Behind the Book: Our authors share the story behind the birth of their book.

Behind the Book: Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby on Learning for the Love of God

Today Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby share why they wrote Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness.

 

Why Are We Students?

We study in order to
understand God’s good creation
and the ways sin has distorted it,
so that, in Christ’s Power, we may
bring healing to persons and the created order.

As God’s image-bearers we are preparing
to exercise responsible authority
in our task of cultivating the creation
to the end that all people and all things may
joyfully acknowledge and serve
their Creator and true King.

We have enjoyed fabulous fellowship on a number of different college campuses since the release of the first edition of this book. Both of us have had the opportunity to visit with students, staff, and faculty at many colleges and universities, and we connected with students from all over the place at the Coalition for Christian Outreach’s annual Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. Most of the students whom we’ve talked with are Christian students, and here is what we’ve been noticing:

1. While church involvement does not appear to be a high priority, these students do gather to sing, worship, and learn about their faith in other venues. Many have no strong commitment to a particular Christian tradition but rather are “generically” Christian and are earnest about their faith.

2. Few of these students have been discipled in any vigorous or consistent way. Their youth groups were lots of fun but without much substance. The vast majority of these students have not read a substantive book about Jesus, theology, or the Christian life in the past year, if at all. Nevertheless, many of these students yearn to go deeper, if only they could find a mentor (one of their favorite words) who would help them.

3. Almost none of the students that we’ve encountered can articulate a clear connection between their faith and their academic discipline, unless of course the student is a Bible or ministry major, and they are pursuing that calling precisely because they discern the obvious connection.

4. Most of the students whom we’ve talked to don’t just want to get a job to get by. They want to find meaningful work, ideally work that will enable them to connect their faith to their investment in their jobs.

 

We could add a few more observations to our list, but this is a good start. And we think this short list helps to explain why students have responded with curiosity and hope when we have presented the brief motto or mission for the Christian student above. Students are unfamiliar with church creeds, but having some kind of statement is appealing to them. They haven’t read much theology, but this sounds biblical and comprehensive and world-engaging. They can’t articulate the link between faith and field, but they sense that that is exactly what they need to do in order to integrate their often fragmented lives. These students want to live with purpose, and they know that the purpose has to be big and that it has to be pursued for the well-being of others.

We encourage you to begin to frame your life as a student according to the themes of this motto—creation, fall, redemption, image of God, responsibility, healing, culture—so that you will be equipped to frame your entire lives by these themes. It won’t make your life easy, but it will make it rich and challenging and ultimately fulfilling. We think that is what students are really looking for.

—————————————————————

Donald Opitz (PhD, Boston University) is professor of sociology and higher education at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where he also directs the Geneva Master of Arts in Higher Education program. He is the author of numerous articles and has worked as a pastor as well as a campus minister.

Derek Melleby (MA, Geneva College) is the director of the College Transition Initiative for the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. He is also an associate staff member of the Coalition for Christian Outreach and has worked with students in a variety of settings. He lives in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

For more information on Learning for the Love of God, click here.

Behind the Book: Craig Detweiler on iGods

Today Craig Detweiler shares why he wrote iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives.

It probably started at the trendy Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. Ten years ago, I sat across a producer who had invited me to lunch. And yet he spent the entire lunchtime sending and receiving text messages. I didn’t understand how he could be so completely outside of his surroundings, lost in the electronic ether. Clearly, I needed to catch up with this strange, new out-of-body experience known as texting.

Four years ago, I was struck by my students’ inability to resist the call of Facebook. They couldn’t get through a two-hour class session without updating their status and checking for new friends. Why would a mass communication professor have to banish computers and cell phones from his classroom?

Last summer, I watched my children wander around our house carrying iPads. They never turned on the television. They simply streamed whatever they wanted on Netflix, from old episodes of Drake and Josh to every season of How I Met Your Mother. The TV set had gone mobile, untethered from a particular time and place. Yet the convenience that accompanied boundless programming also led to some addictive behaviors and far more consumption than traditional TV.

In each instance, technology was altering human behavior, pulling us into new ways of relating to our world and one other.

