.
I've subscribed. The first day's installment starts with the blurb from Names@Work that I just quoted, and follows up with the first chunk of the book. Robert Frenay has an easy to read flowing style, and his thoughts are full of "big ideas". The first 500 words or so takes us through the whole evolution of life on earth, with a focus on the end point:
The twenty-first century will mark a sea change in human affairs, one unlike any that has gone before. Soon to come are computers with emotions, ships that learn from fish, and "soft jets" that flex and twist like swooping birds. Fabricated arteries will pulse and contract just as they do in life. Industries will reabsorb waste, like fallen leaves fading into the earth, while a new kind of money looks to energy cascades in nature. These are not blue-sky dreams. Work on them is well advanced.
This is "love-it or hate-it" stuff. So, do I? Well it's too early to say, the lack of evidence annoyed me, I'm marking student work at the moment and so often there I'm saying: "Support what you say with evidence, cite an author, give a Bible reference, or the source of the statistics..." well (so far) Frenay gives none of these and it's frustrating. On the other hand I LOVE the book as blog approach. Bite-sized chunks to read between other more "productive" work, great. Book-as-blog, I'm sold... but whether I'll buy this book may depend on whether Frenay's rhetoric gets (sometime) a backing of more solid evidence.

Friday, April 21, 2006
Beware of geeks baring gifts ::

The redoubtable Stephen has just sent me another of his always stimulating emails of "Things you might be interested in" included this time was a link to a fine rant about iTunesU. Titled "The Problem with iTunes U" by Chris Dawson on the ambiguously named OpenMinded (well in this context it's ambiguous). The post pokes a stick in the mouth of Apple's gift horse to the educational community. I've been slightly suspicious of Apple's seeming magnaminity in giving away what they could have sold - a convenient way to publish educational podcasts with no worries about the extra load on institutional servers. Chris uncovers some of the less than "open" fishhooks in the "free" offer.

As for me I'll continue to place my podcasts on my own site till either Carey signs up with someone like iTunesU and produces an institutional approach - then I guess I'll get institutionalised!

Maybe the motto of iTunesU could be a Latinised version of "Learning from Microsoft: Educating to takeover the world"...

Let's talk fees: or how the most beautiful place may also be cheaper! ::

Image stolen from LOTR Imagery
Eric had a post "Let's Talk Tuition" with a great pic of someone burning money. Perhaps the ultimate blasphemy in the West today! His post starts like this:
One class costs around $1200. Depending on what holidays fall during the semester you're looking at about $100-$120 per 3 hour lecture.
It's time for an message from my employers... In New Zealand fees are around NZ$3,477 per year for PhD students (plus a few extras but say around NZ$4,000 in total. That's around US$2,500 or GB Pounds 1,400 or just a tad over Euros 2,000 for a full year of doctoral study. Living costs are also lower here than most other places in the developed world. And Universities like Auckland regularly rank OK in international comparisons.

And, now - because you can't wait - the good news! From next year (Feb 2006 we work with the calendar year since Christmas is our summer holiday) International PhD Students will pay local fees. Now there's a deal you can't beat - without counting all our Lord of the Rings and Narnia scenery!

BTW Both Tyndale-Carey Graduate School and the School of Theology at the University of Auckland teach PhD candidates.

Thursday, April 20, 2006
Internet, blogging and time ::

I recently (Maundy Thursday till the Tuesday after Easter) spent nearly six days with no Internet! I mentioned this fact as an excuse for delay in replying to some of the huge number of emails waiting for me on Tuesday evening, and have enjoyed the expressions of incredulous sympathy ;)

Actually I find that two or three days is a lovely rest, but that by the fourth or fifth day I am feeling virtual communication deprived - my wife has similar feelings (though less intense withdrawal symptoms if she gets no (printed, radio or TV) "News", so the phenomenon can hardly be called new.

But several delays in reading blogs (over the Summer we took a holiday, as the semester began things were hectic, the three weeks of leading worship and preaching for self-denial filled weeks more than usual...) have meant that I feel semi-detached. I still scan the blogs I usually look at, sometimes I still read a post carefully, occasionally I comment, but I have hardly posted, and when I have it has not often been in response to other bloggers.

I wonder if others in similar positions is the cause of the phenomena that have widely been discussed following Jim's "Death of Blog Theology"... (Big apology to all, in my hurry I failed to note the URLs for your fine insightful, and sometimes amusing, responses to Jim, but there was much I enjoyed and much I agreed with.)

Anyway, during the six days I managed to get quite a bit of catching up done, so expect soon an announcement of the first draft of the manual for Hypertext Bible Commentary authors, and I am happy that the regular PodBible podcasts are back on track (for your daily Bible 'cast)... the marking has (at least) been begun :) and there's another whole week (and one bonus day) before classes start!

Monday, April 10, 2006
Little White Lies, OOLs and Narrative ::

My teaching recently has been raising issues of how we relate to biblical narratives. Reading the textbook for the intro class some students were caught (in various ways) by a statement that Bible characters are not role models. Some found the idea liberating, others shocking! In "Justice Issues in the Bible" we used a chapter of John Barton's to begin exploring the use of biblical narrative in ethical discussion. Then Richard Beck had a strongly worded post about the perceived (by Richard and his psychology students) failure of theologians to address many real life issues. I've interacted with him in his comments about a couple of points, here I want to take up the issue of what I've always heard called "Little White Lies", which he gives the nicely descriptive psychological name of "Other Oriented Lies" (hereinafter OOLs).

