Wednesday, October 28, 2009
  Memento Mori, Secular Biblical Studies and why I do not wish to be a "Scholar"
Philippe de Champaigne's Vanitas (c. 1671)
For some reason that I cannot explain (but which was NOT the skill of other drivers ;) I was thinking on my drive to work this morning about the question: What would I change about my life if I KNEW there was no God and that death was the final curtain.
  • Would I still have wanted to be a faithful husband and father? Yes!
  • Would I still love teaching? Yes!
  • Would I still be glad we spent a decade teaching in Africa? Yes!!
  • Would I still want to have been a Bible teacher for almost all my working life? No...
Then I remembered all the discussion on the biblical studies list, and the badge wars among the biblio-blogeratti, about the question of "secular biblical scholarship". Or if Philip Davies is right, and that term were to be recognised as redundant 'biblical "scholarship"' as opposed to the careful, debated and discussable study of the Sacred Texts of Jews and Christians which - I guess by analogy - we have to call 'Beliving Biblical Study' (at least if Philip is roight and the term Believing Scholarship is an oxymoron).

Frankly, if I did not believe (I do not use "know" for probabilities I assess as less than 85%, actually I am reluctant to say "know" at much higher probabilities than that, I am not even sure I would say 'I know that night will fall this evening' for I can envisage possibilities with greater than zero probability that it might not, but for this conversation let's set the bar low ;) that God exists, and that the Bible in some sense reveals God to us, then why bother spending the hours I do studying (even if not scholarshiping - since Philip and the others would claim that scholarship is not what I do) and teaching the Bible?

OK, the Bible is an interesting ancient text, its narrative style and poetry are striking and often beautiful... but to spend my life digging at it and encouraging others to do the same? Surely without belief that is הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים and great weariness of the flesh.

What a shame!

If I believe Philip and the other Secular Biblical Scholars that this title is redundant, and Believing Biblical Scholarship is an oxymoron, then I'd rather be no scholar, but continue to study (am I allowed that word or is that too an oxymoron?) Scripture, because it is Scripture. I just hope my fellow students (who are, at least some of them are, like me, no-scholars but believers of a sort, and so bereft of the Olympian certitude of the much-proclaimed "scholars") will continue to criticise and debate and discuss and test what I write as they always have and not descend into the moronic dictats that the "scholars" claim is the inevitable result of studying anything one actually ascribes value to!
Image above from Wikipedia

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
  Ethics and "Christian" Publishing: Case of Thomas Nelson
On my 5 Minute Bible podcast a recent post "Ruth is from Moab, but Boaz is from Bethlehem" attracted an anonymous commenter, who failed to interact with the audio, or the text material in the post, but did advertise a commercial audio Bible published by Thomas Nelson. (I am not linking to them here as I find this practice of comment spamming despicable and have no intention of promoting the company as a result.)

I am writing to ask in general if you are aware of any other dubious ethical practices used by this publisher, and in particular if anyone else has seen examples of comment spam from them?

For the record if the person who wrote the comment, even had they chosen to hide behind anonymity, had interacted with my material or other comments in some way I would NOT have deleted the comment. As it is I intend to cease recommending any works audio or print published by Nelson to students and churches if a viable alternative exists from a more ethical publisher.

Addendum: [in case you do not rerad the comments] this comment is posted below, in fairness to Thomas Nelson I am copying it here so that you can read it with my post:

Michael Hyatt left a comment:

I am the CEO of Thomas Nelson. We do not encourage or promote comment spam. Like you, I hate it. I spend more time than I would like deleting it from my own blog.

If you have an IP address or other information from the person who commented, I will be happy to take the appropriate action.
Blogger, unlike WordPress :( does not seem to collect (or at least does not offer bloggers a chance to see) the IP addresses of commenters, and this one was "Annonymous" but I am glad to hear that such behaviour is not approved, though puzzled since another biblical studies blogger has had similar experiences advertising your company's products. I do NOT object to anyone linking to your product pages, IF they are relevant and add something to the discussion.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009
  Biblical studies podcasts
Chris Heard has begun a podcast series that specialises in Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) topics at first I was unable to check it out as he only published it to iTunes now it is also available for non-proprietary download. Sounds good, I am looking forward to episode two of "God and Someone Else" looking forward since Chris smartly ends with a cliff hanger ;)

Chris thus joins the existing biblical studies podcast series (the order is chronological, since style, audience and frequency offer interesting variety):
Do try them, you'll like (at the very least some of) them!

Incidentally (but appropriately) our PodBible daily podcasts of the Bible itself from various amateur readers precedes all of these biblical studies 'casts :)

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I've beeen somewhat preoccupied recently, much spare time spent looking at and thinking about the lifestyle block near Tauranga. We are now close to buying it, and so you can see what the fuss is about here's a video (I must clean the lens <red face> sorry!) The first 360 is from near the entrance to the block, the second from near the house site.

Friday, October 09, 2009
  Innovative High-ranking Biblical Studies department to close?
Jim West posted a message to the Biblical Studies List which claimed that the University of Sheffield was planning to close its innovative and respected Biblical Studies Department (at least for undergraduate programmes). [He has also posted on his blog.] A Google search led me to a page from the Sheffield students association which suggests that total closure is threatened.

