Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2 Thessalonians 3

You can read the text here.

Paul closes by continuing to encourage the Thessalonians to persevere. Paul, too, was facing opposition for proclaiming the name of Jesus. He requested their prayer that he would have success everywhere he went just as he had success among them and also that he would not be hindered by his opposition. The utmost of confidence is exuded by Paul that God will protect them just as he has been protected. Not only that, Paul is confident that God will work in their hearts to help them stand firm in fidelity and hope because they have the Spirit of the faithful Christ in them.

The last major piece of content in the letter is a warning about a certain type of idleness. For some unknown reason,[1] Some may be tempted to use the expectation of the end to live off of the generosity of others, especially if they were ministering or teaching in the community, but Paul adamantly opposes that and points to his own hard working example in contrast. If one is capable and has the opportunity, they should work, especially if they are going to be meddlesome in the absence of work.[2] Paul concludes this section with a carefully couched rebuke. Those who resist Paul's exhortation to work should not be supported by the community. They should be expelled, both to maintain clear boundaries for the community and for the sake of those who are errant. The goal is not permanent expulsion but correction and restoration.

Paul concludes wishing them peace, the thing they needed most given the trials they were going through. A peace that comes from the presence of the Lord, and on top of that, grace to sustain them.

[1] Both Malherbe and Fee are helpful at cautioning against drawing the conclusion that eschatological expectations led to the disorderliness/idleness.

[2] Disorderliness, not idleness is at issue her (pace the NRSV translation at this point) as Gaventa points out. Malherbe is very helpful in pointing out that this was the exact type of charge typically laid against philosophers.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Books of the Year: 2016

This year has been quite different in terms of my areas of emphasis in my reading. I spent a lot of time reading in both Early and Medieval theology. In many ways it was a strecth for me. I enjoy modern theology a bit and I really enjoy exegesis, but historical theology is a bit more challenging for me. I also have less background in those areas which makes it harder work to read and digest academic work in that field. It was quite productive for me, though and I learned a lot even if it was a work of perseverance at times. Now onto the list:

5. The Sentences Book 3 by Peter Lombard

The Lombard is a greatly underappreciated theologian, especially by Protestants. He was a very careful and thoughtful writer, and certainly far more than just a compiler of earlier opinions as has sometimes been claimed. One of the things I appreciate about him is that he is far more aware of the debt he owes to those came before him than many modern Protestants are. Having a long view of things gives him a better sense of where it is appropriate to be dogmatic and where one should be more cautious in one's opinion. It is only recently that the Sentences has become available in English. I highly recommend it.

Casey provides a very balanced (though at times vitriolic) critique of a number of different approaches to studying the historical Jesus. Throughout, his argument is careful and clearly presented. His primary historical criterion, the ability to reconstruct the saying plausibly in Aramaic is an interesting idea, as was his argument for a very early dating of Mark and its status as an incomplete rough-draft. Definitely a top tier book on the historical Jesus.

3. The Work of Theology by Stanley Hauerwas

In The Work of Theology, Hauerwas supplies us with an end of career look back at his own work and what he thinks is important for a theologian. A pleasant mix of personal reflection and theory made for an engaging and edifying read.

This was an absolutely wonderful book. It laid clear the major lines of Orthodox Trinitarian thought. It should be required reading for all serious students of theology and pastors, especially when there is so much controversy surrounding relations and subordination in the Trinity. Whether they are right or wrong, there is absolutely no doubt that individuals like Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem have deviated from the way the church in the following century interpreted Nicea.

1. Paul and the Gift by John Barclay

Barclay's book is a game changer in Pauline theology. His main point is to identify a lack of terminological precision in discussions of both Paul's and Early Judaism's understanding of grace and gifts. After clarifying that, he proceeds to make his own argument about how Paul discussed grace and gift in Galatians and Romans. He charts his own course, sure to fully satisfy no one, but hopefully sure to draw everyone back to a careful reading of the text.

Now for the books that came out in 2016 that I am most excited about but have not yet had the opportunity to read.

Hays is one of the best when it comes to the use of the OT in the NT, I hope this work proves to be every bit the classic his book on Paul is.

I have learned a lot about Paul from authors championing a thoroughly Jewish framework for understanding his letters. This should be another nice collection of essays.

3. Colossians by Paul Foster

Colossians has been well covered recently, but I think Foster's commentary could prove to be useful in the way it brings some of the results of recently archaeological investigation of Colossae to bear on the text.