If a smartphone or software could change the dynamics in a friendship, a classroom, or a home, then how might technology alter our relationship with God? I began my research for iGods on a quest for a deeper understanding of where technology springs from and how people of faith and conscience should respond to new breakthroughs. I’d grown so accustomed to upgrading to new operating systems that I never bothered to question how the quest for faster and more efficient programs might be altering my values. Was I born to be an information processor? I needed to think more consciously about where technology is taking us.

What did I discover, and what surprised me? For centuries, the Christian community was at the forefront of technological innovation. The mechanical clock, pews, stained glass, and organ were once new technologies. They altered our religious practices and crossed into much broader use. Yet when I look at the current leaders in technological innovation, I don’t see the Christian community dominating Silicon Valley. Churches may have adopted electronic instruments, projectors, and PowerPoint, but they do not own the companies that create these tools. In a race to catch up, we often employ new technologies without considering their full implications.

While we may not find computers or cell phones in Scripture, we can see that God exerted considerable will in bringing chaotic elements under control. The primeval prologue in Genesis documents how a creative God ordered and organized the universe. When Adam and Eve’s hunger for knowledge drove them out of the Garden, God responded with clothes and tools as a consolation. Technology like an ark preserved biodiversity amid the flood, but platform-building at Babel revealed the height of human hubris. Sometimes God encourages technology; at other times the Lord frustrates it.

As I started raising these issues with friends and colleagues, I was told that Jesus was more than a carpenter; he was a tekton. Could the Greek word for carpenter be translated as handyman, architect, maybe even engineer? In our contemporary era, would we call Jesus a geek? Would we find him amid the techies, solving problems, making others look and sound good? Maybe I needed to catch up with what God was doing in the world through technology.

I decided to study the “iGods” of our age—Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram—to figure out what made their contributions so valuable. Why do we view their services as so useful? What have they done for us to earn such unprecedented riches? They help us deal with the newfound challenge of too much—too many books, too many songs, too much information, too many relationships to keep track of. We’ve been trained to think about our economy in terms of scarcity. But the iGods got rich by helping us manage our abundance. Perhaps the idea of abundance is a place for us to start. I’m not advocating a prosperity gospel that falsely suggests God helps those who help themselves, that connects wealth to God’s favor. I’m suggesting that the social media moment allows us to connect with more corners of the world than ever before, to make microloans through kiva.com, to redistribute resources in swift and essential ways. Perhaps a theology of technology begins with a theology of abundance.

—————————————————————

Craig Detweiler (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is an author, award-winning filmmaker, and cultural commentator who has been featured in the New York Times, on CNN, and on NPR. He is professor of communication and director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Detweiler is the author of Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century, coauthor of A Matrix of Meanings, and editor of Halos and Avatars.

For more information on iGods, click here.

Behind the Book: Devin Brown on A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis

Today Devin Brown shares why he wrote A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis.

There have been a number of good biographies written about C. S. Lewis. The first one was released in 1974, eleven years after Lewis’s death, by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, who knew Lewis personally. Then in 1988, George Sayer, who had been Lewis’s pupil and later his close friend, published Jack. In 2005, Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson and a producer of the Narnia films, gave us Jack’s Life, and Alan Jacobs gave us The Narnian. And there have been others.

So a normal reaction to my recent offering, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis, might be: Why another biography of Lewis?

In A Life Observed, a title intended to echo Lewis’s A Grief Observed, I take a somewhat different tack. Previous biographies about Lewis have been more or less comprehensive in the sense that they tell a little bit about everything. For example, readers might learn who Lewis’s great grandfather was and when and where he lived.

My approach was more focused. I put Lewis’s spiritual journey—both the steps that led to his conversion and the steps he took afterward—at the center. This allowed me to go into more depth in describing his search for the object of the mysterious longing he felt, a feeling he called “Joy,” and in tracing his growth in the years after he became a Christian.

I am also one of the few biographers who makes a living as an English professor, as did Lewis—which means that I have been trained to think and read in the same way that he did. For example, in A Life Observed, I discuss the importance of the epigrams which Lewis uses in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Readers might be amazed to discover all that Lewis packed into them.

English teachers always tell their students write what you know. Lewis was able to provide such penetrating portraits of temptation and redemption because he himself had been greatly tempted and greatly redeemed. I try to connect aspects from Lewis’s fictional accounts of faith with his own journey.

