Written by Justin Gohl Tuesday, 29 November 2011 00:00

A central tension in Scripture, and thus a tension that has existed in the Church’s theological reflection from the beginning, is the negotiation between God’s nearness to the world, God’s filling of the world, and yet God’s otherness, God’s above-and-beyond-ness with respect to the world. In short: God’s simultaneous immanence and transcendence.

When we think about it, this really is the central “problem” that our theological discourse must wrestle with: God is near, with, and in us, and yet God is totally other than us and beyond us. So on the one hand, we are compelled to speak about this God who reveals himself (through human speech no less!) and who we experience and see at work in every dimension of our lives and reality, yet on the other hand we realize that our speech (and living) simply points to the transcendent and irreducible reality of the personal God we worship, with no hope of “capturing” that reality.

While we can’t wade into the question in any depth, both modernity and postmodernity, at least in certain sectors, represent answers to this “problem” that unacceptably collapse this tension in one direction or the other. We end up with either a God who is so transcendent as to be nearly unrelational, or we end up with a God who is so collapsed into our human horizon that God becomes a function of our construction rather than his self-revelation. As evangelicals have grown increasingly aware of these problems, evangelicals have also begun to look behind the modern/postmodern discussion to the wealth of resources and wisdom that exist in the Church’s tradition, such as the Church Fathers.

What we find in the Church Fathers is a “sacramental worldview” that affirms the very (biblical) tension we have spoken of, but yet sets it within an understanding of God’s relationship to the world in which the tension functions redemptively. Because God, through his Son and Spirit, fills all things (Jer 23.23-24; Psalm 139.7-12; Acts 17.27-28; Eph 1.23; 4.9-10; Col 1.17), creation, humans, our experiences, our languages, our cultures are never just “things” or “objects.” All of reality can function, by God’s grace, as a pointer to God and as a means, a medium, by which the triune God makes himself present to us, in revelatory and transformative ways.

And knowing this is central to participating in God’s mission in and to the world. As we go out into the world (in which we ourselves live), we encounter people who, though broken and sinful just we ourselves were and still are in some measure, have inherent value and a capacity to know God as creatures living, moving, and existing in God, whether they know it or not. Our mission is to meet them where they’re at, to realign their desires, their experiences, and categories of understanding through the gospel such that they can now function as pointers to the truth of the God who fills all things, the God who is revealed concretely in Jesus and the Spirit-empowered life of Christ’s body, the Church.

Our missional work, then, must walk a fine line between negation and affirmation. On the one hand, the gospel as the disclosure of God and reality will destroy all false gods, all false gospels, and their claims on us. Yet, on the other hand, our missional vocation is medicinal, offering the cure of the gospel that begins to kill the disease of death and sin and thus liberates the patient—an image-bearing human—to participate more fully in the Divine Image himself (2 Cor 4.4; Col 1.15). Certainly, this vocation requires tremendous humility and wisdom which can only from God as well.

What do you think? How do we negotiate these tensions, of God’s nearness and God’s otherness, of the gospel as affirmation/cure and as the gospel as destructive agent? Where do we turn for wisdom in discerning these matters?

Justin Gohl is an adjunct professor of theology at Biblical. He is married to Kate, his wife of 7 years, and is a full-time stay-at-home dad with two kids, Caleb (2) and Phoebe (1). He is ABD at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where he is in the latter stages of writing his dissertation on the early church’s use of the Book of Proverbs. 


Written by Mrs. Susan Disston Monday, 28 November 2011 11:22

For fifteen minutes on Monday in the Seminary’s chapel a group of faculty and staff gathers to dwell together in the presence of God. Whoever happens to be on campus comes from desk and chair, lists of things to do, and deadlines. Someone comes prepared with an order of worship. We start with reading a prayer in unison. Then we take turns in antiphonal readings of Scripture, followed by a brief commentary or homily selected from the spectrum of Christian tradition. The chapel is softly lit. We sit in a circle that widens to welcome newcomers and latecomers. We forgo music in favor of an atmosphere of quiet rest. It all concludes with prayer, with a time of greeting and caring for each other, and a quiet exit back to the day’s work.