Early Christian devotion to Jesus has been one of the major areas of focus in Early Christian Studies over the last decade. This is the first of four planned volumes and is pursuing a line of argument similar to what I have set forth in my section on Christology in my Exploring the Christian Way of Life series. I hope it deepens and enhances my understanding of how early Christians worshiped Jesus.

1. Romans by Richard Longenecker

Longenecker is a seasoned scholar and the brief time I spent leafing through the commentary really whet my appetite. In a few years from now I'll tackle Romans. I feel fortunate to have Longenecker's work by my side as I'm sure it'll prove a classic to stand next to Cranfield, Moo, Dunn, and Jewett.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2 Thessalonians 2

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to encourage the Thessalonian Christians. Apparently communication (oral or letter) had arrived in Paul's name claiming that the day of the Lord had come and gone or they had badly misunderstood 1 Thessalonians.[1] Either way, this shook the church and must have raised questions about why they were still facing persecution and had not yet been vindicated.[2] Paul claims the time had not come and gives his expectation of what must happen first. It seems clear to me that Paul expected it to come soon.[3]

Who did Paul have in mind when talking about this man of lawlessness? It sounds like Paul is talking about something concrete he is expecting to be done by someone alive at that time.[4] Whoever he is, Paul is expecting that he too will succumb to the power of the Messiah Jesus when he returns to judge. And so will all who follow him in his Satan led deception.[5]

Because of this, the Thessalonians have nothing to fear. God is on their side because they have received the Spirit that sanctifies them, which is God's proof of their election; a purposeful election - their glory. All they need to do is to hold fast in fidelity to what they were taught. Paul concludes wishing them comfort once more. The Thessalonians must have been truly shaken.

To expand on one point in the last paragraph a bit, there is a very clear pattern to salvation here. God's grace is prior to any activity on the part of the Thessalonians. God's grace also empowers them to live lives of holiness. However, nowhere is there any suggestion that there is no requirement on the Thessalonians for their final vindication. They are clearly charged with cooperating with God's grace both in trust and by living in accordance with God's rule, in a word, fidelity. The whole passage makes clear that those who are loyal to God will be saved on the day or judgment, while those who rebel against him will parish. It does leave one wondering what will happen to those "in the middle," but we need to be careful not to go beyond what Paul actually is trying to argue here.

[1] Fee has a nice overview of the possibilities here.

[2] I think Occam's razor requires this solution to what troubled them given the information that we actually have (i.e., 2 Thes. 1). This conclusion is in line with Fee's interpretation as well.

[3] Do we also have to wrestle with failed prophecy given that it didn't happen soon (and the temple was destroyed)? Gaventa pushes back against the claim that the reference to the temple here is necessarily the temple in Jerusalem, but if Paul indeed is the author, the temple was still standing and seems the most likely referent. See the discussion in Malherbe for the range of possible interpretations.

[4] Though see Malherbe for the argument that Paul is drawing on Daniel.

[5] Malherbe argues well that God's activity here follows/is a consequence of resisting him. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

2 Thessalonians 1

I have a small gap in my reading/study/writing schedule, so I've decided to slot 2 Thessalonians in. I'm planning to cover the whole book in three posts, hopefully all before the end of the year.

You can read the text here.

Paul [1] opens his second letter to the Thessalonians with a wish of grace before going into his customary thanksgiving section. He has much to be thankful for. The Thessalonians are growing, especially in their love for one another and their faith/faithfulness/fidelity.[2] Standing firm in their commitment was not easy given the persecution they faced. They are a church in need of encouragement, so Paul affirms them, essentially calling their witness exemplary.

Next, Paul goes on to offer further encouragement, here offering hope for a beleaguered church in the final judgment. There are a couple of points of emphasis.[3] First is that the judgment of God is just, or in keeping with people's deeds. Those who persecuted the Thessalonians would receive appropriate condemnation from Jesus on the last day because of their opposition to him.[4] Second we need to remember that this reminder is given by Paul to help them to stand firm in their faithfulness. Steadfastness through persecution prepares them for salvation and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate costly loyalty to God. In exchange, God will avenge them on the last day, and they just needed to stay on course.

This section concludes with Paul moving into a description of his constant prayer for the Thessalonians. He wants them to remain faithful to the end so that they are rewarded by God for their fidelity,[5] and to that end he prays for God to continue to bestow the grace needed to sustain them. What does God get out of this arrangement? Glory, as the Thessalonians honor him with their lives.

[1] I feel reasonably confident that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians. See, e.g., the extended discussion in Malherbe.