Another aspect of A Life Observed that is different from most other biographies is what might be called authorial stance. Some Lewis biographers have wanted to seem very objective and have been almost scientific in their approach. Though they clearly appreciated and admired Lewis, they did not want to seem biased. In order to do this, they always kept Lewis at arm’s length and never became personally involved in the story they were telling. For some of them, it seems to me, this meant going a bit overboard to make sure they pointed out every real or imagined flaw he may have had.

I hope I never went overboard in the other direction, but rather than keeping Lewis at arm’s length, I fully embraced him and tried to bring his amazing story to life with all the excitement it warrants.

Readers of A Life Observed will find that hardly a page goes by where I do not quote from Lewis directly—from his letters, diary, autobiographical works, apologetics, or fiction. My goal was to allow him to tell his own story whenever possible. Not every biographer of Lewis has tried to do this. A number have intentionally imposed their own agenda on his story and have reinterpreted his life to fit their needs.

Finally, Lewis’s story is the story of a man who wandered, struggled, and was lost for many years but in the end was found and made his way on the right path. In this sense it is biographical. It is also a universal story, because a loving Father in heaven pursues each of us and will not stop until each lost one has been found. In this sense, I hope that A Life Observed will be inspiring and uplifting and will point readers to Christ, for surely this was Lewis’s own goal.

—————————————————————

Devin Brown (PhD, University of South Carolina) is a Lilly scholar and professor of English at Asbury University. A C. S. Lewis aficionado, Brown has written, taught, and lectured on Lewis extensively for more than ten years. He has authored a number of books related to Lewis, including Inside Narnia and Inside Prince Caspian, and lives in Kentucky. In 2008 Brown was invited to serve as scholar-in-residence at the Kilns, Lewis’s home in Oxford.

For more information on A Life Observed, click here.

Behind the Book: Thomas Jay Oord on Defining Love

Today Thomas Jay Oord shares why he wrote Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement.

For the past decade or more, I have been thinking about the love, science, and theology interface. The questions about how these three major domains of inquiry might relate to one another are complex, and these questions require complex but understandable answers.

One of the central issues in this kind of interdisciplinary love research is how one defines love itself. Many go about assuming they know what love is. But most people—including scholars—have not done the careful work of composing a love definition.

To some people, the idea of defining is sheer foolishness. Love escapes any defining, they say. Pressing them to identify how they know which actions are loving and which are not, however, reveals quickly that they do adopt some definition of love. These adopted definitions are often tacit, intuitive, or largely unconscious.

Part of the love scholar’s task is to make explicit and conceptually coherent love assumptions that may currently remain implicit and incoherent. In my book Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement, I explore various facets of love in various disciplines. I do the work of making the implicit explicit and the incoherent coherent.

Perhaps the most important contribution of the book is my proposed love definition. I define love in this way:

To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being.

I explore each phrase of my proposed definition in the book. When it comes down to the basics, love has three essential elements:

(1) intent/motives
(2) relationality/embodiment/environment
(3) consequences/outcomes

Defining Love begins with philosophy and asks various questions about these three elements. Along the way, the book addresses forms of love such as agape, eros, and philia.

The heart of the book explores recent research and theory in science. I focus on the social sciences in one chapter, the biological sciences in another, and cosmology in a third.

I have had the great privilege of having access to some of the most influential scientists of our time. The chapters on science and love in the book draw from their work, some of which I heard them present personally, others which they detail in their published works.

Readers likely will be surprised at the vast amount of research and theory pertaining to love, altruism, well-being, prosocial behavior, agape, benevolence, and related issues in science. Reviewers and readers often report being unaware of so much interesting research being done on these subjects.

Defining Love concludes with a chapter exploring God’s love. It quickly surveys the general approaches to how science and theology might most effectively relate. Rejected are the views that say or imply that theology always trumps science or science always trumps theology.

One of the more creative proposals in this final chapter emerges from the theological issue most worrisome to those who believe God loves perfectly: the problem of evil. I call my response to the problem of evil “essential kenosis.”

Essential kenosis says God acts as a loving causal agent in every agent or event. But God never entirely determines anyone or anything. To put it another way, God never totally controls others. Because of this love-grounded power, God should not be thought the cause of evil nor be thought culpable of failing to prevent it.

Essential kenosis does say, however, that God’s love varies. God’s persuasive influence oscillates as creatures respond appropriately or inappropriately. And God expresses diverse forms of love. Divine love is not an amorphous “steady state” or “blind force,” because God is personal.

