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Unity and Other-centeredness

[04/14/2017] 7:56 AM Phil. 1:15-18a is a parenthesis. A what? A parenthesis in grammar is a remark or passage that departs from the main theme of the discourse. You can call it a digression if you like (though the latter term has a slightly different connotation). I just made a parenthetical remark, by the way. So, then, in Phil. 15-18a Paul offers his readers an aside. He says in passing that he rejoices that the Gospel is being proclaimed even by people who are opposing him out of personal animosity. Who cares? Ti gar! The only thing that matters is that Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice!

When you were young, did your parents ever tell you, “Watch the tone of your voice”? Sometimes it’s not what we say that’s wrong. It’s the way we say it. Paul’s is prison. He’s facing possible execution. What’s more, not everybody there likes him. He could have grumped, griped, complained, and made life miserable for himself and for all those around him. Instead, he looked at the bright side of everything. Even when he’s pointing out selfishness and impure motives (as he’s doing here), he does it with a tone of grace and kindness. It doesn’t mean it lessons the seriousness of the problem. It just means we don’t have to add to the problem by the way we speak.

By the way, in case you didn’t see the connection, Paul is again “telegraphing” to his readers (us included) that in this letter he is going to deal directly with the problem of disunity in the church (see 4:2-3). Disunity occurs when we “look out for our own interests rather than the interests of others” and when we “esteem ourselves as being more important than others” (2:2). The antidote for our self-centeredness is, of course, a good dose of tapeinophrosune — “lowliness of mind” (2:3). Today, I can choose to be other-centered. I can choose to forgive that relative who has hurt me. I can choose to be patient rather than fly off the handle. I can choose to pray more and wimp less. I can choose to be like Jesus: generous and loyal. Let’s pinky promise today — you and me — that we’re really going to make an effort to listen to the people in our lives. That we’ll be slow to speak and quick to hear. I pray that the Holy will invade our lives today, that we would see (as Paul did) where God is hiding in plain sight in our lives, that even when we feel taken advantage of we will remember that we are the chief of sinners.

The Gospel is more important than people’s motives. If our inner monologue is constantly negative toward those who don’t act and think the way we do, it’s time to move back to grace. Isn’t that what Paul is saying?

It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

It will take me an entire year to fathom the depths of what Paul just said. I absolutely understand why we would criticize people who are hoping to take advantage of our misfortune. But it’s sadly possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own feelings. I suspect that the real culprit is our failure to unpack the root motives behind our own actions. Love God and serve Him. Really, nothing else matters. If you are ever unsure how to treat other people, just remember how Jesus treated us. He loved us even when we despised Him. This gives me such comfort. It also reminds me that I never — never! — have to compare myself with anyone else. Play the “Gospel competition” game? You can have it!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

What is the Goal of a Follower of Jesus?

[02/05/2017 09:22 AM} Well, it’s been quite a week, eh???!!! Swastikas on New York trains, a smashed synagogue window in Houston, a swastika on an iconic statue at Rice University, bone-chilling tweets, the federal judiciary standing up to the executive branch. Yikes. Of all the things, of all the thousands of things that could have stood out to me in this week’s news, I was drawn to a story about a mother’s instinct to save the life of her child. (Cue sermonette.) The older I get, folks, the more I realize why millions of people are going to hell without ever hearing the Gospel. Nothing is more indicative that America is fast becoming a post-Christian nation than Christians who have lost their basic purpose for living in this world. In recent days I’ve looked back on three years of running/hiking/climbing/biking as one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. Exercise involves commitment, self-discipline, and most of all keeping your eye on the goal. So what is the goal for the follower of Jesus? How silly of me to ask you that question! You know the answer as well as I do. The only question to be answered is: How will I, Dave Black, live TODAY as God’s agent to redeem and transform the lives of people? That’s what I find so disturbing about well-meaning efforts to “keep America safe.” A ban on immigration may or may not be a good first step in this direction, politically. People can debate that until hell freezes over. But there’s one thing I’m absolutely sure about:

The nations have already come to America!!!!!