[2] I think it's hard to know what exact nuance is intended here, but I typically prefer fidelity (a concept which encompasses faith and faithfulness) unless there is a clear reason to limit the scope to on or the other. In vs. 3, Fee and Gaventa leans towards 'faithfulness' while Malherbe opts for 'faith.' Given the inclusio formed by vs. 11 I prefer either faithfulness or fidelity. I lean towards the latter especially given the emphasis on steadfastness in the following verse and the rest of the chapter.

[3] I think the challenge for any Pauline interpreter is to stick to his points of emphasis and try not to develop his thought beyond that.

[4] Fee makes clear that the emphasis is not on God as avenger as it is on the judged getting their due. As for the nature of the judgment to say much more than it is catastrophic and a complete separation from God is reading too much into the text. It could fit either annihilation or eternal conscious punishment depending on what one brings to the text or emphasizes within it. I would issue similar warnings about those who completely generalize vs. 8. The goal of this text is too specific to warrant a broad generalization here. In intense passages rhetorical overplays to make a point are common.

[5] Judgment according to works is at play again here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

End of Summer Review/Update

The school year is now upon us and I'll definitely not be posting the next two months. This summer didn't quite go to plan so I didn't get to do the blogging I was hoping to do. Specifically I was planning on blogging through 2 Thessalonians, but that didn't happen. It may happen late in the fall, but we will see. I may instead decide to pick up a different Pauline letter (perhaps 2 Corinthians). This is my last year of school  and by the fall of next year I should be back on a more regular blogging schedule.

A lack of blogging was not from a lack of productivity (although I'm sure my Pokemon Go playing did cut into my reading time a little bit). I've had a interesting summer learning about Medieval Christianity and specifically focusing on Peter Lombard and Thomas Aqunias. They'll both be featured in my next paper in Exploring the Christian Way which I hope to publish here in late January of 2017. 90% of the reading and 80% of the writing is done for that paper. I'll say in advance I definitely think the Medieval period gets treated unfairly by Protestants, in particular, I thoroughly enjoyed what I read of the Lombard. He was a very gifted theologian.

Finally, I have to express my extreme disappointment in the news that came out today, that Eerdmans was withdrawing three commentaries by Peter T. O'Brien over plagiarism. I owned both his Philippians and Ephesians commentaries. I will be following the refund process with Eerdmans and disposing of my volumes. Even though I believe them to be valuable resources (though not irreplaceable), O'Brien should pay a price for his dishonesty. I applaud Eerdmans for their integrity in this case.

Monday, May 16, 2016

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

You can read the text here. This is the final post in my brief foray into 1 Thessalonians.

The opening verses of this closing section are a little tricky. Who is Paul talking about? Is he thinking of leaders in the church or not? Certainly nothing in the text forces it to refer to leaders. In some senses it's hard to imagine there being formal leadership in place given that Paul had to leave so quickly after founding the church in Thessalonica and that he wrote this letter soon afterward. However, that may be because we're in a different situation where there's never a church comprised solely of new Christians. That question is hard to adjudicate. One wonders how important the question really is when Paul's comments clearly cover anyone performing certain functions.

In any regard, Paul tackles the topic of mutual edification,[1] beginning by urging the Thessalonians to show appreciation for the service of those in the community who teach and care for them. Paul's location outside the community makes this exhortation easier to make. He also is concerned that no one in the community make life difficult on those trying to build up the community, so he encourages the community as a whole to engage in ministry aimed at helping the weak and disorderly[2] become productive and not destructive members of the community. And when one does act destructively, forgiveness and generosity must ensue so that no cycles of evil and unforgiveness are formed.

The community is Paul's focus throughout this passage so we should avoid an unnecessary narrowing of focus in making vv. 16-18 about personal exhortations. Paul is trying to hammer home the need for persistent prayer by and for the community that rejoices in all that God has done for them.

His last major exhortation surrounds prophecy. Clearly from passages like these, 1 Cor 14, and Acts 11 it's clear that prophecy was a common phenomenon in the early church. It is no surprise that there were abuses of it and that Paul felt the need to lay groundwork. Prophecy was a good thing and benefited the community and should not be muzzled. However, after hearing the word it is the responsibility of the community to sift the message keeping the good and discarding the bad.[3]

Paul closes with a blessing and a few final comments as is appropriate given the overall friendly tone of the letter and the previous section. In its essence, the blessing is about the spiritual wholeness of the church, which again is fitting given the previous exhortation. The end result being vindication for those who participate in the holy body when Jesus returns.[4]

Thankfully, Paul requested this letter be read to the whole congregation which must have played a role in its preservation, bringing God's grace not only to the Thessalonians, but to as as well.

