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Interview with Edward Fudge

coverpichebRecently, I sat down with Edward Fudge (him in front of his computer in Katy, TX, and me in front of mine in Redwood City, CA) to discuss his forthcoming book, “Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement For Believers Today” (Leafwood Publishers, 2009, softcover, 262 pages, $19.95).  This is what Fudge had to say.

A neglected book

SP: Hebrews is not a book we hear discussed very often. Why do you suppose that is the case?

EWF: You are right about that. This neglect is very unfortunate, in my view, because Hebrews is one of the most Jesus-focused, gospel-packed books in the New Testament. You will see the evidence for that on almost every page of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.

SP: Why do most people miss this focus?

EWF: It comes from a lack of real study of Hebrews. Folks go away from it without ever seeing and appreciating the book’s real message. They assume it is just an old book about even older Jewish rituals, sacrifices and priests, with no meaning or value for them.

Who wrote Hebrews?

SP: Do you know who wrote Hebrews?

EWF: I know as much about it as anyone else, which is finally nothing for sure! ☺ Origen told the truth about two centuries after Christ when he said that the author “is known to God alone.” It almost certainly was not Paul, for a variety of reasons. My personal vote among the candidates goes either to Barnabas or to Apollos.

SP: Why do you favor Barnabas?

EWF: The author of Hebrews calls his own work a “word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22). The same Greek expression is found at Acts 13:15, where it is translated as “word of encouragement.” There, Paul and Barnabas are invited to address a Sabbath synagogue audience, which they do for the next 31 verses. Their remarks are called a “word of encouragement.” Not only is Barnabas involved in that, his name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) – a comment on one of his chief characteristics. He is also a Levite, who would be very interested in the subjects of priesthoods, sacrifices, and their results. These themes  permeate Hebrews and can also encourage us today, as I show in Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.

SP: What can you say in favor of Apollos?

EWF: Well, for starters he is called “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). This fits Hebrews very well since its author clearly was exceedingly familiar with his ‘Bible,’ which was the “Old Testament” as we call it. (Hebrews actually tells the Story of the Son of God — from heaven to earth and back to heaven again — based on four different Psalms.) Apollos was also “an eloquent man,” as was the author of Hebrews). And he was from Alexandria, Egypt – a city of learning noted for a particular type of Scripture interpretation. The author of Hebrews reads his Bible in a similar manner.

Why was Hebrews written?

Q: Do we know why Hebrews was written?

EWF: Yes we do, although we don’t know exactly to whom, when, where, or precisely what was going on. But we do know that, for a variety of reasons, the original recipients of Hebrews were worn out, disheartened, tempted, and seemingly about ready to walk away from their faith. The book hints at some possible causes, including persecution, passing of time, being misfits in their culture, the appeal of sin, and so forth.

Q: That situation sounds very up-to-date! How does the author of Hebrews respond to it?

EWF: I love it! To revive his readers’ spirits and to renew their commitment, the unknown author re-tells the Story – the story of the Son of God who became a man, to live and die as our representative, and who is now in heaven representing us as our High Priest. Hebrews is thoroughly focused on Jesus! Its message is always contemporary. We can never go wrong by focusing on the Savior himself. I am very pleased that several reviewers have described Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today in those same terms.

A ‘bridge’ commentary

Q: You call Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today a “bridge” commentary. What does that mean?

EWF: When it comes to Bible studies, there are two worlds out there which often never come together. One is the ivory-tower world of academic specialists with all their scholarly issues and technical jargon. The other world is where most believers live and work and worship. Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today attempts to bridge this gap. For example, I worked from the Greek text of Hebrews but Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today doesn’t have a single Greek word in it. Although the bibliography covers eight pages and includes 80+ scholarly articles from theological journals, this book uses everyday language. By linking scholarship with simplicity, I hope to give the reader the best of both worlds.

A narrative-style book

Q: You also describe Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today as a “narrative-style” commentary. Tell us about that.

EWF: That refers to the fact that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is written as flowing narrative, although it discusses each verse of Hebrews in detail. It does this in 48 chapters, each covering a portion of the Scripture text. Each chapter begins with a very short section called “Why & Wherefore,” which relates that section to the big picture. That is followed by “Unpacking the Text,” which goes into detail, but in narrative style, with subheads to make it read more like a typical book.

Endorsements

Q: I see that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is already endorsed by a considerable variety of notable scholars and church leaders, even before its release. Isn’t that a bit unusual?

EWF: What is somewhat uncommon in the case of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is the theological and international diversity of the endorsements. Hebrews contains a number of quite controversial passages, about which Christian “tribes” traditionally disagree. I am very pleased, therefore, that this book is recommended by knowledgeable reviewers across the spectrum.

For example, the quotes on the back cover of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today come from Methodist, Calvinist, Church of Christ, Baptist, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal and Emergent church scholars. The full text of these seven endorsements, plus 29 others, fills the first six pages of the book. You can read the endorsements online already, with photos, biographical comments and (where applicable) website links of the reviewers, by clicking here.