And unless we followers of Jesus abandon the racism implied in our unwritten definition of “security,” we will never see the world reached for Christ. Foreign governments (like Iran) may close the doors to U.S. Christians, but they can’t close them to their own people. John 20:21 — “As the Father sent Me, even so I am now sending you” — reveals the reason God left us on this earth. Reaching those around us with the Gospel is the main activity of the church until Jesus Himself returns as King of kings. So then, the purpose of my life as a follower of Jesus must be to “Go everywhere and tell everyone” (Mark 16:15). (Yes, I just quoted from the last twelve verses of Mark. Deal with it.)

Listen. If my only concerns are about my own life — my security from terrorism, a healthy body, a prestigious education, marriage, a good-paying job — then how I am any different from the lost all around me? Regrettably, too few of us think of ourselves as fulltime missionaries to the world, including our own nation. That’s why I wrote a little book called Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? The red-hot political issues of the day need to be kept in their proper perspective. It’s human nature to be driven by our egos always to be right. The opposite is to have the mind of Christ — that is, a spirit of servanthood and humility. It’s the same attitude of other-centeredness that caused a young mother to place the safety of her baby’s life above her own. She didn’t care a whit about anything else. It was another life over her own. Friends, we can’t follow Jesus very long without being confronted by our ego and greed. It’s His way of demonstrating His presence in our lives. This week in our “Jesus and the Gospels” class we’re looking at the Gospels and asking, “Why four — no fewer and no more?” I believe we’ll see that each Gospel points us to the church’s primary task: to complete the task of world evangelization. My prayer? For students with the spiritual sensitivity to hear what the Lord Jesus is saying today to the North American church. We who are called by Christ are called to serve and not to be served. We are called not to gain our lives but the lose them. We have the keys, you guys! We have the word and the Spirit and a cheering section in heaven. But we’re not promised a secure life!!!!!

Be kind.

Be you.

Love Jesus.

Love the lost.

Do these simple things, and the church will hit a home run.

Cheers!

Dave

(From Dave Black Online. Reposted by permission.)

Rising to the Occasion of Crisis

[January 31, 2017] 7:45 AM Vital information:

1) Full text of the executive order.

2) Current vetting procedures for refugees.

3) Contact numbers for your Senators.

Stay informed, my fellow Americans! Let your views be heard!

Let’s not forget, too, that the New Testament sets forth a pattern of crisis and conduct:

1) Rom. 13:11-14

2) 1 Cor. 7:29-31

3) Tit. 2:11-14

4) 1 Pet. 4:7-19

5) 2 Pet. 3:10-12

There is no doubt about the crisis, but is our conduct rising to the occasion?

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.]

Is EKKLESIA Called Out or Community

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

6:35 PM In Greek class today we discussed words and how they take on meaning. It’s part of my effort to make class practical and motivational. At the same time, there’s nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word’s meaning by its constituent parts (morphemes). For example, some insist that a New Testament church is “called out” from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts — ek, “out of,” and kaleo, “I call.” Hence the church is a “called out” organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.

In New Testament usage, however, it seems that the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of “called out ones.” Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn’t meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and yet have nothing really in common. Ochlos is often glossed as “crowd” in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I posed this question to my class today, I got several excellent responses: “gathering,” “assembly,” “congregation,” and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term “community.” Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of us are ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: “We’re all in this together. So let’s do it together.” This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our “church” — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.

Recently I became part of a similar community, a community known simply as the “runners’ community.” The similarities between this community and the “church” are legion. As soon as I began running competitively I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us to become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners. We are a celebration of men and women, boys and girls, who are striving to be the best and healthiest versions of ourselves through running and fitness. We are forever occupied with growth, with exposing and developing what is latent with us. Each race is an enactment of a lifelong struggle for advancement and perfection.

