According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 3 - John Byron

John Byron

“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (2): John Byron

June 27, 2014

Today’s “aha” moment, the second installment in the series, is by John Byron (PhD University of Durham), professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary. Among his books are Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry and a recently released commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians.


When Pete asked me to write on my faith journey as a biblical scholar I was glad to oblige. This is a topic that I have blogged on in the past and something I talk about with my students regularly.

It seems that Greg Carey’s Huffington Post article “Where do Liberal Biblical Scholars come from?” struck a chord with many. I found myself agreeing with many of Greg’s points, but especially with his statement: “The best way for conservative churches to produce ‘liberal’ biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.”

I suppose we all come to this juncture in our faith journey at various times and in various ways. Like Greg, the questions that began confronting me were a result of reading the Bible. And it was the result of having a solid knowledge of the Bible’s contents that caused questions to surface and sometimes got me in trouble.

The earliest example occurred in Bible College. The instructor was discussing Mark 2:23-27, which narrates the challenge of the Pharisees to Jesus over his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. Jesus responds to their question by referring to the story in 1 Samuel 21:1-9 of David and his men eating the consecrated bread from the tabernacle.

The problem, however, as I pointed out to my teacher, is that Jesus got it wrong. The story in 1 Samuel 21 relates how David fled from Saul alone. When he stops at the tabernacle and asks Ahimelek for help the priest enquires why David is alone. David seems to lie when saying that his men well meet him later (v. 2).

Moreover, Mark has the wrong priest. In 2:26 Jesus states that the priest was Abiather, but 1 Samuel 21 clearly states that it was Ahimelek.

When I raised these points with the teacher in the middle of class (I wasn’t as tactful then) he looked at me with confusion. He had never noticed these discrepancies before. I was asked politely to be quiet. Years later I was pleasantly surprised to read that it was this very same passage in Mark that signaled the beginning of Bart Ehrman’s faith journey, although he and I are, in many ways, in very different places.

In the end, of course, it wasn’t just one problem like Mark 2:26 that caused me to reexamine how I understood the Bible—but it was a hook and it began a process. Over time numerous passages forced me to conclude eventually that the Bible wasn’t a history book, meaning the authors were not trying to give me a blow-by-blow account from creation to the end of the first century.

Instead I came to realize that the Bible was first and foremost a theological book that contains history and uses history to direct me towards God. I would come to realize more and more that true faith—the faith God calls us to—was not focused on the Bible, but on the God to whom the Bible bears witness.

Now some will say to me: “God’s plan is clearly laid out for us in the Bible. Had you not gone and destroyed your belief in the word of God through theological education you would not be in the fix you find yourself!”

Well perhaps they are correct. But it is too late now for me to change what has happened and I am unconvinced that I will ever be able to revert back to the way I was. My approach to the Bible is as complicated as everything else in my pursuit of faith.

Here’s where I’ve come out

I consider the Bible to be a book written by fallible human beings who were attempting to describe their own faith and religious experiences and did so in an imperfect way. Yet at the same time, what I find within the Bible are words of life.

I am all too aware of the difficulties that arise when reading the Bible and the way that its influence on society has at times caused undue suffering even in the most sincere pursuit of faith. But I also cannot escape the wisdom found on its pages, nor can I ignore the way it has helped to shape the modern world in a positive way. But in the end I am not called to have faith in the Bible but in God.

There are some who would read what I have just written and conclude that I have become one of the many casualties of a (liberal?) theological education. A particular encounter in my “pre-educated” life seemed to predict such an outcome.

My wife and I had served in a church for three years. As we were preparing to leave and begin my seminary training I received the usual jokes about attending “cemetery” and becoming too smart for my own good.

One individual in particular warned me in an almost conspiratorial tone, “Be careful brother, too much of that stuff can be dangerous and cause you to take your eyes off of God.” I assume that he meant I would lose my faith.

In some ways I think he is right. My education has been extremely dangerous to my faith, at least a faith that was taught to me, a faith that is shaken by things like Mark 2:26. On the other hand, through my serious study of the Bible and the questions that arise from it, I continue to find that faith—a true resting and trusting in God—is more present to me now than ever before.

I am like the man who said to Jesus, “Lord, I do believe. Help me in my unbelief!” As a biblical scholar, I think that’s is a good place to be.

Index to Series - 

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change

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