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Blog Changes…Coming Soon (And Immediately)

A few months ago I sketched out a blog post about the death of blogging. In the post itself (which never met the net), I described how boring blogging had become and how I felt that there wasn’t much being said on most blogs — including this one. I posited that the reaosn for this was that most blogs and bloggers I read were ministers/pastors and or professors which meant, like our preaching itself oftentimes, their writings had to be safe in order not to “offend” anyone. Therefore there was never space for authentic questions and genuine dialogue about the sticky issues of life and faith — fundamentalism, politics, sexuality, race, war, pacifism, and the like. Not only that, but some of my favored bloggers, like Scot McKnight, had gone “corporate” moving their blogs from independent site host like WordPress and began blogging with For-Profit companies like BeliefNet. Something seemed lost. I was done! In the post I intended, in my best Nietzsche-esque voice, to proclaim: “Blogging Is Dead” and announce that I was shutting down my little corner of the web. There would continue to be Palmer, but no more Perspective.

Then two things happened: (1) People started talking to me about my blog and about the things (read: ideas, thoughts, opinions) that they liked and disliked. Since I believe that writing best serves the world as discussion-starter, even the fact that some folks disagreed with me fulfilled the intent of the blog, and (2) Mark Love started blogging. Mark is not only a great speaker/preacher and the best missional mind in my ecclesiological tribe, he is my “pastoral coach,” a name I came up with for lack of anything better. Mark, for me at least, has the freedom to actually say some things, and as you would suspect, says it well. So I decided to file away my eulogy on blogging and committed to posting a blog entry from time to time. 

But now something else has happened that renews my faith in the power and usefulness of blogging. I have been invited into 2 new blogging adventures, and I’m excited about the possibilities for both.

The first is a project shepherded by Dr. Love himself. The object is to discuss missional ecclesiology. When the site goes live you will hear from learned professors, pastors and ministers working in church contexts, spiritual directors, and laity. The group is broad, and I expect will continue to broaden. We are men, women, African-Americans, Caucasians, scholars, young and old, as well as some international voices. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll get more information as the launch dates approaches.

The second is a partnership with The Ooze called Viral Bloggers. The folks at The Ooze identified some blogs/bloggers they liked and asked us to partner with them in the great American pastime of generating commerce. Every so often, I will review a forthcoming or recently released book aimed at the Christian literary market. I’ll post the review here, and copy/paste the same review over at Viral Bloggers. 

What will this do for you? It will help folks like you — in these economically testy times — identify which books are worth your dollars. At the same time, Viral Bloggers is a great place to find out what others are saying and what is happening in the Christian community (especially those of us with a slightly missional, emergent, social-justice bent). Some of these books will find there way to your bedside table and/or serve as starting points for small groups. 

What will it do for me? Well, none of your business :-) No. While you’re saving money by only purchasing the books you’re really interested in, I’ll be…well, none of your business! But there are some perks for me, too.

All this to say that I have entered the world of “Poly-blogging” or “Multi-blogging,” contributing to multiple blogs. Whether poly-blogging is for people who have large blog followings or for folks whose blogs don’t have the muscle to stand alone, I’m not sure. I don’t know how many readers other bloggers have.  All I can say is that I hope this reading (and largely non-commenting) blog community will join in the fun at these two other blog-stops on the road to Christian dialogue and conversation.

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.

Wise Words #1

I’m oft reminded of the wise words I’ve come to memorize and live by over my life. (I’ll post wise sayings every now and then.)These sayings, for whatever reason, have exploded in my mind and I will never forget them. Today’s wise words are from one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In the end, it is not the words of our enemies that we will remember; it is the silence of our friends.”


The Voice: New Testament Part 2 – The Gospels

Now that we’ve reviewed the look of The Voice: New Testament we turn to examining how The Voice handles the gospels.

Let’s begin with what I like about the way the gospels were handled. First, Chris’ choice regarding who would best retell each gospel was genius. Lauren Winner penned Matthew, which is fitting given that she is Jewish. Greg Garret retells Mark, Brian McLaren retells Luke, and later Acts, of course, and Chris Seay takes on John’s gospel. It should be said at the outset that the gospels, neither in older versions of the Bible or this one, was written by one person. And having people retell gospels that somewhat reflect their authors biography and interest adds significantly to the depth of the project.

As you read through The Voice you will notice words in both italics and in boxes. These words are explanatory. For instance, as Lauren retells Matthew 5, she highlights that Jesus is referencing material found in Deuteronomy. I love the fact that this note is not tucked away in a bottom footnote. Rather she has incorporated it into the text. This is not “Bible Reading For Dummies,” rather the writers take seriously the addition of material that the originally audience would have known that 21st Century readers don’t.