Norman Wirzba in his new book, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (Cambridge University Press: 2011), wrote, “The issue is not whether we will live in a place, but how.” These fifteen minutes on Monday are a way that we at Biblical answer the question: In this place, how do we do our work together? In a culture that makes it possible to “be in a place and not know where we are or how to be there,” as Wirzba put it, we want to be people who know where we are, who we work with, and how to experience the presence of God together.

On a recent Monday we prayed in unison, “Almighty and eternal God, draw our hearts to you, guide our minds to you, and fill our imaginations with you – so that we may be wholly yours and entirely dedicated to you. Amen. On a coming Monday we’ll gather together again and pray a similar prayer in unison. In a quiet way, these fifteen minutes on Monday are formational for how we then go about our work in this place.

Susan Disston is Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment and Adjunct Professor of Theology at Biblical.  See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology



Written by Dr. Charles Zimmerman Wednesday, 23 November 2011 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now?  

I still cannot believe it but I am the longest tenured faculty member at Biblical.  It only seems like yesterday when I was the youngest faculty member, regularly mistaken for being a student (that never happens any more).  

I thought that for my blog entries, I would contact former faculty members and provide an update on what they have been doing since they left Biblical and how they spend their time these days. 

The first installment is Bob ("Doc") Newman because as expected he was the first to respond – within hours of my sending the email.  I had déjà vu of seeing the test results back in my mailbox before my next class ended. 

What years did you teach at Biblical? 

I was the youngest of the original faculty, so I began teaching in the fall of 1971.  I retired after the 2005-2006 school year, so thirty-five years in all. 

What have you been doing since then? 

At retirement, I moved in to the Charlottesville, Virginia area (North Garden, about 10 miles south).  I live in the in-law apartment in the home owned by my younger brother, Jim and his wife Anne. 

I joined Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Charlottesville, where there is a strong outreach to students, faculty, staff and internationals at the University of Virginia.  I have been doing some Sunday School teaching there, helping with the international ministry, doing occasional outside speaking, helping some study groups at the Center for Christian Study (just off the grounds of UVA), and recently doing some ELS teaching. 

I have done some international travel and speaking.  I took a six-week trip to the South Pacific (Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand) in the fall of 2006 and taught two short courses at Malaysia Bible College; a trip to Russia in 2007, trips to Western Europe and China in 2008, to Taiwan and the Ukraine in 2009, to Costa Rica in 2010, and to Western Europe in 2011 (where I taught a short course at Tyndale Seminary in Amsterdam). 

I have been pretty busy putting my talks into PowerPoint with synchronized audio narration in mp3; about 225 of which have been posted on our IBRI website  www.IBRI.org    We have been excited that this website is getting a lot of international traffic, especially from China, Australia and Russia. 

Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days

I have a lot of stories from the twenty-four years (1982-2006) that we had an unofficial dorm at Trinity House (my place at 115 S. Main Street, Hatfield).  One of our students nearly burnt the place down the first year trying to boil oil in a wok (he didn’t have a lot of cooking experience).  One meal we had a meatloaf made from Scrapple!  One resident (not a Biblical student) claimed he was one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11.  Another resident (he was a Biblical student) bilked some of our residents (including myself) out of about $750.  We had over one hundred different residents of Trinity House in its 24 years. 

Contact information: email, facebook, etc. 

E-MAIL: rcnewman@rcn.com; FACEBOOK: Robert Chapman Newman


Please add a funny or serious story that you have that includes “Doc.”

Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.  See alsohttp://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman



Written by Prof. Steve Taylor Tuesday, 22 November 2011 00:00

Note to the reader: This is the first in a series of blogs on reading the Bible as a biblical theological unity. I will be arguing that the most stable foundation for a biblical- theological use of the Bible is a missional hermeneutic shaped by “Christotelic” vision of God’s ways in the word and in the world. These terms and concepts will be further defined and other introduced in subsequent posts. But first an example:

In the Bible, perhaps the most concentrated expression of praise for the faithfulness of God can be found in Psalm 89. The psalm begins with these couplets:

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.  2I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

We are soon given to understand that the psalmist, though not himself of the royal line, is thinking primarily of God’s faithfulness to David and his descendants codified in the Davidic covenantal promises (vv. 3 ff.). The chorus of praise swells for some 34 verses before reaching its climax in vv. 35-37:

35Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.  36His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun. 37It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies."

