Wednesday, January 28, 2009
  Calling God "Allah"
How would you feel if the government suddenly told you that the word "God" could only be used to speak about the old Anglo-Saxon deities, and that you (assuming "you" are an Anglophone Christian of some sort) must forthwith find another word to describe the being you worship?

There was a discussion at Carey last semester with the title "Is Allah God". (It was part of a series of lunchtime engagements where staff and students discuss "hot topics" to model theological difference.) Some of the participants might be interested in this post court case over the use of 'Allah' by Antony on his old testament passion blog. Malaysian Catholics are taking court action in an attempt to protect their (and other Malaysian Christians' - see the comments) right to continue to use the word 'Allah to indicate God, as they have traditionally done, against government pressure to allow Allah to only be used to speak of the divine being as Muslims understand things. Atr stake is whether Allah means "God" as opposed to a "god" or whether the word is an exclusively Muslim name. Christians in countries with a strong Muslim majority face different issues from those who worship comfortably among an indifferent population ;)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah: Introduction
Stephen begins his "Introduction" with human experiences that challenge comfortable easy images of God: "God exists and God cares, 2 Isaiah claims, but God's uncanny ways sometimes defy our human categories of rationality and morality" (xvi) is a good introduction to the claim that this work (Isaiah 40-55) focuses on reverence - see my post introducing the book.

To a reader whose faith was challenged in teenage years by a father's nervous breakdown, to centre the presentation on Is 45:15: "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior" draws me in. For this is not a book for pentecostals and charismatics, convinced weekly by signs and wonders of God's power and glory; it is for "Anglicans" (and others) to whom the "uncanny, fiery side of God" does not appear easily. (xv)

On the next page Stephen quotes twice from Aelred of Rievaulx, a Cistertian writer I have not come across since the days of research for my thesis! A clear indication that this book has an erudite writer who writes for intelligent, explorative and imformed readers. It is deeper than the average "popular" book on biblical studies, and so should fill a gaping hole in the market for such readers. If they find it, the main barrier to publishing such works is that in the 20th century book market few of them could discover such books, so few sold... perhaps in the 21st century we will see a rennaisance in such works, as digital communications puts readers and writers in contact - maybe through reviews on blogs like this, since I assume that my readers are "intelligent, explorative and imformed" ;)

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Friday, January 16, 2009
  Different cultures
Mary Hess had a post (which youi should read, as she suggests thoughts about churches from this material ;) in which she quotes from what she says "was a fascinating piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed recently (sorry, it’s locked behind their firewall)", it included a list of twenty signs an institution might be at risk. It is fascinating reading, at least from down here. Most do not apply, or apply to every theological training institution (including the two Universities that teach theology)
  • Tuition discounting is more than 35 percent.
No one here gives fees discounts, we set the fees and then students live with them.
  • Tuition dependency is more than 85 percent.
Though most places would be borderline if you count government funding tied to students as "tuition dependency".
  • Student default rate is more than 5 percent.
  • Debt service is more than 10 percent of annual operating budget.
Not sure what these mean, but I don't see how anyone can opperate if students are enrolled without paying fees, just signing an IOU (which seems to be what they mean).
  • The ratio between endowment and operating budget is less than 1-to-3.
No theological training institution in NZ has better than that, "endowments" are simply not part of the scene - Kiwis seldom give to investment funds!
  • Average annual tuition increase has been greater than 8 percent for five years.
Crikey they must have been low five years ago - you should all have studied then ;)
  • Deferred maintenance is at least 40 percent unfinanced.
Surely deferred maintenance is just pushes something off next year's list?
  • Short-term bridge financing is regularly required in the final quarter of each fiscal year.
Oops, this would be a disaster, there have been a few years when Carey would have been in trouble without the Union, and some when the reverse is true ;) it sure helps being owned by a denomination.
  • Less than 10 percent of operating budget is dedicated to technology.
Oh, yes! I must show this to Graeme 10% just think what we could do with that size of budget ;)
  • Average alumni gift is less than $75, and less than 20 percent of alumni give annually.
Alumni gifts? You mean in the USA past students send you money, where do they get it from, do you teach pop music or bank robbery at your seminaries?
  • Enrollment is 1,000 students or fewer.
If you added the 5 or six largest institutions in NZ together you would not make this threshold.
  • The conversion yield — the percentage of students who attend
    the college after applying — is 20 percent lower than that of primary
  • Student retention is 10 percent behind that of primary competitors.
  • The institution is on probation with a regional accreditor.
These make good sense.
  • The majority of faculty members do not hold terminal degrees.
I did not know degrees could be "terminal", I never thought of my PhD as an illness, if it was since I have had it for 25 years I suspect that it is not terminal and I'll survive. The others have had theirs less long, but they all LOOK healthy enough.
  • Average age of full-time faculty is 58 or higher.
This is a problem in NZ, not that actual figure, but a somewhat chronologically over-endowed character to theological teachers. Though at Carey the average has slowly been dropping, and in a couple of years will shoot down again...
  • The leadership team averages more than 12 years, or fewer than three years, of service.
  • No complete online program has been developed.
  • No new degree or certificate program has been developed for at least two years.
These all make sense.
  • It takes more than a year to approve a new degree program.
This is out of our hands, NZQA (or the Vice-Chancellors' committee for the Universities) decide both the result and the time taken.