Some reviewers of Defining Love have praised the general structure and substance of the book. But many theologically informed readers find the final chapter too brief.

Anticipating this, I published simultaneous with Defining Love a thoroughly theological exploration of love called The Nature of Love. In it, I wrestle with classic love theologians like Augustine and Anders Nygren. And I propose a series of ideas pertaining to essential kenosis that should satisfy readers of Defining Love who had hoped for more theological reflection.

My hope is that Defining Love becomes a tool for both academics and laity as they wrestle with love’s meaning and expression in the world. The research will likely surprise many. And I trust that my own proposals will prove fruitful in the ongoing work to gain a better understanding of God and creation.

To read more about love, science, and theology, I invite you to visit my blog, www.thomasjayoord.com.

—————————

Thomas Jay Oord (PhD, Claremont Graduate University) is professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and is ordained in the Church of the Nazarene. He is the author of Science of Love and the editor of The Altruism Reader.

For more information on Defining Love, click here.

Behind the Book: Joseph L. Mangina on Revelation

Today Joseph L. Mangina shares why he wrote Revelation in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series.

—————————————————————

“‘Write What You See in a Book’: How I Came to Write a Commentary on Revelation” by Joseph L. Mangina

I never intended to become a biblical scholar. When I received my doctorate in 1994, I expected to teach and write systematic theology and not engage in “exegesis”; exegesis was what the folks in the biblical department did. And this was at Yale, a supposed bastion of “postcritical” interpretation of Scripture.

Here’s how my plans changed. I was on sabbatical at the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) in 2002, facing a blank computer screen and a dearth of ideas. The project I was working on was going nowhere fast. So I dropped into Robert Jenson’s office one day to ask his advice; “Jens” was the chief theological advisor at CTI in those days.

After offering sympathy on the writer’s block, he said, “You keep going on about church practices—tell me a specific church practice you’d like to write about.”

“The Eucharist,” I said, without thinking very much about it. He went on, “Now name a biblical book.” To this day I don’t know why, but I instantly responded, “The book of Revelation.

“All right,” Jens said. “Now all you have to do is write a paper on the Eucharist in Revelation.”

That became the paper I wrote and presented to my CTI colleagues that term. I discovered there was a surprising amount to write about, given the prevalence of liturgical and eucharistic imagery in the Apocalypse. This was fun, I thought. Before my term at CTI was over I had parlayed the paper into a full-fledged proposal for a book, not on simply the Eucharist but on the Church in the Apocalypse. I sent it to Rodney Clapp, who signed me up for a contract with Brazos. The book was to be called Followers of the Lamb, the title of a rousing nineteenth-century Shaker hymn.

But it was not to be. A curious thing happened as I worked on that book. When I approached the topic of the church in Revelation in a purely conceptual way, the material died in my hands; I was using Scripture rather than reading it. It was far more satisfying when I simply sat with the text, reading it—or, appropriately for Revelation, listening to it—chapter by chapter, verse by verse.

Then one day Ephraim Radner dropped by my office and mentioned that Rusty Reno was looking for someone to write on Revelation for the Brazos series. I offered the feeble excuse that “I don’t know how to write a commentary.” This lasted about a day and a half, as the realization sank in that I was already writing the commentary. Then I signed up.

As it turns out, probably none of us who have written Brazos commentaries knew in advance quite what we were doing. Everyone has come up with their own solution to the problem. If the series has done nothing else, it has helped to pose the fundamental questions, what is Holy Scripture, and what does it mean for us to interpret it?

Before sitting down to write, I sought advice and counsel from various quarters. Perhaps the most helpful advice was a passing remark by Telford Work (he probably doesn’t remember saying this). Telford was answering the criticism that theological commentary isn’t real exegesis, since it adds things that aren’t really there in the text of Scripture. His answer, as I recall, was something like, “Of course it’s not in the text. It’s a commentary; it’s what we say in response to what we hear in Scripture.” And this, of course, is true whether one is writing a standard historical-critical commentary—whatever that might be!—or a theological commentary à la Brazos, or for that matter any of the commentaries, sermons, and marginal notes on Scripture throughout the tradition.

I found Telford’s remark liberating. Of course, like all freedom under the gospel, the freedom of the Christian commentator has to take shape as obedience. Even if the words were my words, these were answerable to the Word of God in Holy Scripture. I couldn’t just say anything I like—couldn’t just “make it up,” as the saying goes.