[1] That is Malherbe's way of summarizing verses 12-15.
[2] Disorderly or disruptive would be a better translation than idle according to Malherbe, Fee, and Gaventa.
[3] Gaventa makes this point very well.
[4] Fee draws out very helpfully where the text is addressing the community as a whole and as individuals.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Exploring the Christian Way - Prolegmonea - Bayesian Statistics as Foundational to Theology

Finally, I feel that I am prepared to write a full blown prolegomena where I explain my method for developing theology. Reading Stanley Hauerwas' The Work of Theology and Lewis Ayres Nicea and It's Legacy has helped me sharpen my thinking. It's not that I have adopted their methods so much as they have stimulated my thinking in fruitful ways, while I won't discuss them explicitly, I think their contribution is worth mentioning.

How do we know anything? The leap forward that was the Wesleyan Quadrilateral was that realized that we needed more than Scripture and Tradition to discern theological truth. Reason and experience were viewed as additional authorities and we needed a "formal method" to adjudicate between these sometimes conflicting authorities. I think it was a nice try, but we can do better. As an aside, many would argue that Scripture alone is our highest authority, but in practice I don't think anybody actually always let's Scripture overrule the other three (who thinks slavery is ok?). Other authorities overrule Scripture at least some of the time. Let's turn to my formulation next by discussing how we gain knowledge in the general case, and then moving on to theological knowledge.

I would argue that we have three basic sources of knowledge: expert testimony, experience, and mathematics or logic. These sources work independently of one another to our own peril. The mathematical component is most often ignored formally, even though people subconsciously function in a probabilistic fashion (e.g., this is more likely than that)  Ideally, all three sources should formally work in concert, and I believe, with a growing number of statisticians, that Bayesian Statistics can draw on all three sources of knowledge to build the best approximation or estimate of the truth that also provides the best gauge of the level of uncertainty involved in the estimation process.

Let me briefly, and as simply as I can, explain Bayesian Statistics and what makes it so powerful, then I will apply the essence of the approach to theological knowledge. It will be easiest to explain by contrasting it with classical or frequentist statistics. Classically, if you wanted to know, say, how many people supported a particular presidential candidate, you would collect data by asking people. If 45% said they would vote for candidate X, then that would be your estimate for the percentage of all likely voters who would vote for candidate X in the election. Then based on how many people you asked, you would come up with an estimate for your error (e.g., +/- 4%). How accurate is your estimate? How likely is that to be correct? You have no way of knowing. You may have gotten a very good sample and you could be very accurate. You may have gotten a lousy sample and may be way off. What you can do is repeat the study repeatedly and see how you do. The theory is that 95% of the time your result will be within your margin of error (assuming it's a 95% confidence interval).

Bayesian statistics comes at this very differently. Before you field your study you elicit priors. What this means is that you ask experts what percentage they think will support candidate X and what the possible range of likely values is (or use previously published data). So an expert might say, 'I think 50% will support candidate X and I think it's almost certainly between 40% and 65%.'  You pool your expert opinions to form a prior distribution that encapsulates their beliefs about the truth as well as the uncertainty involved.

Now you collect your data just like you would have before but you combine the expert opinion with your data to get your final estimate. Generally, if you have a good expert, this method will result in more accurate estimates because it will pull your bad or even just mediocre samples away from bad results towards the truth. Your prior information will have very little effect on your estimates when the data are in agreement with them. However, the agreement you have will result in more confidence in your results. Additionally you can now say that with, say 95% probability my result is between two values (a much stronger statement than that about margins of error) and typically that interval will be shorter than if you only used your data using classical methods. However, we need to be careful to make sure that we cover the full range of possible outcomes with our prior. Otherwise your inference can be pulled unhelpfully away from the truth.

Hopefully this discussion was not confusing and you can start to see how one might apply it to the work of theology. We have data that we collect and we have priors. I would argue that we should see our experiences of God as data. We may have these experiences through the Bible, in prayer, service of others, conversation, etc. God speaks to us in many ways. We experience God speaking to us and we come to know him and understand his priorities as he speaks. However, if we're wise then knowing God isn't a solo effort. We seek expert opinion to protect us from improper inference and give us assurance when we're on the right path. This is where we need to elicit priors.

Our priors are expert witnesses from the past and present. The foremost expert witness are the witnesses to God's revelation in the past. This includes Scripture and the great theologians of the church. They heard God speak to them and they wrote as they understood. As a text has been influential over time it should be accorded a heavier weight. Additionally, we need to include secular disciplines when constructing our prior. This would include, but not be limited to, the biological sciences, physics, philosophy, sociology, and history.