Conclusion, either all theological education in NZ is terminal, or the situation is so different only a few criteria are common to the two contexts.

Saturday, January 10, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah - Introduction to the series
Yesterday I began posting thoughts on Stephen Cook's book Conversations with Scripture : 2 Isaiah today I'll look at the part Stephen did NOT write ;)

In the "Introduction to the series" Frederick W. Schmidt seeks to unpack what a "distinctively Anglican approach to Scripture looks like.

First he seeks to understand how Scripture is Authoritative. Claiming that for Anglicans it is more like a city we inhabit, and within whose bounds we enjoy our creative space. That image is exciting, but probably (Anglican friends may correct me) not distinctively Anglican, though it may find expression better in Episcopalian tradition than in other less "broad" communities. He also tells of his reply to an Evangelical Free Church friend who wondered "why someone with such obvious interest in the Bible would be Anglican". The reply is a fine and rousing slogan, that presents a sharp critique to many Baptist churches (a friend and I were bemoaning last night how little of the Bible is read in most NZ Baptist churches of a Sunday). But: "Because we read the whole of Scripture and not just the parts that suit us." cannot be left unchallenged by this Baptist. It is true that the Anglican (Catholic, Methodist... name any church that uses a lectionary including many Baptist churches) habit of reading all (or at least to be more honest, 'most of' since certain "difficult" texts are censored from all lectionaries I have seen!) of the Bible from time to time. It is also true that the (ana)Baptist habit of favouring certain parts of the Bible - like the gospel accounts of Jesus teaching - also has strengths, and it is essential to recognise that all of the canon is not at the same level of "authority".

Schmidt's second category of an "Anglican" approach to Scripture, that it is illuminative is simply something that most Christians would agree on, and indeed insofar as "illuminative" means that Scripture demands a change in the life of the reader is one that early Baptists fought with Anglicans over. In my post (Ana)Baptist Hermeneutics I even claimed as a distinctively (ana)Baptist form of hermeneutics - under the title "Hermeneutics of Obedience", that I borrowed from Stuart Murray (from Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition 206 or see the summary by Stuart Murray-Williams).

His third, critical engagement also begs several questions, British Baptists are not without their own roll call of distinguished 19th and 20th century biblical scholars...

So, this "Introduction to the Series" is something of a curate's egg, the discussion of authority is stimulating, but some of claims seem unnecessarily chauvinistic. Perhaps rather than the parts, it is the whole that matters, it may be that it is the selection of just these characteristics that distinguishes Anglican approaches to Scripture... certainly I did not find equivalents for all of Murray's list:
  • The Bible as Self-interpreting
  • Christocentrism
  • The Two Testaments
  • Spirit and Word
  • Congregational Hermeneutics
  • Hermeneutics of Obedience
And equally neither Murray, nor I, placed "critical engagement" in the list at all, though I think "diversity" does appear as an inference from our "Congregational Hermeneutics" - which implies that different locations produce different local readings.

[The next post, which won't appear on Sunday - since I am preaching, will begin at last to read Stephen's own work, after all this preparation!]

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Friday, January 09, 2009
  Responding to systematic brutality
How does one respond to a state that systematically uses its power in the most brutal ways seeking to subdue a people.

When one is partisan the answer is simple. Outrage, anger and protest. Since visiting the Karen people on the Thai-Burma border that's how I respond to each month or day's shocking new episode. (If you want the last month's atrocities read the latest "Last Month in Burma" but be ready for the contents, the rape and murder of a seven year old, a political prisoner comits suicide...)