Richard wrote:
Data tells us that humans lie all the time. And I mean ALL THE TIME. It's not often big lies, but we tell small lies constantly. About 10 a day to be conservative. And that isn't counting dishonesties such as laughing a co-worker's joke that isn't funny. What is interesting is that most of these lies, like laughing at the poor joke, are meant to be acts of "service," dishonesties meant to protect another person's feelings. Psychologists call these "other-oreinted lies."

So, my students ask: Are all these lies sin? I'd like to answer that question. They don't seem like sins to me or my students. But it is hard to find sources with good theological discussions about such topics. You could take an ethics class, but that isn't really theology.
I replied (in part):
Why on earth should OOLs be sinful? Where in the Bible (I'm a Baptist, so the main source of my theology is Scripture ;-) does it say that to lie is sinful?

"Bearing false witness" is clearly sinful, but OOLs hardly count as "false witness"...

Jesus tells us (following Jewish wisdom) that we should be people of our word ("Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no'" Mat 5:37) but do OOLs really contravene this command?

I'd have thought the direction of a theological response to OOLs was fairly simple... Read your Bible!

BTW if you want a good precedent for an OOL approved by God, think of the whopper the midwives told Pharaoh (Ex 1:19).
We had also been talking about free will and contingency, on that Richard wrote:
Humans are contingent beings. Circumstances of birth or small changes in life events can drastically affect the course of a life. Examples here are legion. So, I'm not saying we have no choice, but rather that choice can be very circumscribed.

I think most would agree with this. If so, then how do we make this idea jive with soteriology?
I'm not going to comment on soteriology (I'm an OT teacher!), but did reply:
I wonder if it is precisely a recognition of human contingency that results in such a very high proportion of the Bible being "narrative".

Systematic writing, "law", "letters" etc. finds it difficult to cope with complex contingent behaviour. Narrative requires such a reading (else the narrative is not "true to life" and so is poor narrative). That's why most of the Bible does not have systematic meaning, though texts like Aesop's Fables do (see Judges 9 for a [very rare/unique?] biblical example of a narrative with a single simple "meaning".

When we read Jacob's story we do not learn a (more or less) simple set of rules e.g. "do not lie, except when...", rather we learn about a contingent and broken human life lived in relationship with God.

To annoy colleagues I have often said that Systematic Theology is an oxymoron, and I am only half joking ;) (I don't know an emoticon for "half joking"!)
Narrative by its nature invites us to "enter the world" of the story, and to make judgments on the characters, and thus on ourselves. Such engagement enables and encourages us to work out our response to life in a "biblical" way, but it does not equip us with simple neat rules.

Richard's implied complaint that theologians do not equip people to do theology in the real world is only partly fair. Theologians have responses to the sorts of issues he raises, though too often these responses are NOT (let's admit it) communicated to students. And when they ARE, too often the student fails to communicate this to their listeners when it is their turn to be the teacher (e.g. in a local church setting). Pastors and teachers seem to assume that most Christians cannot cope with such complexity and/or prefer neat simple answers: Lying is sin... Such protective responses are either horribly arrogant: "I can cope with complexity but these poor folk cannot!" or shows a lack of intellectual capacity in the pastor: "I can't cope with such complexity, so I'll act as if the Bible always gave us neat simple rules!"

How sad... we need to ensure better theological education and so grow Christians better equipped for life.


* John Barton, “Ethics and Story”, Ethics and the Old Testament (2nd Ed) London: SCM, 2002, 19-36 [return]

Sunday, April 09, 2006
Gospel of Judas : SHOCK, HORROR there's hardly a story! ::

It's great that a new Gnostic Gospel (The Gospel of Judas) gets noticed by the press, makes a change from people finding David's first alphabet book and Cleopatra's pillow. But, the US media, to judge by fellow bloggers' posts, and the NZ media (I've seen TVNZ and the NZ Herald coverage so far), have sensationalised the story (of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas) out of all contact with reality.

So, I'm delighted that I can feel a warm glow of pride in the country of my birth, the BBC has what looks and sounds a good solid, sensible take on the in-famous Gospel of Judas. Even the headline is sensible "Not so secret gospels"! I'm proud of Aunty, and her podcasts of interesting World Service programmes is also good. [Cue recording of "Rule Britannia" from the Last Night of the Poms - with Kiri Te Kanawa singing of course, so I can be all patriotic about NZ too!]

Saturday, April 08, 2006
Christian understanding of "family" ::

The concept of "family" has been in the news quite a bit recently, one way and another. In NZ it looks as if our current government is set on changing the social landscape as drastically as a previous one did the economic landscape in the 1980s. So, I've been invited to put together a short "briefing sheet" for Christians on Christian understanding(s) of family. The aim is to provide a short started for busy people, perhaps one folded A4 sheet in total, so no space for a whole dissertation!

It's an exciting, but daunting, prospect. Exciting, because it is a topic I am passionate about (after all I've been part of families all my life ;), but also because I think it's a topic where a close look at the Bible (and especially the bigger "half") leads to very different conclusions from most Christians' knee-jerk responses. But it's daunting, after all how do you say something useful and meaningful in just a few hundred words... it is a big topic!

So, suppose you were invited to do this task:
  • What would you be sure to include?
  • What can I leave out?
Some of the things I am currently thinking may need to be mentioned are:
  • Families in the Bible
  • Family and marriage
  • Some highlights (including bad ones) from current statistics on real families
  • Features of good families
  • How to support and strengthen families

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Monday, April 03, 2006
Experimental Theology ! ::

Thanks to Chris for pointing out this blog "Experimental Theology", I find it a really good and thought provoking read. Of course, I'm biased my first training was in Psychology and my wife was a Psychologist. (She's since become a Family Therapist and PhD candidate in Psychiatry!)

I've not been blogging much this year, because (despite expectations) it's proving to be a very busy one! But I will start soon...

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