Second, the gospel narratives are told in screenplay (or play) form. As a high school student, I loved reading plays because it seemed like I could more easily enter the written world, and it seemed like the reading went faster. As I read through the gospels I noticed that I had not sat down and read through the gospels in that manner in years. Though I knew the story, it was coming alive again for me. What’s more, in the screenplay format, staging directions are given, like (everyone talking at once) or (overhearing them). I truly felt like I was watching something unfold. It wasn’t unlike watching one of your favorite movies; you know the story and what’s coming, but you’re just drawn into the story because it’s told so well.

Unfortunately, the screenplay format makes it difficult to use The Voice with an audience if there is no Keynote or PowerPoint available. As you read the gospels to people, you have to come up with a way to explain who is talking, because the text doesn’t do that. There’s no, “Then Jesus said…” It can be used with an audience, I do it every week, but you have to be created. If you teach a weekly Bible study, I suggest you just buy one for everyone in attendance.

Before you call me a corporate shell for The Voice, I want to highlight one BIG thing I do not like about it. Here it is: Baptism is called “Ritual Cleansing.” Here I show my church of Christ heritage and Restoration Movement bias. In the footnotes, ritual cleansing is referred to as baptism, but I think that baptism is such a meaningful and beautiful image that it should have been retained.

As a contributor to the project, I know that there are some things that are “decided” in terms of language. I suspect that is what happened here because the term is used consistently throughout the gospels. For instance, in Old Testament references to God, we were asked to use “The Eternal One.” These changes are made for many different reasons, and to coddle Sean Palmer’s sentimental regard for the word “baptism” certainly wasn’t one of them. However, the term “ritual cleansing” makes baptism sound more pedestrian and effectual that I believe it is.

In total, the gospels are wonderful, particularly Matthew. And while much of the advertising around The Voice is about emerging generations and new Christians as a young man, but old Christian I found that the gospels inspired in me a desire to re-enter this timeless story.

P.S. If you would like to order a copy of The Voice e-mail me and I will add you to my bulk order. You’ll pay a seriously reduced price plus whatever it cost me to mail it to you wherever you are.

The Voice Review Part 1

The good people at Thomas Nelson have asked this blog and 99 others to review The Voice: New Testament. I informed them that I was a part of the project, and they said that was OK. So, here we go.

——————-

I’m holding in my hand – actually it’s sitting on my desk – a new copy of The Voice: New Testament. The Voice brings together some of the best contemporary Christian writers in an

New Testament Cloth/Leather Version

The Voice: New Testament Cloth/Leather Version

 attempt to tell the story of scripture. The Voice attempts to be a “fresh retelling” for a “new generation.”

Let’s peel back the cover and see if the writer’s and editor’s goals were indeed met.

Let’s begin with the look of it. The Voice constructs for itself four primary goals. It seeks to be “holistic, beautiful, sensitive and balanced.” I think they hit the nail on the head in terms of beauty. Bible publishers have gone through a great deal of trouble in recent years to make Bible visually appealing. There are Bibles that appeal to all sub-groups – men, woman, kids, teenagers, soldier’s, any and everyone. It is obvious that The Voice’s design is geared toward people who appreciate simple beauty. Both the cloth leather and the paperback boast simply covers that look both contemporary and durable. The one significant drawback to the cloth leather version are the words “The Voice: New Testament” etched across the front leather panel. Perhaps for most people this won’t be a problem for most people, but I have this quirck about my Bibles not looking like Bibles. Trust me, I’m not ashamed of the Bible, I’ve carried one in my backpack since I was 14, I just prefer Bible that don’t look like Bibles.

 

Hopefully in future editions, Thomas Nelson and Chris Seay will decide to go with an all leather version. I suspect that this will be dependent on sales. After all, The Voice is designed for young and new Christians who might hesitate at spending $40-$50 bucks for one testament. My NRSV Study Bible that I use for scholarly work and study cost $100, not many people are willing to pony-up that much. One of the pluses of the cloth-leather version is that the cloth feels extremely durable. This is a toss in the back-pack, throw in the laptop bag kind of Bible – great for traveling and a highly mobile generation.

New Testament Paperback Edition

The Voice: New Testament Paperback Edition

Beside the cover, the inside page are both tough and visually appealing. In fact, the look and feel of the pages is the very first thing people notice. So far, I’ve received comments ranging from “neat” to “beautiful.” Interestingly, women seem to love it. Todd Hunter told me that his wife hijacked his, and Jack Garland, a local attorney, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic professor told me, “My wife will love this.” However, it doesn’t have a “chick” feel, so don’t worry about that. Rather it has a beauty to it, which highlights, I think, the fact the pages themselves are part of telling a beautiful story.

In terms of the individual books of the New Testament, The Voice is fairly standard. Bypassing the early mistakes of Eugene Peterson’s The Message, The Voice does give both chapter and verse. In some case, in order to not interrupt continuous thoughts, verses are paired together. Fortunately, aesthetics don’t get in the way. The Voice makes it easy to find chapter and verse. Folks new to scripture will find this helpful when using The Voice in Bible studies.

You will not be disappointed in the look of The Voice. Next time, we’ll turn to a look at how the gospels are handled in The Voice. 

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