But how to respond when one has friends and aquaintances among the aggressors, or at least among the citizens of the aggressor state, wh are not disenfranchised or in open rebellion? That's my problem as I read the reports from Gaza. I respect and like so many of the Israelis I have met, I've enjoyed their hospitality, and sympathised with their fear of terrorist attacks and their worry about sons and daughters in the army. I have no Palestinian friends, to provide "balance", I have not eaten in Palestinian homes... I am non-partisan, or through the chains of friendship implicated in the actions of the Israeli state.

Should I respond to the indiscriminate brutality of the current attack with silence? After all Israel has suffered Hamas attacks for years... My colleague George sent me a short paper by Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College. Alex offers a compassionate appeal, one which recognises the pain of Israelis, accepts their right "to live in peace and security" but claims the same right for the innocent inhabitants of Gaza.

I emailed Alex and he has given me permission to reproduce his text here:

Regarding Gaza

By Rev. Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College
December 31, 2008

One hundred tons of bombs are Israel’s way of saying to the captive citizens of Gaza, Merry Christmas, Happy Eid (feast) and Happy New Year. These “gifts” that were showered from US-made F-16 fighter jets demolished government buildings, mosques, a university, hundreds of homes and snuffed out many lives – among them scores of children. Like many in this part of the world and around the globe my heart aches when I read and see pictures of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and likewise when I see Israelis killed or injured by Qassam rockets. However, I have a special love for Gaza and its people. Before the strict closure of Gaza, Bethlehem Bible College used to have an extension there. I went to Gaza once every Thursday to teach our students and often I stayed the night there. Interacting with Gazans in class, in church and in the community, I learned much about the kindness and the hospitality of the people of Gaza, both Muslims and Christians. The majority of the people of Gaza are not Hamas militants. They are people like you and I who long to live in peace day in and day out. Regretfully, everyone in the Gaza Strip--men, women, children, civilians and fighters alike—is now feeling the horrible impact and devastation caused by the newest and deadliest Israeli incursion over the Strip in many years.

There is no doubt that the Qassam rockets launched against the western Negev and Ashkelon by Islamic militants linked to Hamas cause great pain and anxiety for many Israelis. Most people agree that Israel, like any other country, has the right to defend itself from outside attacks. However in this unequal conflict between Israel and Hamas, Israel, as usual, has overdone it. When it comes to dealing with its enemies, Israel has a pattern of being extreme. “An eye for an eye” does not satisfy. It has to be more like one hundred eyes for one eye and one hundred teeth for one tooth. When the Israelis attacked Lebanon in June 2006, they sprayed the country with millions of cluster bombs (which are internationally banned) and these bombs continue to kill innocent people even today. What troubles me most in this current war is that most of the victims of this Israeli incursion on Gaza are average people-men, women and children--who are struggling to just to survive under the extreme and harsh conditions that the Israeli siege has created. For 40 years the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli occupation and during the last few years, although the Israelis redeployed their troops from Gaza, they never withdrew the symbols of their dominance and occupation. They continue to control the borders, which mean controlling food, medicine, fuel and goods going in and out of the Strip. In essence, they have turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world.

If the Israeli leaders assume that they can assure the security of their citizens by the might and the power of their superior army and air force, they are mistaken. The outrage caused among the peoples in the Arab and Islamic world by these horrible attacks will most likely blow dark clouds over the skies of Israel or elsewhere in the world.

Israel should learn to negotiate with its neighbors in good faith. Negotiating in good faith means implementing UN resolutions, ending the occupation of the West Bank, opening the borders of the Gaza Strip to the rest of the world and stopping military incursions into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The rise of Hamas and militancy in Gaza is directly related to a vacuum that Israel and the United States have created by dragging their feet in never-ending and fruitless peace negotiations with moderate Palestinians. As long as Israel continues to place obstacles on the path of the peace process and as long as the US continues to allow it to do so, we can expect new outbursts of violence in the Middle East that will cause more horrors and waste more lives on both sides of the political divide.

The Israelis have the right to live in peace and security and so do the people of Gaza. I call on you, friends, to pray for the civilians on both sides who are caught in this nightmare. In addition to praying, let us protest these lethal bombs with a barrage of our own letters to our elected leaders calling for an end to this human tragedy.

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  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah
Stephen Cook sent me a copy of his new book:

Stephen L. Cook, Conversations with Scripture : 2 Isaiah (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2008).

It arrived yesterday, all nicely wrapped in Christmas paper. Thank you!