Now it may seem odd that I include Scripture as a prior when I include our experience of God through the Bible as data. I need to make a very important clarification here. I do not believe that God speaks directly through Scripture, i.e., it is not God's Word or possessing divine ontology. However, when we read Scripture, it can come to life and become God's word through the agency of the Spirit. When I refer to Scripture as a prior I am referring to the historical voice of the apostle, prophets, poets, and others who wrote and edited the texts we find in the Bible. Thus historical study of Scripture is critical, but not necessarily to hear God speak. It's to calibrate what we believe we hear God saying when we encounter him. Though, certainly we can here God speak as we study historically. However, what we experience through the study and the actual historical reconstructions are not the same thing. The same applies to reading the works of the great minds of the history of the church.

How do we combine all of this to form our prior? We weight our expert voices according to their degree of expertise on the subject. We also need to make sure to cull from a wide variety of experts. In theology, it means we need to hear from a variety of voices in terms of era, geography or race, denominational affiliation, and when possible, gender.

What, then, is proper theology? It's proper data analysis. The less data you have the less confident you can be in your data analysis. We need to recognize that speculative theology, like the doctrine of the Trinity is just that, speculative, and realize that we have a lot of uncertainty surrounding our doctrinal formulations because we do not have access into the divine interrelationships. Where we have more data, for example, the fruitfulness of women ministers, we can have more certainty.

Hopefully this is informative about the way I will be pursuing my theological project, Exploring the Christian Way of Life, and is provocative. One thing lacking from a lot of theological discussion is a sense of uncertainty in the results. Hopefully I can model proper humility in the process. If nothing else, we will be following a formal framework that models the way people behave implicitly anyways.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Orphan Black: I Don't Think Shay Killed Delphine

The big mystery at the end of season 3 of Orphan Black is the identity of the murderer of Delphine. They are off screen so it must be someone we have seen before. I've heard it suggested that Shay is the killer. Granted her military roots, I don't see it. I suspect it's a clone. Note only that, it's one we've seen before.

Image of Krystal taken from:
Yeah, that's right. I think Krystal could be the killer. The rest of the post will establish that there's far more than meets the eye with Krystal and that she is not trustworthy. From there I will suggest why she fits as a potential killer of Delphine.

When we first actually meet Krystal, Delphine and Dr. Nealon converse about just how naive she is. Dr. Nealon declares her, 'not one to pierce the veil...' But when we meet her with Felix, she clearly has pierced the veil significantly. She's noticed a pattern in her life that is abnormal and she's written about it in a notebook with the Castor symbol on the cover. Of course Felix doesn't recognize it, but we the audience do. In fact, she doesn't begin to spill the beans about her trauma with Castor until Felix asks his suspicious question to try to steal her identity. She's not dumb and is more than capable. And Dr. Nealon certainly knows that if he's been overseeing her monitoring. Felix grasps it a bit, but doesn't realize that she may have caught on to him, Most importantly, Dr. Nealon already convinced Delphine that she's naive so he can execute his and Rachel's plan.

After Felix leaves, Dr. Nealon shows up at her nail salon. Clearly she's never met him, but he has a task for her. Now what did he say to get her to go along with his plan? Presumably he could have offered her answers to all of those questions she seemed to have from her journal (which Felix never really read by the way, it's more than possible that she's not naive at all) as well as a way to get back at those trying to steal her identity. That's plausible motivation. However, I think more has to be at play here. There's no way a Leda clone could just end up with a Castor emblem on her notebook accidentally (and it clearly predates her known encounter with Rudy and Seth). She must have some sort of ties to Castor or perhaps directly or indirectly into Neolution (we know Neolution is still guiding Castor and Leda from a distance). Either of those possibilities would provide stronger reasons for her cooperation with Dr. Nealon.

As an aside, I want to ask about the first time we see Krystal, to her earlier encounter with Castor. Why was her monitor killed? Was it perhaps a ploy to get rid of a monitor that she was having some sort of issues with? Was it helpful for Dr. Nealon and Rachel? Who knows, but it's pretty convenient. Why would Castor try to kidnap her? They needed a fertile clone, which she presumably isn't. And how likely is it that they would actually get stopped? It's too hard to believe. Add to that, when Seth rescues Rudy it almost seems like Rudy knows when to expect him. And Dr. Nealon is the one who finds out that they escaped. Again, how convenient. Did Marion set the whole thing up?