I am not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: “I’m looking for a Bible for my mother but I’m not sure who the author is.” A non-runner asks you, “How far is your next 5K race?” As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn! We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn’t matter how fast we run or or how far we run. It doesn’t whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a 5K race this past weekend I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race at about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran.” I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him “The World’s Greatest Runner Award” that day.

Running metaphors occur all over the place in the New Testament. Think Heb. 12:1; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:7; and 1 Cor. 9:24-26. Remember: this is a race we run together. It’s no different in the running community. “Hey guys. I’ve got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?” Or (in the church), “As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?” The point is: We are there for each other.

At one time I was really struggling going uphill in 5K races. So I asked the winner of a race how I could improve. His simple answer caught me off guard. “You learn to run uphill by running uphill.” Yet another reminder that “we’re all in this together.” Need more proof? Watch this.

So what will it be, church?

This?

Or this?

It’s our choice.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)


Are Grammar and Thought Inherently Related

6:45 AM Last night I was prepping for our LXX class in the spring semester (which I’m co-teaching with my esteemed Old Testament colleague, Chip Hardy), and I thought to myself, “Our once casual relationship with Greek and Hebrew is about to transition to ‘It’s complicated.'” I honestly don’t remember how I decided to offer this course years ago. I think I just sent an email to my dean saying, “I want to do one. Haha.” You know, like how Sir Edmund Hillary informed his friends he wanted to climb Mount Everest. “Summiting the world’s highest mountain. I may want to do that. Haha.” Well, we pushed the button, and the rest is history. This is now the fourth (or fifth) time we’ve done this. There are plenty of obstacles to keep us busy. The first fallacy we have to deal with is the supposed difference between Hebrew and Greek thought. Hebrew, we are told, is obviously good. Greek is irretrievably bad. Hebrew thought is better because it is holistic, concrete, and dynamic. We are told, furthermore, that the whole Bible, including the New Testament (written in Greek), is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach. We are reminded that the aim of the Hebrew system is da’ath Elohim (“Know God”), whereas the Greeks emphasized gnothi seauton (“Know thyself”). Thus in the Greek system, knowledge is emphasized; in the Hebrew system, the goal is to shape the character of the student. It’s Athens versus Jerusalem all over again. Listen, it’s all very simple. The Hebrew language was used by God to deliver His truth to Hebrew speakers. The Greek language was used by the same God to deliver His truth to Greek speakers. A “Christian” worldview bestrides them both.

I recall someone arguing that Hebrew is action-oriented because of its unmarked word order: verb, then subject. In English we say, “God created.” In Hebrew we say, “He created, God.” This is said to reveal ” … the dynamic variety of the Hebrew’s thinking” (Thorlief Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, p. 28). Ergo, Hebrew thinking is dynamic; Greek thinking is static. What, then, do you do with languages like Korean, where the verb comes at the end of the sentence? Or German, which has a mish-mash of word order depending on whether the clause is a main clause or a subordinate clause: “I know that the student is good because he has studied” = “Ich weiss dass der Student gut ist weil er studiert hat” (lit., “I know that the student good is because he studied has”). Speak like Yoda I can! Woohoo!

And then there’s the question, “Which language is easier to learn: Hebrew or Greek?” Some say that Greek grammar is more complex than Hebrew. Others argue that Hebrew grammar is more complicated than Greek. After all, “Hebrew often lacks a verb in its sentence!” Huh? Of course there’s a verb there. It’s just implied, as in the Greek sentence Ho anthropos agathos, “The man is good.” This phenomenon even occurs in English: “KNX News Radio time, 10:30.” My opinion is that if you enjoy learning languages, you’ll find neither Greek nor Hebrew to be very difficult. You’ll probably have to work harder at your Hebrew vocabulary simply because Greek shares more cognates with English. But vocabulary acquisition is simply a matter of rote memory.