The arrangement is that I'll review the book here, since this is a blog and not a journal, I'll not compose one terse magisterial review but will post from time to time as I examine and reflect on the book...

So, First Impressions:

The book is a manageable-sized paper back, 150 pages of largish print, so suggests an easy read rather than a tome to plough. It belongs to a series Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series, and the blurb claims it offers a "uniquely Anglican Bible Study". That already grabs my attention, because I have been increasingly, recently, asking myself what might be distinctive about "Baptist" biblical hermeneutics (by which I mean not what real particular Baptists actually do, which is often just like what similar real Lutherans or Presbyterians actually do) but as an "ideal", so it may be interesting if I can capture from Stephen's study of 2 Isaiah something that is distinctly "Anglican".

Opening the work, the first thing I notice is a number of small sidebar explanations. Sometimes two per page are needed, sometimes several pages pass with none. They are usually only one sentence in length. This is a useful way to explain terms, introduce people... that mimics one property of hypertext - I'm a great fan of sidebars!

The chapter titles too, on the contents page, have me hooked:
  • Second Isaiah and the Theology of Reverence
  • The Inscrutability of God in 2 Isaiah
  • Reverence and the Collapse of Pride and Ignorance
  • Servanthood and the Exuberance of the Holy
  • Atonement and Exuberance
  • The Majesty of Servanthood
Each of these draws me in, I'd happily begin with any of them. (Actually I'll probably be a "good boy" and start at the beginning - most untypically - but who could resist a theological work with "exuberance" in the title?)

There are endnotes (works aimed at a broader readership eschew footnotes) but only a dozen or so per chapter (so looking them up will not be a great hardship).

Stephen's writing is clear and uses mainly short sentences, and I quickly (while dipping here and there) found examples that provoke:
  • "The poem presents a scandalous God. This God is out to disorient people, defy their logic, and make their knees shake". (29) Don't you want to know which poem? Or do you, without looking at Stephen's book, know already?
  • "We simply cannot revere that which is enslaved to our interests, a puppet-god that we manipulate through our prayers and our behavior." (20, sidebar) Nice terse phrasing presents an old truth in a fresh way.
That's enough for today, now I must start writing that article... and tidying the study :(

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  What made blogs significant?
Jenna, who commented on the post below, linked to a post of hers that that opens presenting Rheingold's distinction between "audience" and "public" - basically an "audience" is composed of passive receivers, while a "public" engages with and/or acts on the material. The distinction is useful, though I've never liked Rheingold's language for it. Many audiences used to be very engaged etc. though perhaps they have become culturally less so with the advent of TV.

I am thinking of a 1960s political meeting, with hecklers - with whom the speaker, Harold Wilson, "speaking" from an upper floor window of a terraced house in a less wealthy part of Leicester, engaged vigorously ;) There were also a whole cast of audience "types" as well as hecklers there were protestors and the bouncers who removed them, the true believers who rose for a standing ovation at the close of the speech, and many participants who then went out to canvas in an election. If I compare that scene with a TV audience, participation has been numbed into merely shouting at the referee, or offering unheard advice to the character in a soap; or dumbed and commercialised into TXT us and we'll either charge you $1 to vote in our poll, or (in the most generous case) put you into a draw to get one of our sponsors products free.

The distinction is also always a spectrum, particular audiences (and indeed individual members) are more or less involved and active, "public", but still it is a helpful distinction to consider.

Jenna turns from introducing Rheingold's classification to discussing blogs whose "authors leverage 2.0 practices" and briefly touches on the history of blogs. This is where I think it gets interesting. As Jenna reminds us, blogs began as "Weblogs" - online diaries. As weblogs, the genre was of minority interest and only a few were read by more than the writer and their second cousin who found it via a Google (or perhaps, in those far off times, some other search engine) search for the person's name. Then weblogs evolved, they added features permitting "comments" and other arcane interactions like trackbacks and blogrolls... in short, as well as shortening their name, blogs added "community". The blog bubble was born.

[I have a post in my head, that I WILL write "one day soon", on the recent discussion of "the death of blogging" - basically I'll claim that reports of this "death" are somewhat exaggerated but seek to outline some of the live areas amid the dead wood...]

[I also have a post that bemoans the way in which Christian organisations online simply do not "get" the culture but persist in seeking to address what Rheingold would call "audiences", that also will get written "some day after or before"...]