Since this department is both well-respected and ranks highly on most formal and informal assessments, and since I enjoyed a most stimulating sabbatical there ;) I have written the email below to the Vice-Chancellor:
Prof. Keith Burnett
The University of Sheffield

Dear Sir,

I have been shocked to read reports that the University is considering closing the Biblical Studies department. As you know this department regularly scores highly in various comparative assessments, and has a excellent reputation worldwide as one of the major research and teaching institutions in the discipline. A generation ago there was suspicion of the  unusual step of creating  a biblical studies department outside theology, however developments in society and especially in the discipline since then have vindicated this decision.

As well as knowing of the department through its staff's publications I spent a highly stimulating sabbatical in Sheffield a few years ago, and have the highest respect for the work I saw. Teaching an undergraduate course as well as participating in the departmental seminars, which were the liveliest and most intellectually stimulating I have attended.

It would be a loss to the discipline globally if this department were closed. Many staff in institutions such as the one in which I teach received their PhDs from Sheffield (in our case most of us studied in NZ, but the head of our Mandarin-speaking programme is a Sheffield graduate).

I find the decision particularly shocking as there seems to have been little consultation either within the University or beyond.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Bulkeley
If you are a biblical scholar, or amateur of the field, you might consider a similar letter, the address is


Saturday, October 03, 2009
  New Multimedia Study Bible
Mark linked to the promo video (below) for Glo a new multimedia study Bible. If the video is an accurate representation, rather than just slick marketing, then the interface looks cool, and may even be easy to use, and with many maps, loads of "virtual tours" and hours of video as well as huge numbers of photos and dictionary articles this could be a brilliant tool. Priced at US$80 with a prepub price of US$60 it sounds also like exceptionally good value. iLumina an earlier product from the same company also had an excellent interface (for the period ;) however it suffered from poor and superficial information and resources - as I remember it, I only had a few hours to play with a friend's copy. It sounds as if this new product may have fixed that. I wonder who the first biblioblogger will be to get a review copy? I'd love to see some reviews before the cutoff date for the prepub price ;)

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  Biblical Studies Carnival
The latest carnival is up (here) the pair have done an excellent job of condensing organising and the result is clearer and more coherent than usual, perhaps blogger pairs should do the carnival more often ;)


Thursday, October 01, 2009
  A good sermon in one word!
Photo by by Happy Monkey

Tools in my Granddad's workshop were sharp, honed and glistened with a thin film of oil. My mother's dad was a carpenter. I'm not a carpenter, the tools in my garage are a disgrace, granddad would be ashamed, blunt and hardly usable, sometimes even rusted...

So, in Carey chapel recently, when Rachel asked some Carey staff if they could tell her in one word: What makes a good sermon?

I had the answer...

Over the years I've heard lots of sermons: students, visiting preachers, churches I visit... Frankly, too many sermons are like the tools in my garage, blunt, occasionally rusty, and often being used for the wrong job.

Like many people who grew to adulthood in the TV age, I have a short attention span. Like many people who spend a lot of time on the Internet, my attention span has probably shortened in recent years. I'm used to sound bites, and quickly clicking on to another destination. I recorded one of Spurgeon's sermons for, the site that provides free audio books, it lasted nearly 45 minutes! Presumably, in the Nineteenth century, Spurgeon fans could keep their attention focused that long. I can't. My students can't. And my children (grown up though they are) certainly can't!

So, I have the answer to Rachel's question. In one word. "Sharp". A good sermon is sharp. Like the finely honed tools in granddad's workshop, a good sermon cuts straight to the point. As few extras as possible. Like those tools it HAS a point. A good sermon is brief, to be memorable. It has a point; it should leave its hearers with some call to action. Their living should change somehow from hearing it.

Pointed, memorable, and short, a good sermon calls me to conversion. Either to that first conversion where we turn to God in Christ and away from self and sin, or the regular smaller conversions that follow the first big turnaround as Jesus takes over as master of our lives more and more. That's pointed! But how many sermons fail to make a connection to my daily living that requires me to act?

If that "point" is blunt, then the sermon is worthless, merely good advice from some smart guy (and it is often a mistake male preachers make) to others whose lives are pretty much "together", but just need a little tinkering. I don't need advice on living; I need to be brought face to face with my saviour.

Other sermons have a point, but they are rusty. The point is blunted by too much other stuff that creeps into the sermon by the back door. Funny stories, scenes from the latest movies (that I have not yet seen), reminiscences from the preacher's previous church... if these "illustrations" really DO illustrate, they can help me remember, but if they fail in that, they merely blunt the point, like rust on my chisels.

So, in one word (since the six hundred I was allocated are nearly used ;) a good sermon is "sharp". Short, so busy TV educated, Wikipedia consulting scatterbrains like me can concentrate for the 15-20 minutes without wandering too much. Sharp, they prod me to change; they aim at conversion - avoiding the temptation to be clever or wise. Memorable, after all, if your sermon has three alliterative sections, that between them neatly encapsulate the message of the Bible text, but I forget them before my car has left the church car park, what use was it?

Like granddad's chisels a good sermon is sharp!


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