The bottom line: I think it’s a bit misleading to insist that grammar and thought are inherently related. There are just too many philosophical difficulties inherent in any theory of mental representations. Human language is an adequate vehicle to communicate divine truth. Every human language. Just ask Wycliffe Bible Translators.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Some Subtleties in 3 John

[12/27/2016] 7:34 AM This morning I read 3 John as part of my “daily devotionals.” (I don’t have daily devotions, as everyone knows. There’s nothing virtuous about that statement. If you have “devotions,” more power to you. But my relationship with Christ is such that I’ve never been able to schedule a time to meet with Him. Yes, I’m a crotchety grandpa about certain things.) Here are a few takeaways in no particular order:

1) The chiastic structure of the letter. Ah yes, another “chiasmus.” There is a certain attraction to assigning the name chiasmus to just about anything we find in the New Testament. Here is the trouble: It’s too easy to impose on the text something that isn’t there. That said, I’d outline 3 John as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Praise for Gaius
  3. Condemnation of Diotrephes
  4. Praise for Demetrius
  5. Conclusion

The bull’s-eye, the central matrix, is what John has to say about Mr. “Nourished-by-God,” who wanted to be the boss of the church. More on that later.

2) How to filter the kingdom. The Christian life is more than being faithful to the truth. Gaius was that, to be sure. But John commends him for “living out the truth” — living in a manner worthy of the calling he’s received. God makes us worthy as we desire to “imitate what is good” (v. 11): meeting needs, nurturing little souls, the daily labor of parenting, etc. What keeps you from doing the truth? What changes do you need to make in 2017? Bonhoeffer, writing in prison, was on target when he said that repentance is “not in the first place thinking about one’s own needs, problems, sins, and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 361). Good advice, if you ask me. I need to take it to heart.

3) Minimizing human leadership. Our human pedestals are such nightmares. They always backfire. Diotrephes had to be “number one.” I don’t mean to minimize the importance of pastoral leadership. But folks, our priorities are backwards. All the wrong things become too big (hierarchy, professionalism, success, size of membership) and all the right things become too small (Jesus first, humility, simplicity, everyone pulling their weight). This issue is no longer trite. It is destroying churches. When our Christian superstars fail, the church loses influence in our culture. It’s high time we humbled ourselves as Christian leaders. Ultimately, the claim of being Top Dawg predicates the rejection of Jesus’ sole lordship (Col. 1:18). It’s just that serious.

4) The passive voice. Say what? Take a look at verse 12. The idea here is “Everyone speaks well of Demetrius.” Many translations actually render the verse this way. But John actually wrote, “Demetrius is well-spoken of by everyone.” That’s the passive voice. And there’s a difference between the active and passive voices. The passive voice usually calls attention to the grammatical subject. Compare these two sentences:

  • “Today, Japanese Prime Minster Abe will visit the Arizona Memorial.”
  • “Today, the Arizona Memorial will be visited by Japanese Prime Minister Abe.”

See the difference? The second sentences carries a meaning like, “Today, the Arizona Memorial [of all places!] will be visited by Japanese Prime Minister Abe.” This is part and parcel of grammar. We study language, and we reap the benefits.

5) The importance of your physical health to God. Note John’s greeting in verse 2: “I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” Why isn’t this a reality for so many? We live with such a ridiculous “the spirit matters” but “I don’t have to care for the temple” mentality. What an insane approach to the body God has given us. I mean, we Baptists are the worst offenders. Of course, you can be a skinny person and still be a glutton. But if the number of self-deprecating potluck jokes from our pulpits means anything, we’ve got a problem, Houston. If you need to exercise, then exercise. Wrestle whatever is holding you back. You are too important to the body of Christ to lose years to heart disease and obesity. (Talk about pressure. I have to be fit to preach about presenting our bodies to God as living sacrifices?)