The Cutting Room Floor

For every sermon there are lots of notes, thoughts, ideas, and stories that are left on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Stuff that there’s either not time  for or doesn’t fall within the sermon focus or function. But every now and then there’s something that is omitted during delivery of the sermon. Yesterday it was towards the sermon and I left it out intentionally (there were 2 stories intentionally omitted yesterday). The reason? As a listening/discerning community we had already arrived where we needed to go, therefore, we didn’t need anything else. 

I intended to end with the story of Carol Heath, that I read recently in Todays-Christian. If you recall, yesterday we were talking about God using our past for future glory. I think Carol’s story captures some of that. You can read it here.

To hear the entire sermon, entitled “Spin Machine,” click here.

A Powerful Footnote

Tomorrow night I continue a series I’ve been teaching called, The Sacred Way. For 8-weeks we are looking at some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. I call them “ancient” for two reasons: (1) They were all conceived a long time ago and (2) Most people in American Evangelical churches don’t practice them (out of ignorance or willing abandonment, I don’t know). At any rate, our community here in Northern California is attempting to recapture them. Were coming to better understand that knowledge and narrow readings of scripture alone do not produce the Life that Jesus promised. We’re also learning together that our brothers and sisters throughout the ages have something to teach us regarding drawing closer to God.

This week’s reflection is prayer. In particular we will be looking at The Jesus Prayer, Breath Prayer, and Centering Prayer. This is scratching the surface, but it is enought to get us started. While we will be exploring these ancient disciplines, our time will begin with C.S. Lewis — a comparatively contemporary figure. Though most of us know Lewis as a writer of prose, we are going to begin our discussion of prayer with one of Lewis’ poems, and I want to share it with you here. This poem — IMHO — is deeply powerful and provocative.

Footnote To All Prayers…C.S. Lewis

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow,
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou.
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart.
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme.
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address,
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless,
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

Loving Tears

Monday I received a cold call from the local hospital, Kaiser Redwood City. The wife of an elderly couple was dying and the family wanted a local pastor or chaplain to come by and pray with them. The social worker (and you know I have a special place in my heart for social workers) knew the family was Protestant and we were the only “non-denominational” church she could find.

So, I went to the hospital. The couple was in their 80’s and had been married for 63 years. For the past 8 months the husband and his adult, special needs son had visited his dying wife, and for 8 months she hadn’t gotten any better. The 8 months of anticipation hadn’t curtailed his heartache as his tears revealed. And now I was with them. I was there to pray before he told the doctors the very last thing any of us ever wants to tell a doctor; that it was OK to let her attempt her own breathing, all the while knowing she couldn’t.

It was Holy ground.

I’m reminded tonight of all the petty and small things so many of us in the church become consumed with. It’s hard to miss pettiness when it rubs up against the beauty and heartache of loving devotion.

In these times I’m mindful of the simple power of love and that loving one another volunteers us for tears. Yet in the end, who among us would rather not have loved?

Acclimated

Our family has been in the Bay area for 2 full weeks as of right now. Friends both here and across the country keep asking what differences we see between our new and former environment. At this point I’m not sure what the major differences are. We spent most of our time working; me at the church office and Rochelle trying to setting up house and getting Malia squared away for school next year. I really enjoyed living in Houston, so I don’t want to set-up a good/bad  or better/worse scenario. Nevertheless I thought I would list some of the things I’ve observed  about our new life in Redwood City.

1. My commute is 352 steps. I’ve moved for 20 miles and 50 minutes one way to less than 5 minutes and I don’t even have to get in the car, even when it rains. I eat lunch at home with my wife and girls and I haven’t cranked the car in over a week.

2. Cali is laid back. I’ve been wearing jeans and tennis shoes to work for two weeks (partly because we’re in boxes still and partly because our washing machine is broken) and no one seems to have noticed. For a T-Shirt and blue jeans kinda guy, you gotta love it.

3. I really miss the Houston 10:00 news. Because of the time difference, the late night news doesn’t come on until 11:00 — like it does on the east coast. Though I grew up with film at eleven, I’m too old for that now. By 10:30, I’m out!

4. There are Apple and Mac stores everywhere. Here’s a list of companies I’ve driven by in two weeks: FaceBook, Apple, Yahoo, Intuit, and a few others I can’t even remember. Homeless people in the Silicon Valley have iPhones, it’s crazy! 

5. I can see the mountains when I take out my trash. Already I’ve stopped noticing the beauty of God’s creation and I really hope to put a stop to that. This area is gorgeous. I hope to not be in too big a hurry and miss it!

6. There’s more Christian presence here than some people would have you believe. California is not Texas, but so far the difficulties faced by churches in California are the same as Texas. 

7. No drive-thrus. Land is expensive here, so some places (I’m particularly thinking about Starbuck’s) don’t have drive-thru’s. That’s already a pain.

8. The cold here is a wet, penetrating cold. The temperature may say one thing, but not being acclimated, I’ve found that it takes me a while to get warm here.

Anyway, since so many people had asked about things I thought this might be a good way to get the word out. Enjoy your weekend everyone.

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