The critics of theological interpretation of Scripture are right that eisegesis, like sin, is always lurking at the door. They are wrong if they imagine that there is a method that will save us by guaranteeing fidelity to was in der Schrift steht (“what stands in Scripture”).

For myself, I was genuinely grateful for the labors of modern Revelation scholars like Henry Swete, Paul Minear, G. B. Caird, Richard Bauckham, Christopher Rowland, Leonard Thompson, David Barr, Eugene Boring, and Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, along with many others.

I will cheerfully admit to being an absolute junkie for historical information. I was happy to be instructed on the “year of three emperors” (AD 69), the rumors of Nero’s return (Rev. 13:3?), and the location—so archaeologists tell us—of the famously lukewarm church of Laodicea halfway between a hot and a cold spring (Rev. 3:16).

The commentators I gravitated toward, however, were the ones who were able to use this information to explicate the theme or subject matter of Revelation, its urgent message, which is….

But why should I tell you everything in the first blog post? In my next posting, I will talk about some common misconceptions concerning the Apocalypse—“seven things Revelation isn’t”—before going on to discuss some of the things it is.

—————————————————————

Joseph L. Mangina  (PhD, Yale University) is professor of systematic theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. He is the editor of Pro Ecclesia, serves on the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue commission for Canada, and is the author of two books on the thought of Karl Barth.

For more information on Revelation, click here.

Behind the Book: Phillip Cary on Good News for Anxious Christians

Today Phillip Cary shares why he wrote Good News for Anxious Christians.

Good News for Anxious Christians

The subtitle of Good News for Anxious Christians tells much of the story. It was almost 10 Practical Ideas You Don’t Have to Apply to Your Life, except that subtitle got a little too long to fit on the cover.

I’m not a fan of practical ideas—the kind you’re supposed to apply to your life. Especially when someone’s preaching them at you, because then you’re supposed to feel there’s something wrong with you if you’re not applying those ideas to your life.

That’s how you get a lot of anxious Christians who wonder what’s wrong with them. Why am I not hearing God speak in my heart? Why can’t I seem to find God’s will for my life? Why am I not experiencing inner joy all the time?

The good news is that these “practical ideas” are not in the Bible, so we don’t have to worry about whether we’re applying them to our lives. In that regard I’m all for sola scriptura, the Reformation principle of “Scripture alone.”

Phillip Cary

As the Reformers emphasized, what we get in the Bible is law and gospel. The law of God is not practical advice but commandments, which show us the way to live worthwhile lives. And the gospel, thank God, does not tell us what to do but gives us Jesus Christ himself. The result is that we get not only salvation in Christ but also the strength to live according to God’s law.

In other words, I want to recover the old Protestant piety of the Word of God, which I think evangelicals are in danger of losing as they drown in practical ideas that make them anxious. If we want transformed lives, all the practical advice in the world is no help. What we need to hear is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For it is what Christ does, not what we do, that makes all the difference. And it is precisely that gospel truth which frees us to do everything differently, with love and comfort and joy instead of anxiety.

—————————

Phillip Cary (PhD, Yale University) is professor of philosophy at Eastern University in Pennsylvania as well as scholar-in-residence at the Templeton Honors College. He is the author of Jonah in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and of three critically acclaimed books on the life and thought of Augustine.

For more information on Good News for Anxious Christians, click here.

Behind the Book: Bryan Litfin on Getting to Know the Church Fathers

Today Bryan M. Litfin shares why he wrote Getting to Know the Church Fathers.

When someone asks me what I do for a living, and I say I’m a professor whose academic expertise is the early church fathers, I often receive a blank stare. Christians today rarely have any idea of who the early church fathers might be. If this is true in your case, I believe you are missing something valuable. To illustrate what I mean, let me tell you a story about a boy I call Billy.

Getting to Know the Church Fathers

Little Billy loved his grandmother very much. His childhood years were filled with visits to her house after school or on Sunday afternoons. If while playing in the yard Billy happened to fall and scrape a knee, Grandma was there with some old-fashioned concoction to tend his wound (though in truth her comforting words accomplished far more as a remedy). Billy simply loved going to his grandma’s house. She always lavished care and concern on him, giving her undivided attention to whatever he might be interested in at the moment.