Well, I need to be off and running with today’s chores. Yet who can deny the importance of lying back in our lounge chair and listening to Him? Then, and only then, can we make a hard and fast connection between the brute facts of life and the reality of God. Perhaps if you and I read John’s third letter now and then, we’d find more ways to love God and people.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

The Importance of Syntax in the Greek New Testament

7:55 AM “Christ died.” That’s in the aorist tense in Greek. So it must mean “once and for all action.” I was actually taught this in seminary back in the Dark Ages. Nobody would agree with that assessment today. The aorist tense says nothing about the kind of action of the verb. To get “kind of action” you have to go outside the tense to 1) the meaning of the verb and 2) the context. When you do that with “Christ died,” I suppose you could argue that the verb is referring to “once and for all action.” After all, how many times does a person die? And yet when the author of Hebrews wants to make the point that Christ died “once and for all” for our sins, he actually uses the adverb hapax — “once and for all.” Likewise, when the author of 1 Thessalonians commands us to “pray without ceasing,” not only does he use the present imperative, he adds the adverb adaileiptos — “without ceasing.”

Moisés Silva once reminded us not to place too much semantic weight on tense or aspect. He argues that it is the context that is determinative. Which means: Somehow we Greek teachers need to get our students to move beyond word-bound exegesis. Lexical analysis is important, but it is the “handmaiden and not the queen,” as the author of Using New Testament Greek in Ministry puts it. We’ve got to move beyond individual words to study the ways in which words work together to convey meaning. This is why I no longer postpone “exegesis” to third semester Greek. Students need to get this straight, and get this in their first year of Greek instruction.

To my Greek 2 students: The spring semester will be upon us before you know it. For me, morphology — how words are constructed — is vitally important. Yet I also believe that a language’s syntax is important, and getting the syntax right will help us to avoid the exegetical fallacies that many still commit. Furthermore, the study of syntax is where the fun is. Nuggets of truth often jump off the page instead of being buried under a wealth of morphemes. Yes, there is controversy over whether students can even be taught to read New Testament Greek. But I hope that one day we can put aside our methodological biases and equip our students with the tools they need to do accurate exegetical study. This includes the study of discourse analysis as an essential part of exegesis. It also means that we can no longer ignore the rhetorical level of language as a meaningful level for readers. To anyone who says style and rhetoric isn’t important, I would simply point them to the scale of the cosmetics industry, which is predicted to reach 265 billion dollars in 2017.

Don’t be discouraged from doing syntax. There is plenty of help for us out there in the cyber world. My friend Harold Greenlee is now with the Lord, but his essay The Importance of Syntax for the Proper Understanding of the Sacred Text of Scripture is still worth reading. Syntax has been one of the most enjoyable and fun things I’ve done in my 40 years of teaching, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

A Christian View of Politics?

In the meantime, I thought I’d continue my review of Paul As Missionary (Bloomsbury, 2011). Daniel Hays’ essay “Paul and the Multi-Ethnic First-Century World: Ethnicity and Christian Identity” (pp. 76-87) may be the most important essay in the book. He argues that the early church developed in a multicultural setting. The world of the first century was comprised of a multitude of ethnic groups (ethne). So Paul is not just breaking down barriers between “Jews” and “Gentiles.”

He is declaring that the followers of Christ are a new and different ethnicity and their primary identity and group association must change from their old self-identity to this new one (p. 84).

As Christians, therefore, we have a brand new ethnic identity. Both Jews and Gentiles are members of the kingdom of God, with Abraham as their common ancestor. Hence “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) is a highly political statement. Paul lived in a very ethnically diverse world. So do we. People tend to identify themselves ethnically — i.e., in terms of social, cultural, religious, territorial, and linguistic features. All of these elements, taken together, define one’s self-identity. When Paul calls for unity he does so along these very lines of ethnic markers.

