Showing posts tagged Bible

Searching for Meaning, Part II: Social Science Criticism

The next chapter of Paula Gooder’s Searching for Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, covers social science criticism, a specific kind of historical criticism. We must remember that historical criticism aims to “increase our understanding of the social and cultural world of the New Testament” and is not limited to one particular method (5). So what is social science criticism? Gooder states “Social science (social-scientific) criticism attempts to understand New Testament writings using the perspectives of social history and the methods of social or cultural anthropology” (13).

One may notice that the description of social science criticism is very close to that of historical criticism. According to Bruce Chilton, historical criticism “seek[s] to illuminate the text by exploring the world in which the text came into being” (7) by examining the “languages, cultures, customs” and the “social, historic, and economic background” of a text (6). Social-scientific criticism, according to Randolph Tate, “analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of a text and its environment.”[1] Since social-scientific criticism is under the umbrella of historical criticism, it would make sense for the two to share the same goal. Is social-scientific criticism just historical criticism in specific methodological form? It is difficult to distinguish the two, but John H. Elliott has compared each criticism’s respective foci.[2] Social-scientific criticism is concerned with placing texts within “patterns of interrelationship, commonalities, [and] typicalities”, as well as the “social and cultural scripts” of their historical background.[3] In short, social science criticism emphasizes the text’s “social” setting that historical criticism has traditionally overlooked.

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Interviewing Ikons: Daniel M. Bell, Jr.

imageThe Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Bell, Jr., is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He is an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church.  A graduate of Stetson University in Florida, he earned the Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School and a Ph.D. (in theology and ethics) from Duke University where he worked with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas. He has authored several books, including  Liberation Theology After the End of History (Routledge, 2001), Just War as Christian Discipleship (Brazos, 2009), andThe Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World (Baker Academic, 2012). Dr. Bell is a popular speaker at colleges and universities, campus ministries, and churches on topics such as war and peace, the moral life, stewardship, and mission of the church today. He has presented papers before distinguished organizations such as the Latin American Studies Association International Congress, the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the Irish School of Ecumenics.  His work has appeared in various journals including Christianity Today, The Christian Century, Modern Theology, Journal for Peace and Justice Studies, Communio, Cross-Currents, and Studies in Christians Ethics. 

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Reading Dr. MLK, Jr. in Light of Recent Events

The following is selected sections from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”. I encourage everyone to read this in light of recent events. You can read the entire letter here.
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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. […]

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Interviewing Ikons: Lynn Cohick

Lynn Cohick is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.  She received her Ph.D. in NT/Christian Origins from University of Pennsylvania, 1996.  She is the author of three books: Ephesians in New Covenant Commentary Series (2010), Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (2009), The New Testament in Antiquity (2009, co-author), and a co-editor of Evolution of the Synagogue (1999).  Dr. Cohick also taught overseas at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya, for three years (1998-2000).  Her articles have appeared in numerous articles and books.  She is a member of the North American Patristics Society, Society of Biblical Literature, Evangelical Theological Society, and Institute of Biblical Research.  She is interested in several topics, including how average Jews and Christians lived out their faith in the ancient settings of Hellenism and the Roman Empire, women in the ancient world, especially how they celebrated their religions, the impact of feminist thought on New Testament studies, as well as the Apostle Paul and his epistles within their larger Jewish and Greco-Roman milieu.


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Searching for Meaning, Part I: Historical Criticism

We continue our series on Paula Gooder’s Searching for Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, by taking our first step into historical criticism. Historical criticism is not a “method”; rather, it encompasses a wide range of methods to illuminate the meaning(s) of a text. Gooder elaborates:

Historical criticism (sometimes also called higher criticism) does not constitute a particular method of study, but includes a range of techniques to increase our understanding of the social and cultural world of the New Testament and further our understanding of the New Testament itself (5).

Hans-Georg Gadamer explains how historians have classically approached texts. The historian “uses other traditionary material to supplement and verify what the texts say” because the true meaning of a text “can be discovered only behind its literal meaning, by comparing it with other data that allow us to estimate its historical value.”[1] The historical approach attempts to “go back behind [the texts] and the meaning they express to inquire into the reality they express involuntarily.”[2] In other words, the methodologies under historical criticism attempt to get “behind the text”, which Gooder states is “the concern to recreate and understand the events that lie behind any given text” (xviii).

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Leaving the Rapture Behind: Wright and Chrysostom on 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

imageThe Left Behind series is getting more attention with a new movie release this upcoming October. It seems fitting to address its eschatology (the study of the “end-times”), which is centered on “the Rapture”. The Rapture, as Bernard McGinn defines it, is “Christ’s bodily rescue of the faithful by way of a collective, physical ascent to heaven”.[1] I’ve discussed elsewhere the impact of the Rapture in the 20th century (though we are still feeling the effects today) and how it is a “historically odd reading” of Christian eschatology. So what is the historically “correct” understanding of Christian eschatology? One of the major texts that is brought up in eschatological conversation is 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17, which states:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. (NRSV)

The foundation for the Rapture’s imagery is found in this passage, particularly where St. Paul states “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air”. An initial, superficial reading of this text seems to close the case: it’s right there in the text! However, do we have the ears to hear what Paul is saying in this passage? I turn to two figures: the 20th-21st century New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and the 4th century theologian St. John Chrysostom. Although 1600 years separate the two, their readings of this text are surprisingly similar.

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Interviewing Ikons: Bruce Ellis Benson

imageBruce Ellis Benson is Professor of Philosophy at Wheaton College (IL) and executive director of the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology. Dr. Benson is the author or editor of eleven books and has lectured in the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Netherlands, Belgium, and across the United States. His articles have appeared in numerous journals and books. Although trained in the analytic tradition while a student at Wheaton, Dr. Benson’s philosophical interests have been largely formed by the continental tradition. As a graduate student at KU Leuven, he was first a recipient of the Flemish Community Fellowship and then a Belgian-American Fellow. As a Fulbright Fellow in Germany, he studied at the Hegel Archives with Otto Pöggeler and had extended visits with Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose hermeneutics have greatly have influenced his thought. He has served as an editorial assistant in the Husserl Archives. He was a visiting scholar at the New School in 2002-2003 and lecturer at Union Theological Seminary in 2003. He has taught at the Center for Religious Inquiry in New York City. In 2009-2010, he returned to Leuven as visiting professor. At Wheaton, Dr. Benson has received both the Junior Faculty Achievement Award (for teaching excellence) and the Senior Scholar Achievement Award. His latest books, Liturgy as a Way of Life and The New Phenomenology: A Philosophical Introduction, highlight his interests in continental philosophy and aesthetics.

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