But when he became a teenager, Billy’s visits to Grandma’s house became less frequent. He had a driver’s license now, and his schedule was filled with sports and activities. Eventually his visits to Grandma’s house were only at Christmas, if at all. Soon the young adult named Bill had a demanding career, a family, and a life of his own.

And so it was that Grandma’s death came as something of a shock to Bill. The responsibility fell to him to dispose of her possessions and sell her house. Bill began to reflect in new ways about his grandmother and his family line. “Who was this woman?” he wondered. “Where did she come from? What people and values shaped her world?” It dawned on Bill that while she had shown great interest in every minor preoccupation of his life, he had never really known her as a person. Bill began to regret that in a profound way.

One day he was cleaning out his grandmother’s attic. His eyes fell on a large object in the corner: a cedar hope chest of the kind that, back in the old days, women received when they were married. Bill opened it with hushed expectation, like a pirate discovering long-lost treasure in the stories Grandma used to tell.

The chest was indeed filled with treasure but not the kind made of silver and gold. Bill first picked up an old baseball glove, which smelled richly of leather and oil. It had his long-deceased grandfather’s name handwritten on it. Next he examined a necklace with a finely crafted ivory locket hanging from the chain. Inside were two small pictures of Grandma and Grandpa. On the back the locket was engraved with the words, “Until I return.” But Grandpa had not returned from the war. A photo album of black-and-white pictures, now yellowed with age, told the full story of their lives—all the joys and sorrows, the light moments and memorable occasions, of lives lived in the real world.

At the bottom of the hope chest was a leather-bound family Bible inscribed with Grandma’s name. As Bill flipped the delicate pages, he discovered marginal notes and scraps of paper brimming with his grandmother’s prayers, wise observations, and private spiritual longings. Moisture gathered in Bill’s eyes as he remembered how she had offered him some of these same Christian observations—but only rarely, for Bill had typically been disinterested in such matters and quick to run off to the next game or activity. As he sat on his knees in front of the old hope chest, Bill berated himself, asking, “Why didn’t I take the time to explore this legacy when I had a chance?”

It is all too easy to let the past be crowded out by the urgencies of the present and the opportunities of the future. This is certainly true when it comes to the ancient church. We know there were famous Christians who lived “back then,” but we can’t quite put a finger on who they were or what they did. Something about the Romans and the lions and all that, right?

Yet despite our indifference to their world, we are inextricably bound to the church fathers. They are our spiritual ancestors, for better or worse. It is easy to go through life like Bill: vaguely aware of the past, yet too busy with present responsibilities to think about something as intangible as heritage. Yet, like Bill, we are missing real treasures if we do not explore our spiritual origins.

I wrote Getting to Know the Church Fathers to introduce modern people to the ancient Christians. If you lift the lid of the hope chest and take a peek inside, you won’t be disappointed by what you find inside.

—————————

Bryan M. Litfin (PhD, University of Virginia) is associate professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute.

For more information on Getting to Know the Church Fathers, click here.

Best of The Brazos Blog – Behind the Book

It is the one year anniversary of The Brazos Blog! To celebrate we are posting the best of the blog – along with a variety of giveaways (we will have one per day – see below).

Monday we highlighted our Between the Lines posts - featuring an interview w/ Miroslav Volf.
Yesterday we featured the various videos that have appeared on our blog – highlighting those with Lee C. Camp.

Today wish with to feature our Behind the Book posts.

Over the past year we have posted numerous original blog entries from Brazos authors that share the stories of the inspiration and background for their books. Authors who have shared Behind the Book posts include Daniel Taylor, Arthur Boers, and Elaine Heath.

In January of this year Peter Enns wrote a piece for The Brazos Blog titled “Why I Wrote The Evolution of Adam“. Here it is:

———————————————–

“Why I Wrote The Evolution of Adam” by Peter Enns

Many Christians are looking for ways to think clearly, deliberately, and differently about evolution and the Bible. There are several angles one can take to talk about this (e.g., theological, philosophical), and they all come into play. But I feel the most pressing issue Christians face is the hermeneutical one: if evolution is true, what do I do about what the Bible says about Adam and Eve?