Paul tells the new believers that their primary identity, i.e., their major group association (their ethnos), is no longer one of the many ethne they used to belong to (Phrygia, Galatia, Roman, Greek, Judean/Jew, Lycaonian, Cappadocian, etc.), but rather is to be found in their incorporation into Christ and his Church (p. 87).

He adds:

This now defines who they are, which family they are in and who their kin are, where their citizenship and loyalty lies, how they are to carry out religious practices, how they are to live and speak, who their true ancestors are, and where their future hope lies (p. 87).

This sense of heavenly citizenship ” … is a radical restructuring of their primary identity” (p. 87). Hays is adamant: If Christians continue to see themselves first and foremost as Americans or Chinese or Korean or Hispanic or African-American, they will end up “… relegating their identity in Christ to a secondary and subservient identity,” and “there will be disunity and ethnic division in the Church” (p. 87).

Let’s let that sink in. These reflections take us a long ways in understanding the distinctive emphasis of the New Testament. If the social ethics of the kingdom of God seem to be dramatically different from those of the world and the nation-state, it’s because they’re supposed to! Hays expresses a growing conviction I’ve had for several years now, namely that our only duty and allegiance as Christians is to God and His kingdom. It is out of our duty to God that we obey the civil laws and pay our taxes and pray for those in authority over us in the political realm. At the same time, it is also out of our duty to God that we inveigh against any practice or social norm that is inconsistent with His rule. This means that there never has been nor ever be will a distinctly “Christian” position on politics. Good evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Good evangelical Christians voted for Clinton. Good evangelical Christians voted third party. And good evangelical Christians didn’t vote at all. Pastor friend, if you’re going to wave pompoms for Trump, please remember that there are probably people in your congregation who didn’t vote for him. Good and decent people disagree about politics! If we focus our time and energy on politics, we will never experience a unified church. Instead, our focus and energy must be expended on replicating the self-sacrificing love of Jesus to all people. The church, as Hays argues (and as the apostle Paul argued), is a new ethnos — a new nation whose only loyalty is to God, who sovereignly uses our Calvary-acts of love to transform the world into a domain in which He and He alone rules. Confessing “Jesus as Lord” automatically rules out an allegiance to any other person or thing!

To sum up:

  • People with the same faith commitments and values can and often do have fundamental differences about politics.
  • Everyone should vote his or her faith and conscience.
  • The fundamental job of followers of Jesus is to manifest the rule of God by imitating Jesus’ radical lifestyle.
  • There is only one “Christian nation,” and it is the blood-bought people of God.
  • Our fundamental loyalty has to be to King Jesus. A husband who is 50 percent faithful to his wife is no true husband at all.
  • We will no longer emphasize our political, national, or ethnic differences. There is more to unite us than to divide us in the universal body of Christ.
  • Beware of any deals with the devil to get the kingdoms of the world by short-cuts.

God’s people need to be what they are — ambassadors pleading with men and women to be reconciled to God. Blessed are those saints who can see beyond their political, national, and ethnic differences. We followers of Jesus will always be a minority in a pagan world. We do not have to bow to political compromise to win the world. The only way to usher in the kingdom is by the cross.

(From Dave Black Online. [Nov. 21, 2016: 7:40 pm.] Used by permission.)

How Long Should a Commentary Be?

One article in particular caught my eye. In the latest issue of Trinity Journal, Stan Porter asks (in essence), “Whatever happed to brevity?” His essay is titled, “Big Enough Is Big Enough.” He’s reviewing Craig Keener’s monumental 4-volume commentary on Acts (Baker).

Keener Acts CommentaryPorter seems to think that commentators should stick “closer to the Greek text” than Keener has (p. 45). In addition, Keener’s work, at 4,640 pages, is deemed too comprehensive in scope – what Porter calls “mission creep” (p. 35). Porter also seems to think that commentaries should be primarily exegetical in nature. “Scholars who have innovative ideas about related historical, theological, and other issues – and I hope that there are still some who do – should use monographs and journal articles for such major and significant contributions” (p. 45).

