Update on the Life and Times of Rob

As I alluded to yesterday, the combination of marriage, graduate coursework, a part-time job and church involvement has severely limited my blogging time! Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way; I do find snippets of free time every once in a while, which I choose to spend sleeping. It is only by the grace and mercy of a Fall Break that I am able to devote some time to the blog and other things that refresh my soul.

Classes are going very well, maybe even a little bit better than I would’ve guessed, having been out of academia for a few years. Lauren tells me that it’s because I have big brains. 🙂 Ha! Here’s a sampling of each class…

In New Testament Greek I, we just had our toughest week to date. In the matter of just one week, we were introduced to demonstrative pronouns, adverbs, and personal pronouns with special adjectival use (a phenomenon difficult to grasp given that it’s not used in English). Quizzes are given weekly on Thursdays, and I’m waiting with bated breath for the score I’ll receive when we grade them Monday morning. I believe I did well, but who knows until I receive the score.

I’m also exceptionally lucky to be learning from the professor, whom my wife had and adored in her undergraduate studies at Anderson University. He should write a book about the life of Christ and peace… it would be a bestseller.

Anyway, as a class we have advanced remarkably well in the language for just seven weeks; in addition to learning the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Greek, we can compose sentences like: νῦν βαπτίζομεν ἐκείνους τοὺς μαθητὰς τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ πέμπομεν τοὺς αὑτοὺς μαθητὰς εἰς τόν κόσμον. (Now we are baptizing those disciples of our Lord and are sending the same disciples into the world.) I sincerely hope I’m able to come out of the semesters of Greek with the ability to freely read the New Testament in its original language!

Next week we will find ourselves involved with verb tenses other than the present tense, and I have heard from others who took the course that this last week may be the toughest of the whole semester. Let’s hope so!

In Old Testament I, our reading through this coming week has completed most of the first seven books of the Bible. We skipped the latter half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and some of the beginning of Numbers; it’s a “survey” class and we can’t cover every little thing, I suppose. Each week, we have Bible readings, maps to mark according to ancient events found therein, and a commentary on the Bible readings. All in all, it gives an excellent perspective on the whole historocity of ancient Israel, and I feel blessed to be a student of the professor in his final year of academia before retiring.

Each week, we also have to complete a one-page reflection paper on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I’ve decided to share these reflection papers as weekly blog posts that “go live” each Monday at 2:00 p.m., when class convenes (as often as I am able). We are limited to one single-spaced page each week, however, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. Here are the first four I’ve written:

If you are interested in reading these in the future, they are all tagged with the category called OT Weeklies. Furthermore, I’ve set up a category called SOT Coursework for posts related to my academic pursuits in all classes.

The next “big thing” that will come due for me is an 11-12 page exegesis for Old Testament class, for which I have chosen excerpts from Genesis 39 (the account of Joseph in the house of Potiphar, and especially his involvement with Potiphar’s scandalous wife). I have selected books and commentaries on the topic (see the picture below!), but soon will need to get to work on the actual writing part. I’m sure that later in the month, after the exegesis has been turned in, I will feature a teaser from my findings!

I’ve got books upon books upon books just waiting to be read…

In Church History, we have breezed our way through about eight or nine centuries of Christendom, and have just recently finished a section on monasticism and the “challenge of Islam.” In the week to come, we will be broaching the Middle Ages head-on, including the inquisition and such. I am doing well in this class as well, though I consider it less important than the others.

But one great thing I’m finding about the School of Theology at Anderson University is that I’m relatively free to carve out my own niche, to explore what I want to explore within the context of each class. The term paper for Church History is relatively broad and open; thus I chose the topic of early Jewish-Christian sects of believers, such as the Ebionites, Marcionites, Nazoreans and some of the Gnostics. I am particularly interested in their possible superior application of the message of Jesus than proto-Orthodox groups, especially against the backdrop of the writings of Paul and the Roman Empire’s “institutionalization” of its preferred form of Christianity. This paper isn’t due until after the Old Testament exegesis, so for the time being, it has taken a backseat… though in the pictures posted above, the right-hand stack of books are research I’ve completed for the paper.

Theological Ethics is the class that I was most worried about going into the semester, given that it is a third-year M.Div course and I’m the only first-year in the class. I realize that I could participate more in the class rather than deferring to others, but I scored very high on the mid-term and have gotten good marks for other assignments. It turns out that my fears haven’t been realized! Hallelujah! The discussions and debates we’ve had in class have also been very fulfilling; it has been an honor to learn from the professor and my fellow classmates. There is no major paper in this class, though later in the semester I will have two smaller papers based on some of the ethical case studies we’re assigned.

Apart from the classes, I have also thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie I’ve felt among fellow students and faculty. While it is difficult at times being a commuting student, even I have experienced the wholesome nature of my education, which in itself has been cognitively stimulating. If Lauren and I are able to move to Anderson next year – which hangs on many, many factors – we are chomping at the bit to do so. But if this doesn’t come to fruition, I still feel that the SOT is a true community, and I consider many fellow seminarians true friends.