We next see Krystal lying on a hospital bed under sedation in Dyad. When she wakes she acts hysterical (in character) and she wants Delphine to think that Dr. Nealon abducted her and drugged her to take Rachel's place. It's all misdirection and Delphine has no idea. Rachel was long gone and Krystal was in on it. The question, is, when Dr. Nealon shows her Rachel on the screen, does Delphine understand that Krystal was in on the ruse? I think it's more likely than not, Delphine is quite sharp.

I tried to get a sense for who Delphine's shooter was by watching the brief glimpse we get repeatedly. I think it's too hard to tell. The shoes are very loud for men's shoes, but I don't know how much we want to press the details, and some men's shoes can be pretty loud. Obviously it's someone tied to Neolution. The only person we know has ties to anyone in Neolution is Krystal. Yes, she may seem too weak to be a killer, but Helena, Beth, Sarah, and Alison all had it in them (granted Alison's and Sarah's ties to death were not cold blooded). Cosima certainly is fierce and Rachel certainly has no issue with violence even if she would never pull the trigger herself. Why do we dismiss Krystal?

To go back to Shay. It's certainly possible she could be the killer. We know she can handle a gun and Delphine's last words, 'what will happen to her?' mesh nicely with that hypothesis. However, it does not rule out anyone else. Delphine's time of having to love all of the sisters was over since she was no longer in charge of Dyad. She could go back to just loving Cosima. That is the most natural thing for Delphine to ask for her last question. I also want to note that there is no surprise on Delphine's face as she's about to be shot, just disdain. Given that she has just given Shay a vote of confidence, I would expect more surprise from Delphine. Disdain is a very natural response if the killer is Krystal.

I realize this is a speculative argument, but any argument at this point is speculative. But given the evidence we have, I think there's a stronger case to be made for Krystal than for Shay or any other person, for that matter. Her ties to Neolution must run deep. Otherwise it's hard to imagine Dr. Nealon and Rachel betting so much if they didn't know her cooperation was in the bag. I can't wait til next season to find out for sure.

Monday, January 25, 2016

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

You can read the text here.

Through Timothy, Paul had heard that the Thessalonians had some anxiety about those in their congregation who had died before Jesus returned.[1] Paul issues the Thessalonians some reassurance. There is no disadvantage to those who died prior to Jesus return. They will join with Jesus when he returns just like those who are still alive will.[2] They will not miss out on the resurrection. Jesus himself confirms this. Grief is ok, but not grief without hope. The language Paul uses is perhaps a bit odd, talking of meeting Jesus in the air. At the core it's an expression of the fact that Jesus is not mere human king. His kingdom includes and transcends that.[3]

Paul moves on in the next section to give them further comfort via eschatology. His goal is to reinforce what they already know because it is critical and to further comfort them.[4] Paul affirms, Jesus is coming back some day, and it will happen suddenly. It also won't be a pleasant return for everyone as some will experience his wrath.[5] The Thessalonians, however, have nothing to fear. They are God's children and live in a manner worthy of their status. Paul encourages them to continue to live out their identity and to live...'in light of the certainty and unexpectedness of that Day's coming.'[6] It will be a day of their vindication, a day that will begin a blessed eternity living under the rule of the divine King rather than the rulers of this world. In the meantime they will be protected in part by their lives of faithful love for God and one another and their resolute expectation in Jesus' salvific activity on their behalf. Critically, it is a message that the Thessalonians are to remind each other of, that way they can persevere even when the going is tough.

[1] This concern makes most sense to me if 1 Thessalonians is very early. If it had been 15-20 years since Jesus ascension, then this concern would be odd since surely many Christians has died before his return. Of course this causes problems with Acts' narrative, but I agree with Campbell that Paul's own letters deserve priority when dating the letters. Campbell's date (argued for on other grounds) between 40-42 is plausible.

[2] I don't want to make too much of this, but it's interesting that Paul doesn't say that they're in heaven with God after they die.

[3] Drawn from Gaventa.

[4] Fee is very helpful in drawing out the theme of comfort in 5:1-11.

[5] If only Paul was more explicit here about who will receive wrath. At minimum it appears to be their Roman overlords and those who wholeheartedly invest their system. Fee suggests it's those who are making life difficult for the Thessalonians, which is true probably true as well.

[6] Malherbe p. 289.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Thank You Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, and Jenna Coleman

In 2012 and 2013 I was fairly frustrated with the state of Doctor Who. There were several good episodes that would come out each year, but the drop off from the Davies era was massive. Many of the characters were poorly written and Moffat had a penchant for writing himself into corners (Matt Smith's finale was brutal). I went as far as calling for the BBC to go in a different direction. I didn't think that Moffat had what it took to be the show runner for Doctor Who.