I know many Christians who understand the scientific issues and are convinced that evolution explains human origins. They are looking for ways to read the Adam story differently. Many more—at least this is my experience—are open to the discussion, but are not ready simply to pull the trigger on evolution. They first need to see for themselves that the Adam story can be read with respect and reverence but without needing to read it as a literal account of human origins. Both groups are thinking hermeneutically, though they approach the issue from different sides.

So, as a biblical scholar who has always been keenly interested in the interface of ancient faith and contemporary life, I thought I would paint a bull’s-eye on my back and write a book trying to do just that.

I never really gave the topic of evolution any serious thought until 2009. I had just read Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin and I was struck by how helpful it was, but also how much more convincing his arguments could be if they were in conversation of biblical scholarship and hermeneutical issues. He and I began corresponding, which eventually lead to my working at The BioLogos Foundation—first under Giberson and then under the current president Darrel Falk.

As I got deeper into the issue and began reading widely, I could see that, despite the many tremendous books out there on science and faith, few, if any, books were taking on the hermeneutical issues surrounding evolution—they weren’t dealing head on with the question, “How specifically do I read Genesis and Paul now that you’ve convinced me that evolution is true and that science and faith can live in harmony?”  In other words, the uneasy, awkward, piecemeal approach sometimes seen when Christians (especially evangelicals) talk about evolution stems from a failure to have an overt hermeneutical strategy for handling the Bible.

From the vantage point of academic biblical scholarship, I felt that such a strategy was sitting there all along, waiting patiently for someone to name it: read the Bible in historical context and see for yourself that the Bible is not remotely set up to contribute to any modern scientific discussions, including evolution.

This conclusion is, I feel, obvious: the pink elephant, 500-pound gorilla, and emperor with no clothes all rolled into one. And one needs no secret academic decoder ring to see it. A simple Google search will quickly yield a lot of information. We know enough today about the religious traditions of the ancient Mesopotamian world, of which Genesis was a part, to know that Genesis was produced by storytellers, not historians, anthropologists, or biologists. Ancient Israelites produced the story of Adam and Eve, and however you think of God’s role in inspiring these storytellers, the ancient Near Eastern-ness of it all must be kept front and center.

Likewise, astute readers of Paul in his historical context see clearly that he, like others of his time, felt quite free to appropriate and adapt creatively his scriptural tradition (our Old Testament) to serve his rhetorical and theological purposes. This is precisely what Paul does with Adam. Here too—however we might explain Paul’s being moved by God’s spirit—we must remember that the Paul that was so moved was a first century Jew who thought like a first century Jew, not a western evangelical.

As I see it, these observations about Genesis and Paul cannot be sidelined but must be brought front and center into the hermeneutical discussion over evolution. I say this for two reasons. First, these observations are hardly idiosyncratic or resting on thin ice, but are well-documented staples of biblical studies. Any discussion of the Bible and evolution that ignores or minimizes these factors in favor of defending familiar theological categories should be given no quarter. Second, these observations are well positioned to help provide the “theological vocabulary” for many Christians to begin their own hermeneutical journey of reading Genesis and Paul responsibly.

Of course, there is a downside to this type of discussion. Many readers seeking alternate ways forward experience tremendous cognitive dissonance and social pressure, for they are part of ecclesiastical communions that historically have not looked kindly at the kind of hermeneutical synthesis the evolution/Bible discussion requires. In fact, not to overstate, but there are theological and ecclesiastical bodies that have a vested interest in seeing to it that these conversations don’t happen.

I do not take the fact lightly, but I do think that a self-preservationist mindset is wrong, and, ironically, self-defeating in the long run.

———————————————–

Name One Thing That Gives You Life

Today we kick off a two-week feature on Arthur Boer’s Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters In An Age of Distractions over at Patheos.com in their Book Club Section.

At Patheos you can find an excerpt from the book, author Q&A, and more.

Start by checking out this original article by Boers on “Life-Giving Practices: Identifying What Matters Most.”

Intrigued? Then think about what gives you life, and submit your thoughts (300 to 500 words) to Patheos (books@patheos.com) for possible inclusion on Patheos in their roundtable discussion on this book (and for a chance to get a free book).

 

Behind the Book: Peter Enns’s The Evolution of Adam

Today begins the week-long blog tour for Peter Enns’s new Brazos book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. Check back all week as we will be updating as various bloggers review and engage with this important book.