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Last night, given her Teach For America connections, Lauren received free tickets to see Waiting for “Superman,” a new documentary about the terrible public education system in our country. It was an eye-opening film, even for this former substitute teacher. But it reminded me that I admire so much Lauren’s passion for early education; she regularly comes home troubled about some aspect of her students’ behavior or performance in class. So many things hold the educational process back, but I affirm the amount of hard work she puts into her underprivileged students. Right now, as I type this, she has been lesson planning for almost five hours with her teaching team, which is a microcosm of the incredible dedication she has for her students. Soon, she may author a guest blog post here about projects she wishes to complete this year from Donors Choose, a website that allows her to seek donors to contribute to specific classroom initiatives.

Well, it seems that my rambling has gone on long enough, and besides, coursework beckons! I do hope it’s not another month before I am able to post again!

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“Exterminating Them Without Mercy”

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of October 11. Enjoy!

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The first half of the Old Testament book of Joshua poses special problems for modern Christians who unequivocally understand God as loving and peace-seeking for all people groups.  Per a straightforward reading of these first twelve chapters, the tribes of Israel march throughout Canaan and are seemingly commanded by God to dispose of anyone they find inhabiting the land.  Referring to a group of kings, the writer of Joshua explains, “For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy” (Jo 11:20 NIV).  When preaching about the characteristics of Yahweh, most pastors do not include qualities such as “merciless” and “requiring complete annihilation,” yet these are found rather plentifully in Joshua.  This reflection paper will attempt to reconcile such primitive portrayals of God for today’s believers.

Given the significance of these issues, Victor P. Hamilton devotes several pages to a discussion of the Hebrew words kharam and kherem, which lie behind several of God’s apparent requirements for total destruction of “other” peoples in both Joshua and Deuteronomy.  Avoiding the problematic language present in many of the relevant verses, Hamilton explains kherem as “handing something over to God, with no ‘ifs, ands, or buts’ and renouncing of any further claim on the item.”[1] Unfortunately, when that item happens to be land claimed by someone else, those Yahweh-less people often cannot remain alive.  This is not a portrait of the peaceful, loving and forgiving God portrayed in the gospels by Jesus, despite Hamilton’s attempt to pacify by noting that “such wars of extermination” do not “become national policy” for Israel.[2]

Certainly, these apparent conquest accounts are not the only instances of senseless violence in the Old Testament.  Quite graphically, a psalmist in exile speaks favorably toward anyone who would murder Babylonian babies to exact revenge for the fall of Jerusalem (Ps 137:8-9).  Borrowing from medical lexicon, Israel’s xenophobia may be presenting itself symptomatically both in this psalmist’s lament and the kherem commands.  With this frame of mind, is the nationwide predisposition to violence driven by the authentic words of God, or is it merely a reflection of human imperfection?  Or, as Bart D. Ehrman colorfully inquires, “Does [God] really want his followers to splash the brains of their enemies’ infants against the rocks?”[3]

With the benefit of a more matured understanding of God and the good news of Jesus Christ, modern Christians – likely joined by some of the psalmist’s contemporaries – would be unlikely to answer Ehrman’s question in the affirmative.  Perhaps, then, the events and themes recorded in the Bible can be viewed as a chronological progression in the understanding of God’s character.  Brian D. McLaren compares this ever-developing perception of God to the way a schoolchild is introduced to new mathematical concepts as he or she enters new grade levels.[4] For example, whereas all numbers a second grader adds and subtracts are strictly whole and positive, in just a few years, the child will be taught both fractional and negative numerals.  Reasoning for God, McLaren suggests, “What if the best way to create global solidarity is by first creating tribal solidarity and then gradually teaching tribes to extend [that] to ‘the other’?  What if, then, God must first be seen as the God of our tribe and then only later as the God of all tribes?”[5] Only for the slain Anakites might this hypothesis prove insufficient (Jo 11:21-22).


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 34.

[2] Ibid., 36.

[3] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them) (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 11.

[4] Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 103-104.

[5] Ibid., 104.

Deuteronomic Theology and the Gospel of Prosperity

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of October 4. Enjoy!

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In the midst of warning the Israelites about a litany of curses that could befall them for not upholding God’s Laws, the Deuteronomist pauses to promise broad-sweeping earthly blessings for those who will “obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees” (Dt 30:6 NIV).  This basic concept, repeated throughout Deuteronomy with nuance, forms what Victor P. Hamilton refers to as “Deuteronomic theology.”[1] Perhaps the promise of blessings for the righteous is a natural progression that follows the delivery of the Law, wherein God can be understood as the originator of positive reinforcement.  Stated another way, God knew his people needed an incentive to obey him.  Rightfully so, however, Hamilton astutely notes that the phenomena of blessings and curses in Deuteronomy are not always related to the degree to which one follows the Law.[2] Yet, this reflection paper will examine the application of the basic concept as mirrored by modern popular theology and as found elsewhere in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomic theology forms the backbone of the cynically titled “prosperity gospel,” a message popularized by Joel Osteen and based on the promise of blessing from Deuteronomy (Dt 30:1-10).  Osteen pastors a Houston-area mega-church, but is more widely known around the United States for his loosely theological self-help books.  Having never heard Osteen speak in person, I must rely on video clips, sound bites and other means of understanding his yoke.  However, for a cogent summary of his message, I defer to friend and colleague Andrew Baumgartner, who in 2009 visited Osteen’s Lakewood Church and walked away with a critical assessment.  Referring to Osteen’s message, he wrote, “To the untrained or uncaring ear, it could sound almost Christian.  It is full of happy platitudes, and some genuinely get comfort from it.  But upon further examination and reflection, prosperity is built on the theological sand.”[3]