And for good measure the psalmist adds the instruction, “Selah,” urging the listener to ponder the glorious point while the musicians modulate the key for last verse.

But then something goes horribly wrong and the true purpose of the psalmist is revealed:

38But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.  39You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.

Say what?! What happened to the unshakeable promises of the prior verses? You mean God isn’t faithful? And since the last verse of the psalm is simply the concluding benediction of the third book of the Psalter (compare the endings of the other books of the Psalter: 41:13, 76:18-20, 106:48, and all of Ps 150), the charge against God’s character goes unchallenged and unrebutted. Psalm 89 was a set up all along.

These observations go so much against the grain that the average evangelical reader must strain to see them. What should we do with this psalm? Should we: 1) Excise this psalm from the inspired canon? 2) Just read the first part and ignore the rest? 3) Argue that the psalm doesn’t teach what it says, but rather teaches that it is ok to be real with God in our disappointments? Or perhaps 4) maintain that this psalm doesn’t teach anything at all but is rather a piece of emotive literature meant to comfort emotional creatures like ourselves?  Or finally 5) insist that this psalm is only supposed to be read as inspired in close connection with the rest of the Psalter where its charge can be suitably qualified or contradicted.

While perceptive and honest, the first option is worthy of the heretic Marcion who happily assigned most of the Bible to the work of another god. The second is an example of what scholars call “atomistic reading” in which a text is chopped up into disconnected oracles, divine sound bites, which can then be used like any aphorism. The third and fourth options seem to involve some capricious and preemptive appeals to external standards of propriety in an effort to shield the psalmist from erroneous attitudes. These two options seem to miss the fact that the psalmist is not voicing a personal disappointment but is rather struggling with God’s apparent failure to keep major covenantal promises! The last option contains some real wisdom but doesn’t explain why others psalms should have more authority than this one. Moreover, a Christian might ask, should we expect the answer to the psalmist’s bitter complaint to be found in the Psalter?

Here’s a sixth option: God specifically ordained this unrebutted charge to be here along with other similar ones (see Psalm 44 and 88, e.g., not to mention the book of Job), so that he might later, in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, David’s greater son, prove the charge false. This option is the Christotelic* option.

The Christotelic option not only allows but demands an honest assessment of the message of the psalm as a function of the intention and state of mind of the human author. Yes, the psalm really does accuse God of unfaithfulness. It is only this stark fact that can properly serve the demands of a redemptive story in which God’s faithfulness is revealed ultimately and most completely in Jesus the Messiah. Jesus thus redeems this psalm for the Psalter. Is this reading strategy allowable? What do you think?

* The term is an adjective or adverb meaning “directed or tending toward God’s action in Christ (as the ultimate meaning, goal, or purpose).” Another, fuller example of a Christotelic treatment of a psalm is offered by Dr. Douglas Green, Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary: http://files.wts.edu/uploads/pdf/articles/psalm8-green.pdf.

Stephen Taylor is Associate Professor of New Testament. He is a missionary kid fascinated with the question of the relationship between culture and understanding the Bible. Steve is married to Terri, and together they have five kids. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/stephen-taylor .




Written by Dr. Bryan Maier Monday, 21 November 2011 00:00

Recently I had a good discussion with my internship class on the role and purpose of homework in counseling. What could be more straightforward than suggesting a client do something between sessions that might be helpful? However, as most tools in the counselor’s toolbox, there is an appropriate time and place for each one. I believe the same applies to the issue of homework. Here are three of the considerations we discussed.