For now, notice the salient fact, blogging took off when it added interactivity and community. The resources that threaten the "death of blogging" are all offer more affordances for community. It is no accident that in 2008 Facebook killed the blog, or that (perhaps) in 2009 Twitter will kill Facebook. Community rules, OK?

[One question remains... can I bear to become a Twit?]

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Thursday, January 08, 2009
  Participatory pedagogy and cultural literacy
Dubbed "the explainer" by Wired magazine, Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the impact of new media on society and culture. After two years studying the impact of writing on a remote indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, he has turned his attention to the effects of social media and digital technology on global society. His videos on technology, education, and information have been viewed by millions, translated in over ten languages, and are frequently featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide.

Prof Wesch has a stimulating post on Participatory Media Literacy: Why it matters, he draws heavily on a fine essay Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies, by Howard Rheingold. With one of the longest running stimulating gurus of digital collaboration (Rheingold) and one of the hottest - recently voted Prof of the Year - US tertiary teachers around (Wesch) there are plenty of stimulating ideas to reflect on.
Howard Rheingold is a critic and writer; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing). He is the author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs. website: vlog:

Reading the two underlines WHY teaching about digital literacy (beyond the standard "how to use the library catalogue, online databases and Zotero to research and write an essay in a Wordprocessor") is vital whether one is teaching Chemistry, Anthropology or Old Testament.

Just as it was not merely the technology of moveable type that changed the economics of literature in early modern Europe, but even more the ways that technology was adopted and used that revolutionised the culture and the thought that changed "everything". If Luther and others had not adopted the technology and used it to undermine the old power structures in politics, theology and the academy the technology alone might have enabled a very different world, where Rome and the aristocratic families of Europe licenced print and censored its contents...

In 2009 the failure of banks and auto manufacturers demonstrates that the notion of a "free market" that can adjust itself successfully is evidently false. Yet if the new(ish) communications technologies are to have a liberating effect (like that of print) we have a greater need of an open market than ever. To achieve this we need literate users using the technologies, so that those who would harness them for their own benefit alone can be hampered as Luther's rude and crude cartoons scandalised those in power in late medieval Europe.
Digital literacy - as the ability to make use of the developing digital communications technologies - must be as widespread as possible. Yet the capacity to use the media alone is not enough, most students already Twitter and Facebook each other. They need also to think critically (surely a fundamental educational goal) about these media and the social and economic structures they inhabit and create.

As Rheingold tries to demonstrate only a participative pedagogy is up to this task. So, the deep questions are:
  • Can teachers learn fast enough? or
  • Will the volunteerism of "Web 2.0" be enough to open the doors?

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  Textbook purchases
Amazon have what look like great deals on textbooks, any purchased from this link will not only get you their best prices, but also make a small contribution to the costs of the Hypertext Bible Dictionary and Commentary project.

NB: The link and the offers vanish like Cinderella's coach at midnight in the Amazon on St Valentine's Day (Feb 14th). So use it now!

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009
  Hebrew Bible audio
For a course on Biblical Narrative I am teaching this year I want to give some students (who are beginners at Hebrew) a text that has parallel Hebrew and English translation, with also the Hebrew as audio. The Worms Document System allows me to create this, not just as a video but so that a student can click on a phrase to hear it, or hear each chapter while the text is highlighted and scrolls. (See Learning Jonah below for a video of this in operation.)

The trouble is that the Hebrew audio Bible commonly available on the web, by Shmuelof, is copyright and the copyright holders are difficult to contact and might not be willing to give permission. My own Hebrew reading is not good enough. I used it for the Amos commentary, but it was criticised in Ehud Ben Zvi's review of the published version (he suggested I could have used the Shmuelof version, perhaps unaware that it was copyright protected).

There are bound to be others who would be glad of such a resource. In fact I know that Charles Grebe, who produced the magnificent Jonah Comic, as well as a load of other brilliant Hebrew learning tools online, would be. So, does anyone have suggestions of people able (i.e. with good clear voices and good clear Hebrew) and willing to start recording the Bible under a CC or public domain licence? I'd be delighted to give technical assistance and encouragement!

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  Editorial announcement
[The editor interrupts this blog for a public service announcement.]

Few who know Tim Bulkeley as Old Testament teacher, kite-flyer, cook, husband, father, or whatever are aware of Tim's other life as a drummer:

Yet, with mates John Shifflet and Josh Nelson you might even call us a "killer band". If you ever wonder at Tim Bulkeley's behaviour just remember that he IS a drummer ;)

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