There’s a lot of truth to what Porter is saying here – at least when it comes to book size. Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “The only art is to omit.” If it’s a choice between succinctness and verbosity, I’ll take the aphorist any day. “Bigger is better” may be a mantra among church planters and pastors, but too many writers seem to be afflicted by the disease of gigantism. Today’s writers bore on for far too long – including me (my book The New Testament: Its Background and Message tops out at a whopping 672 pages). So I’m not sure that Keener is the only one guilty of overwriting. In the menagerie of overweight books, one could perhaps include the most recently published “beginning” Greek grammars, including Porter’s Fundamentals of New Testament Greek, which consists of 492 pages. Rod Decker’s has even more: 704. Note that these are self-styled beginning grammars. Part of the problem is what I call “Got-To-Say-Everything-I-Know-About-the-Subject-Itis.” The result is often three books in one: a beginning grammar, an intermediate grammar, and a textbook on either textual criticism or linguistics. Keener, of course, is keenly aware of the breadth of his 4-volume commentary. In his own defense he writes (vol. 1, p. xv):

Had I put this material instead into 350 nonoverlapping twenty-page articles or 35 two-hundred-page monographs (with at least one on each chapter of Acts), this research might have sold more copies but cost readers many times more.

This statement is almost prescient: Keener seems to be anticipating Porter’s suggestion that scholars “use monographs and journal articles for such major and significant contributions.” Keener also directly addresses the issue of length when he writes (p. xv):

… I have preferred to provide this material as thoroughly as possible as a single work, and I owe my publisher an immense debt of gratitude for accepting this work at its full length.

That Keener combines exegetical insights with observations about theology, history, etc., should not surprise us. Keener is a self-confessed “generalist scholar” (p. 4, note 2) who grapples not only with the text but with sociohistorical questions as well. As he explains (p. 5), “While seeking to provide a commentary of some general value, I have concentrated on areas where I believe my own researcher’s contributions will be most useful.” His work therefore “…does not focus as much attention on lexical or grammatical details (a matter treated adequately by a number of other works).” In short, Keener views his work as “sociorhetorical” (p. 25), pure and simple. I therefore fail to see how one can fault him for not being “exegetical” enough when he himself makes it clear that he doesn’t deal simply with Greek exegesis. In short, I agree with N. T. Wright:

With this enormous commentary, Craig Keener deploys his breathtaking knowledge of the classical world to shine a bright light on both the big picture of Acts and ten thousand small details. Students of Acts will be in his debt for generations to come.

I for one have benefited greatly from Keener’s insights into the text of Acts. It’s one of the first commentaries I turn to whenever I need help in interpreting Luke’s history of the church. Keener does a fantastic job of explaining the text in a way that’s easy to understand. Used alongside the “Four Bs” (Barrett, Bock, Bruce, and Ben [Witherington]), I think you’ll find Keener’s work to be a rich source of information about Acts. Sociorhetorical analysis is Keener’s area of specialty and it shows. You would have to buy several commentaries on Acts to cover this much ground. Also worth noting is the fact that both Jimmy Dunn and Richard Bauckham have endorsed this commentary. Indeed, so did Stan Porter (at the Amazon site):

Early Christianity developed in a complex and multifaceted context, one that Craig Keener masterfully presents in this socially and historically oriented commentary on Acts. As one has come to expect from Keener, there is thorough knowledge and use of the best and most important secondary literature and abundant utilization of a wide range of ancient sources. This is a commentary that will continue to serve as a detailed resource for both scholars and students.

I can’t recommend Keener’s works enough. That goes for all of his books. Ditto for Stan Porter. His books are always extremely well-researched. We might disagree in terms of Greek pedagogy (there’s much to be said for brevity), but when grammatical issues arise, Porter’s voice is always a good one to take into account.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission. Nov. 16, 2016.)