To kick-off the tour, we asked Peter Enns to write a brief post for us on how the book came about.  Here is his reply:

—————————————————————

“Why I Wrote The Evolution of Adam” by Peter Enns

Many Christians are looking for ways to think clearly, deliberately, and differently about evolution and the Bible. There are several angles one can take to talk about this (e.g., theological, philosophical), and they all come into play. But I feel the most pressing issue Christians face is the hermeneutical one: if evolution is true, what do I do about what the Bible says about Adam and Eve?

I know many Christians who understand the scientific issues and are convinced that evolution explains human origins. They are looking for ways to read the Adam story differently. Many more—at least this is my experience—are open to the discussion, but are not ready simply to pull the trigger on evolution. They first need to see for themselves that the Adam story can be read with respect and reverence but without needing to read it as a literal account of human origins. Both groups are thinking hermeneutically, though they approach the issue from different sides.

So, as a biblical scholar who has always been keenly interested in the interface of ancient faith and contemporary life, I thought I would paint a bull’s-eye on my back and write a book trying to do just that.

I never really gave the topic of evolution any serious thought until 2009. I had just read Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin and I was struck by how helpful it was, but also how much more convincing his arguments could be if they were in conversation of biblical scholarship and hermeneutical issues. He and I began corresponding, which eventually lead to my working at The BioLogos Foundation—first under Giberson and then under the current president Darrel Falk.

As I got deeper into the issue and began reading widely, I could see that, despite the many tremendous books out there on science and faith, few, if any, books were taking on the hermeneutical issues surrounding evolution—they weren’t dealing head on with the question, “How specifically do I read Genesis and Paul now that you’ve convinced me that evolution is true and that science and faith can live in harmony?”  In other words, the uneasy, awkward, piecemeal approach sometimes seen when Christians (especially evangelicals) talk about evolution stems from a failure to have an overt hermeneutical strategy for handling the Bible.

From the vantage point of academic biblical scholarship, I felt that such a strategy was sitting there all along, waiting patiently for someone to name it: read the Bible in historical context and see for yourself that the Bible is not remotely set up to contribute to any modern scientific discussions, including evolution.

This conclusion is, I feel, obvious: the pink elephant, 500-pound gorilla, and emperor with no clothes all rolled into one. And one needs no secret academic decoder ring to see it. A simple Google search will quickly yield a lot of information. We know enough today about the religious traditions of the ancient Mesopotamian world, of which Genesis was a part, to know that Genesis was produced by storytellers, not historians, anthropologists, or biologists. Ancient Israelites produced the story of Adam and Eve, and however you think of God’s role in inspiring these storytellers, the ancient Near Eastern-ness of it all must be kept front and center.

Likewise, astute readers of Paul in his historical context see clearly that he, like others of his time, felt quite free to appropriate and adapt creatively his scriptural tradition (our Old Testament) to serve his rhetorical and theological purposes. This is precisely what Paul does with Adam. Here too—however we might explain Paul’s being moved by God’s spirit—we must remember that the Paul that was so moved was a first century Jew who thought like a first century Jew, not a western evangelical.

As I see it, these observations about Genesis and Paul cannot be sidelined but must be brought front and center into the hermeneutical discussion over evolution. I say this for two reasons. First, these observations are hardly idiosyncratic or resting on thin ice, but are well-documented staples of biblical studies. Any discussion of the Bible and evolution that ignores or minimizes these factors in favor of defending familiar theological categories should be given no quarter. Second, these observations are well positioned to help provide the “theological vocabulary” for many Christians to begin their own hermeneutical journey of reading Genesis and Paul responsibly.

Of course, there is a downside to this type of discussion. Many readers seeking alternate ways forward experience tremendous cognitive dissonance and social pressure, for they are part of ecclesiastical communions that historically have not looked kindly at the kind of hermeneutical synthesis the evolution/Bible discussion requires. In fact, not to overstate, but there are theological and ecclesiastical bodies that have a vested interest in seeing to it that these conversations don’t happen.

I do not take the fact lightly, but I do think that a self-preservationist mindset is wrong, and, ironically, self-defeating in the long run.

———————————————————————–

Peter Enns (PhD, Harvard University) teaches biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.  He has taught at several schools, including Princeton Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, Temple University, and Westminster Theological Seminary. Enns has authored or edited numerous books, including Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.