First, a counselor needs to recognize where they believe the “magic” of counseling occurs. Does the real power come from the conversation and relationship between the client and the counselor? Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” so there seems to be at least some warrant for “magic” occurring during the counseling session. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is not limited to one scheduled fifty minute session. He can encourage and convict through a wide variety activities such as: reading Scripture and other books, completing workbooks, journaling and practicing spiritual disciplines just to name a few.

Second, if assigning of homework becomes a regular part of counseling, this tends to reinforce the power of the counselor and potentially diminish the power of the client. Many counselors are very comfortable working with this much power; others might not be.

And finally, if homework is assigned, it has to be “graded”. This is a lesson those of us in academics have had to learn the hard way. What if they have not done it? This happens frequently in counseling and can potentially shift the direction of counseling from the presenting problem to an issue of compliance. This is not a problem if there is no homework to grade in the first place. 

Bryan Maier, Psy. D.  is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. 


Written by Dan LaValla Thursday, 17 November 2011 00:00

Jesus’ priestly prayer (John 17) reveals that He considers unity vital to His mission. Here, Jesus prayed that there would be unity among His apostles (vs. 11) and all future believers (vs. 20), a unity like that shared between Jesus and His Father (vs.11& 21). Why is this so important that Jesus would pray for this on the night of His betrayal? How Christians live and act towards their brothers and sisters in Christ matters a great deal to the Church and the world. Such unity among Christians is required for them to live in unity with the Father and Son and gives testimony to the world that the Father sent Jesus, His Son (vs. 21). 

In light of so many Christian denominations and differences beyond the core beliefs (e.g., the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), it matters to God that we treat one another in a manner that honors and pleases Him. If God looks to us as sons and daughters through Christ, then it is important for Christians to sincerely see other Christians outside of their own traditions as brothers and sisters living in the same house. Remember that Jesus taught us that His Father’s house has many rooms (Jn 14:2) and a divided house or kingdom cannot stand (Mk 3:24-25). Further, we must recognize that sanctification is a gradual process where brothers and sisters grow in the faith and truth at different rates and like any household; members are living at different stages of growth. Therefore, we must be patient with one another and while we must not compromise our faith, it matters to God that Christians address their differences in His love, mercy and grace.

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla


Written by Dr. David Lamb Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:00

Does it ever seem like there are too many translations of the Bible?  My software program BibleWorks has over 40 English translations.  Since I teach Old Testament, people ask me which translation I prefer.  I like to say, “I love them all.”

In reality I use some translations more than others, often the more literal ones (NRSV, ESV, NAS), but I’m careful to speak graciously about all translations.  Although it’s tempting, I try not to criticize translations that I don’t use. 

Unfortunately, criticism sometimes characterizes how Christian denominations view other denominations.  One of the values of the Missional movement is a desire to value Christians of other faith traditions, which is sometimes called “Generous Orthodoxy.”  In the spirit of Generous Orthodoxy, I want to mention what I love about two translations that I don’t normally use, a very old one and a brand new one. 

The King James Version (KJV) is celebrating its 400 anniversary this year (1611).  The KJV is unique among English versions since it distinguishes between 2nd person pronouns, between the singular (thou, thy) and the plural (you, your).  From our Western individualistic mindset, when we read a “you” or “your” in the text we assume it’s singular, even in letters to communities.  We read Jeremiah 29:11 as God’s plans for “me” personally (my welfare, my future, my hope), when it’s meant to be understood corporately (our welfare, our future, our hope).  When the serpent interacts with the woman in Genesis 3 all of the 2nd person pronouns he uses are plural.  In Jeremiah 29 and Genesis 3 only the KJV tells us the “you”s are plural.  For these plurals, I think translations should just say, “you all” (or even better, “youse guys”). 

The Common English Bible (CEB) just came out in 2011.  We’ll see how popular the CEB becomes, but one thing I love about it already is that is uses contractions for dialogue.  When people speak today, they use contractions, so the CEB captures normal speaking patterns.  For example, this is how Jesus sounds in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear.  Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?” (Matt. 6:25 CEB).  It’s good advice either way, but “Do not worry” is not as relaxing as “Don’t worry.” 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical.  He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.



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