Friday, April 25, 2008

Ehrman and Wright debate God's Answer to Suffering

Check out this link I got from Ben Witherington's blog. It's a discussion between the agnostic Bart Ehrman and believing N.T. Wright on the problem of suffering. Intersting discussion indeed!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jazz Bands and Episcopal Liturgy

Last week I went with some of my fellow members of the SWU Jazz Ensemble to Christ Church School in Greenville SC. This is a very large and beautiful Episcopal School with a new chapel built with episcopal liturgy in mind, certainly not Jazz bands. We played there on the day everyone has chapel, which includes communion. There were three services so every student was able to attend. It was during this third service that something very interesting happened.

As we were playing some mellow Jazz while the priest was serving communion, which is very awkward by they way, I was watching the priest serve the elements and noticing that some came forward just for a blessing, some took communion by intinction (dipping the bread in the wine) and others drank from the cup. It was then that I noticed the priest was moving with the music! Yes you heard me right, an Episcopal priest in his elegant priestly robe, serving the Eucharist while dancing to the sounds of the Southern Wesleyan Jazz Band. That's an image I'll never forget.

Friday, April 11, 2008

What Have They Done With Jesus? by Ben Witherington

I picked up Ben Witerington's book What Have They Done With Jesus with a lot of excitement and expectation. There's been a lot of discussion about Jesus and who he was in popular media outlets lately. Most people have at least heard something about the two most influential documentaries of late about the alleged tomb of Jesus and the Gospel of Judas. Dr. Witherington works within the tradition I'm a part of (broadly), and seemed to offer some plain talk on the whole issue.

Witherington's approach is quite different than what I expected. I always viewed the conversation about who Jesus is through the words of ancient texts. Witherington's discussion works along the lines of people, not texts. This approach is probably more relevant to the modern mind, even if it's not the classic way it's been expressed by scholars. Witherington gives a list of people he concludes were a part of Jesus inner circle and provide us with reliable information about him. These members of this inner circle are: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus, Peter, James, Jude, Paul, and the Beloved Disciple.

The most interesting discussion, at least on an academic level, is the discussion of the Beloved Disciple. Most lay people and even many ordained ministers don't give much thought to who the Beloved Disciple was. From Sunday School on we've all heard the he was John the Apostle, who was also John the Evangelist, author of the Johanine Epistles and the Revelation. Witherington's hypothesis is the the Beloved Disciple was Lazarus. This explains many of the peculiarities of the Fourth Gospel, the most prominent of which is the geographical setting of the Gospel. Why does the Fourth Gospel place the narratives of Jesus life in Judea, while the other Gospel narratives take place in Gallilee? Answer: Lazarus is the source for the majority of the Fourth Gospel and he lived in Judea! There are many other pillars to this argument which might warrant a whole new post itself.

A diagram in the last chapter of the book sums up the entire work well. In that diagram the name Jesus is in the center of what looks like a circle. Around those names are the names of Jesus inner circle as listed above. There are lines going out from his name (Jesus) to these others and lines from the inner circle to the documents produced by, directly or indirectly, them or their ministry. For example although Paul didn't write Luke-Acts he is connected to those documents by his close association with Luke who authored this two volume work. The illustration shows that the Historical Jesus flows through his inner circle and that inner circle produced what we have as the New Testament.

Obviously some of these members of the inner circle were not producers of documents directly or indirectly, especially the females such as the two Maries and Joanna. One of the strengths of this book is that it acknowledges those who were probably close to Jesus in his lifetime even if they didn't write about it later.

One weakness of this book is that it focuses on them too much. Why use two chapters or about 40 pages talking about Mary and what she tells us about Jesus when everything she's says about him, which is very little, only comes to us in secondary sources? Really those chapters about members of the inner circle are more about those individuals than what they tell us about Jesus. If I ever get a chance to talk to Dr. Witherington this is a question I would like to ask. It certainly makes for an interesting read to hear what he thinks about Mary the Mother of Jesus, but it doesn't contribute to the overall thesis of the book very well.

Despite this the book as a whole offers the average reader with some good plain talk about Jesus and who he really was. In light of all the fanciful theories Witherington ably shows how these theories play on our love for the dramatic instead of our reason and logical common sense in the Introduction of the book. This book would be a good read for anyone interested in who Jesus really was and how we know that. If only National Geographic would do some specials on exegesis that has stood the test of time, then the public can atleast make a decision after hearing both sides.


Well after a week of reflection and recovery, the shock of such a disastrous end to a wonderful run by the heels has passed and life must move. There's not much I can say except for to wait and expect great things next year.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Final Four

So this weekend something special's happening in college basketball. All four number one seeds are in the final four. One of those happens to be from the basketball crazy town of Chapel Hill. The boys from NC have been tearing through the tournament and quite frankly this makes me nervous. They've been playing too good. I don't think any UNC fans will be happy with anything less than a national championship and I'm certainly one of them.

I can't complain though because if the Heels win this one it will be the third time in my short lifetime that I've seen UNC win a national championship. To some of my friends here in South Carolina who are Clemson Football fans I have to say that honestly I have no idea how you feel. 1983 and that's it. No wonder Danny Ford is a messianic figure in upstate South Carolina. You guys are more faithful than I am, and I'm not afraid to admit it. Go heels and the faithful fans who have never seen their team win it all.