In 2015 (and to a lesser extent 2014) Moffat has changed my opinion of him as a writer. This past season was nothing short of excellent. Now, a great deal of credit belongs to Peter Capaldi. I don't see how anyone can objectively prefer Matt Smith to Capaldi unless they just really like Smith's schtick. His superiority is obvious in how much better he and Jenna Coleman work together on screen. Coleman was excellent this year and Capaldi is in the same tier as David Tennant, Tom Baker, and Patrick Troughton. Is there any way that Matt Smith could have delivered this speech anywhere near as effectively? No way.

Back to Moffat. This season lacked the frequent deus ex machina moments that littered the Matt Smith era. This season in particular was well crafted and a cohesive whole. It had great high moments like the Capaldi speech. The first five minutes of the season premier were the most tension inducing moments of any episode of Doctor Who since David Tennant stared down the Vashta Nerada in the Silence in the Library. The classic series and the Davies era got some nice treatment. The show regained a sense of cosmic scope.

In closing let me say, thank you Steven Moffat. I'm glad you've stayed the course. You gave us an excellent season of Doctor Who and I hope you can follow it up with a few more!


Image taken from:

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

You can read the text here.

Paul now transitions into more direct exhortation and encouragement of the Thessalonians. They were doing well, but that does not mean that Paul didn't have a further challenge for them. They had seen from Paul and his associates what a lifestyle that pleased God looked like. He wants to focus on two particular areas in this section, presumably because they were at least partially an issue for his converts.

The first topic Paul addresses is sex. Given the nature of the culture he lived in, he is particularly aiming his advice at men. They need to be able to control their sexual urges and limit sex to being within marriage, abstaining from any of the other outlets accepted by their native culture.[1] The reason behind it all is because of their identity and their calling. They have been drawn into Christ by the Holy Spirit and must live in accordance with the nature of that Spirit which is within them.[2] Rejecting a lifestyle of holiness, of which sexual holiness is a component, would amount to a rejection of God and his authority. Presumably part of the reason why Paul focuses on this particular issue is the opportunity for distinctiveness that it offered to his converts.[3]

Paul then moves on, but first he reminds them again that he is encouraging those who, by and large are doing well. Paul is so confident about his disciples that he can affirm that they have learned about love from God, presumably through their intense experience of his love for them.[4] The second area Paul wants to address is their relationship to money and responsibility. Political ambitions should be suppressed.[5] They should live and work quietly, but they must work. Rejecting work and living off of the support of others in the community would not be loving. It would be taking advantage of their love. Second it would work to destroy their witness to the outside world.

[1] This passage makes it obvious that the Thessalonians were a Gentile congregation.

[2] Both Gaventa and Fee are very helpful in drawing out this point in their own ways.

[3] It also was a very Jewish position. If Nanos et. al, are right in that Paul's goal was to incorporate the Gentiles into the Jewish people as Gentiles then it makes sense that a lifestyle of sexual permissiveness needed to end. Sexual immorality was the issue besides idolatry that Jews most commonly criticized the Gentiles for.

[4] So Gaventa.

[5] Assuming Gaventa and Malherbe are correct. This verse provides the clearest biblical evidence against Christians seeking political power.

Monday, January 4, 2016

My Debt to Orphan Black

In certain regards my political views have become increasingly raidcal over the past few years. There are many reasons why that is the case. Certainly part of it has been my study of the Bible, theology, and ethics. Some of it has been through the development of relationships with a wider net of people. A third, and key component has been television. No, it has not been through watching cable news outlets, but because powerful storytelling has opened my eyes to understand the world in a clearer fashion. Then theology can step in to make sense of my improved understanding of reality.

While there are many shows that I like, there are only two shows that I cherish, and for different reasons. Orphan Black is one show, and it's story and characters has forever changed the way I see the world. There's much I could write about related to Orphan Black, worldview, and ethics, but a lot of good ground has already been covered in some lengthy online articles (here's one of the best for a taste). Today I want to hone in on something very specific.

I chose this picture carefully.[1] On Orphan Black, the phrase 'I am not your property' speaks at two different levels. The obvious level is the relationship between the individual and corporations. The second, and more subtle level, is the way we cheapen each other and destroy community by defining others mainly on the basis of some characteristic(s).

Even before I began watching Orphan Black I had a an anti-corporate streak in me. I expressed some of those sentiments here, in what may be my single favorite post I have ever written. Orphan Black helped me see that I had not fully grasped the depth of the perversity of our corporate controlled economic system. The tale of the clones is, in many ways, the tale of you and I. Many of us are like Krystal Goderitch, 'happily' living our lives under the control and direction of our corporate lords and masters without even realizing it. We are pawns used by the powers in charge and act on their behalf without really knowing what we're doing or why. We have this sense in the back of our minds that something 'isn't right,' but we can't put our finger on it.

