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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 12 - Megan DeFranza

Megan DeFranza

“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (12): Megan DeFranza

by Peter Enns
August 1, 2014

Today’s “aha” moment is by Megan K. DeFranza (PhD, Marquette University, MA Theology and MA Biblical Languages, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). She is an author, educator, and facilitator of difficult conversations around sexuality and gender in the church. DeFranza has taught Theology, Church History, and The Great Conversation at Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Seminary as an adjunct professor and visiting instructor. She is the author of the forthcoming Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God, Eerdmans, 2015) and has also contributed chapters to Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis, “Recovering the Spirit of Pentecost: Canon and Catholicity in Postcolonial Perspective” (co-authored with John Franke, IVP, 2014) and “Virtuous Eunuchs: Troubling Conservative and Queer Readings of Intersex and the Bible” in Intersex, Theology, and the Bible: Troubling Bodies in Church, Text, and Society (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, forthcoming). She lives with her husband Andrew and two daughters in Beverly, MA and blogs at Scholastica’s Seedlings.


The Gifts of an Imperfect (but Wholly Adequate) Bible

When some of my girlfriends hit college, they couldn’t wait to head down to the sand volleyball court and scope out potential dates. Honestly, I was more excited to start Greek. I never considered myself a nerd, just an earnest Midwestern 19-year-old who loved Jesus and wanted to do whatever ministry was allowed for girls like me.

I had been the president of FCA in high school and a counselor at Christian summer camp for several years. I even took a year off between high school and college to work at a missionary school in the Marshall Islands.

In all these years I had worked that inductive Bible study method to the hilt and I wanted more. I wanted to know what God’s Word really said. I wanted answers. I wanted clarity. I wanted to really know what the Bible said, so I could believe it, because that would settle it.

Or so I had hoped.

To be honest, studying Greek did answer some questions. I could more accurately say that some verses did not support certain interpretations… but then, I learned that the Greek in this passage or that passage could be interpreted in one or two other ways… meanings I had never considered when I was working with the English.

As the old joke goes,

“The Bible loses something in the original.”

I learned that when Jesus taught us to pray: “Give us today our daily bread” that “daily bread” could mean bread for “today” but it could also, maybe even more probably, mean the “bread for that day” or the “bread for tomorrow.” Jesus might very well have been speaking of a future feast, the kingdom banquet.

The Lord’s Prayer was not just about praying for my needs today but directing me with almost every phrase toward to the future of God’s reign already breaking into the present.

Greek led to theology. I was hooked.

Reading Greek made me feel like I was getting closer to Jesus. There are some Bibles that put the words of Jesus in red so you can focus on the “most important” words—when the Word spoke words. But in college I felt like I was getting even closer: the real words behind the red translation.

I studied those words of Jesus and as I did, I discovered that these words didn’t always match up with each other. Matthew’s record didn’t follow the exact working as Mark, Mark didn’t always match up with Luke, and John… Well, I soon learned that John had very different priorities.

First, I was told not to worry; that Jesus probably preached the same sermon at different times and in different places (cf. Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6, 12-14). Few of us say it exactly the same every time—even when we preach from notes. Still, in other places, the details just didn’t match up.

It didn’t seem plausible that two Centurions from Capernaum asked Jesus to heal their slaves and made a point about Jesus’ authority by indicating that he need not set foot under the roof to perform the miracle. In Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 they speak the same words but in Matthew he comes in person while in Luke a messenger is sent instead.

The main point did not seem to be at issue but the details… Well, let’s just say they didn’t match up as perfectly as I had expected.

Add to this the growing scholarly consensus that Jesus’ primary ministry was not in Greek. This shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, he confessed that his mission was to preach to the “lost sheep of Israel,” to the Jews not the Gentiles (Mt. 15:24). Jews and Gentiles spoke Greek when in the marketplace but when among their own they probably spoke their own language—Aramaic.

We can hear Jesus speaking his first language at some of his most intimate moments. In the Garden, he prays “Abba” (Mk. 14:36). From the cross, he cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (Mt. 27:46), not in the Hebrew original of Psalm 22 but in Aramaic… a translation.

So much for getting back to the original words of Jesus! These seemed more distant to me than ever.

Evangelicals put a lot of stock in the original languages so you may understand my disappointment. I went on to study not only Greek but also Hebrew and eventually even a little Aramaic.

What I now find ironic is that God does not seem to share this evangelical obsession for a perfect record in the original.

If God were concerned that we have Jesus’ words exactly as they were preached, we would probably have them in Aramaic and each Gospel account would match up every time. But this is not what we have.

We have translations.

We have testimonies.

We have humans passing on the words as they remembered them, the action as they saw it, and as they made sense of it years later.

And while all of this may trouble those of us those of us raised with evangelical expectations about Scripture, especially the central importance of the grammatical-historical method; apparently, God feels quite differently about the whole thing.

God is perfect, but God’s word has not come to us in a form some of us would consider perfect. It comes powerfully. It comes profoundly. It comes purposefully, but it does not come wrapped in scientifically proven perfection.

At first, I found this troubling, but as a recovering perfectionist myself (thanks, Brené Brown) I am slowing coming to see this as grace.

It is easy for me to fear that my lack of perfection hinders the power of the Word. But when I remember that God’s word does not go forth and return void, no matter how feeble the articulation, I start to see glimmers of hope. I have started to thank God for the gift of an imperfect Bible because it gives me hope that the same God who inspired the earthy disciples of old can also breathe through me… and you.

God’s word is perfect. It is exactly what we need. It is truth and hope and life and revelation. But it is not delivered in a perfect package. We are still unlocking mysteries, correcting misunderstandings, and unearthing new evidence. God is not done speaking. This, too, is grace.

Thanks be to the Living, Speaking God!

(For a more thorough and academic treatment of some of the themes here, see DeFranza’s recent chapter in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations, “Recovering the Spirit of Pentecost: Canon and Catholicity in Postcolonial Perspective,” co-authored with John Franke, IVP, 2014.)

Index to Series -

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

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