It may seem strange that I picked Krystal out of all of the clones to identify us with.[2] I think we all want to believe that we're Sarah. Yes maybe corporate America has given us certain genes, or predispositions, but we are free agents and are solely responsible for our own messes. We aren't under their control, and the moment they try to exert their control over us we fight back with a vengeance! How deluded we are!

What do we all want? We want to be happy. Often, we equate happiness with being able to do, have, and experience whatever we want. Having and experiencing whatever we want are consumptive activities that mostly enrich major corporations.[3] How do you pay for it?[4] By working a job, often for a corporation, or a company that services corporations, or for a company that aspires to be a corporation. They've got you. You're enslaved. Unless you're very lucky or supremely talented you work for them on their terms so that you can buy stuff and experiences that they and other corporations sell to you. Wages are held as low as possible and prices as high as possible to enable the corporation to maximize their profits. We keep coming back day after day to make sure we can maintain our lifestyle and the illusion of happiness. Deep down, though, we know that this isn't the path to true happiness. However, advertising and social pressures (often experienced on corporate owned social media platforms) make us too timid to really try and break free. For many of us when we realize we've been sold a bill of goods end up medicating to different degrees like Alison. A decision that can easily destroy us and everything we love.

Now some of us try religion as a path out of this.[5] But too often we end up like Helena destroyed by seemingly righteous culture. Christian culture in particular has figured out how to monetize the rejection of conformity to the image of the perfect life sold to us by corporate America. They have crafted their own "perfect life" that parodies many of the values and consumptive patterns (go to Christian movies, not secular movies - either way you're still buying and going)  of American culture and don't end up bringing any of the liberation promised. It just ends up being slavery to a different set of masters.

Fortunately, Orphan Black gives us a solution to the problem. The answer is to seek happiness somewhere else than where the corporations are trying to lead us. Happiness comes through life together as a family where we accept each other as we are, look out for one another, and put each other first. This isn't easy. Like Cosima, we can be our own worst enemies, particularly when we are unable to forgive, but that is the only way to true life and freedom.

Obviously family is a place where we can experience this, but I'd like to argue that this is also what the Christian church is supposed to be like. Rather than focusing on enforcing a certain view of Christian culture, let's focus on loving one another, which means accepting each other for who they are.

This will segue us into our second topic. One of Orphan Black's goals is to get you to move past a shallow and superficial way of understanding people where they are labeled based on some characteristic that they have and treating them as if that fully defines them. Arguably the most famous exchange on the show is the instance where Rachel, upon meeting Cosima, notes that she is gay, and Cosima quips, 'my sexuality's not the most interesting thing about me.' On Orphan Black they are particularly focused on sexuality, but we see other characters presented as more complicated than our default labeling would suggest (Sarah is far more than the 'grifter' that Angie thinks she is, even Rachel has a sensitive and sentimental side, and Krystal has depth as a human being).

One isn't limited to their past. That's one of the big things that the clones, especially Sarah, have to learn. Helena may have been a ruthless killer who hunted their sisters, but she too can be turned and even trusted through love. The turning point in the whole show is when Helena finally realizes that Sarah loves her and isn't trying to use her like everyone in her life had to that point. Sarah only came to love her when she realized that what they shared was more important than the differences that they had and that, through love, Helena could be transformed. Love overcame the box that Sarah had originally put Helena in. It also enabled Helena to escape the box that she had subconsciously put herself in.

Both the dance and dinner parties that close out the first two seasons are powerful because they show the beauty of family when they accept and love each other as they are. To me that's a portrait of what true family should be like. That's a portrait of what the church should be like. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love each other with the transformative, redemptive love of Jesus. We should be able to be the leaders, building a beautiful alternative society that eschews the message of our corporate powers. Only then will we regain our credibility and only then will we find true happiness, when we are finally known by our love.


[1] Image taken from

[2] Rachel may actually be the identity of some of us, if we're the ones in power. Be warned by her story. Everyone will be discarded by the corporation when they outlive their usefulness.

[3] Obviously sometimes our money is going to local small businesses, which can be less problematic, but not necessarily so.

[4] Or how do you pay for being able to do whatever you want?

[5] I'm softening the anti-religious rhetoric of the show. The show clearly favors spirituality over organized religion. I want to focus the critique a little more carefully than they do.