If this indeed were the case, Osteen would not be the first to build an understanding of God on sand, referencing the saying of Jesus (Mt 7:24-27).  Perhaps the most compelling argument against the broad-brush application of Deuteronomic theology comes when God judges against the counsel of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu regarding the reason for Job’s suffering (Jb 42:7-10).  Throughout the greater part of the book, these friends attempt to reason that Job lost his material blessings of family, servants, livestock and possessions due to some unrighteous or sinful action hidden in Job’s life.  Emphatically, God responds to Eliphaz, “‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. . . . Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly’” (Jb 42:7-8 NIV).  Not only are Job’s friends wrong, they are also foolish for applying such basic Deuteronomic theology in this instance.

Considering this passage as part of a discussion regarding the authority of the full Bible, Brian D. McLaren concludes that while individual books and passages contain truth, “We speak nonsense when we practice verse snatching from Deuteronomy, the middle of Job, or anywhere else.”[4] McLaren posits that a fuller understanding of the Bible is found in context, conversation, and community.  Without these vital clues, it is difficult to understand that the promise of Godly blessing in Deuteronomy may be necessary positive reinforcement to incentivize the freshly minted Law, rather than a verdict on the origin of one’s recent promotion or cancer diagnosis.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 446.

[2] Ibid., 450-451.

[3] Andrew Baumgartner, “My Evening at Lakewood Church,” I’m Wide Awake, entry posted October 12, 2009, http://abaumgart.livejournal.com/98075.html (accessed October 3, 2010).

[4] Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 90-91.

I’m Dreaming of Genesis

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of September 20. Enjoy!

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Within this week’s study of Genesis and Victor P. Hamilton’s commentary, one significant theme that piqued my personal interest was the frequency of dreams and other events discerned in the context of restful sleep.  The creative manifestations of brainwaves are recorded not only from the lives of vital patriarchal characters, including Abraham and Jacob, but also from Abimelech, servants of Pharaoh, and other minor players in the grand scope of Genesis.  I will briefly recount the varying dreams and deep-sleep revelations presented in the Scripture while discussing my observations and reflections.

Though not specifically called a dream in Genesis, the first deep-sleep revelation comes to the male ‘adam in the context of God’s creation of a female companion (Gn 2:21-23).  Shortly after he is awakened from his slumber, the male is immediately aware of the nature of God’s creative act, thereby implying a degree of subconscious understanding on his part.  In a similar fashion, Abram receives God’s covenantal plan for the first time by way of a deep-sleep revelation (Gn 15:12-16).  The covenant is repeated to Abraham’s grandson after Jacob dreams up a ladder, or stairway, reaching from the ground to heaven (Gn 28:10-17).  However, these dreams of blessing contrast distinctly with visions of warning presented to Abimelech (Gn 20:3-7) and Laban (Gn 31:24).  For example, the former is cautioned not to have sexual relations with Sarah, who is actually Abraham’s wife, while the latter is admonished to proceed with tact when confronting the fleeing Jacob.

The story of Jacob’s favorite son brings an important evolutionary step in our Genesis dreams, for as Hamilton realizes, “What distinguishes Joseph’s dreams from these is that in all the other recorded dreams…God speaks clearly to the dreamer.”[1] His dreams, of course, entail sheaves of grain representative of his brothers bowing to his own sheaf of grain (Gn 5-7) as well as the sun, moon and 11 stars bowing to Joseph himself (Gn 37:9).  But in addition to Joseph’s own creativity in sleep, he is also blessed with the ability to successfully interpret the dreams of others, as he does with Pharaoh’s butler (Gn 40:9-11) and baker (Gn 40:16-17) before progressing to Pharaoh himself (Gn 41:1-7).  Joseph correctly predicts that Pharaoh’s butler will be reinstated from prison while the baker is executed; furthermore, Joseph rightfully understands the periods of abundance and drought that are soon to define Egypt.

God never explicitly explains the importance of sleep to man.  Perhaps it is a given. However, the variety of dreams in Genesis appears to underscore some of sleep’s not-so-obvious benefits.  For example, in the cases of Abram, Jacob, the male ‘adam, and others, sleep gives God an appropriate avenue to communicate, be it with blessings or warnings; through New Testament eyes, modern scholars may view this as a precursor of sorts to the Holy Spirit.  Similarly, creative machinations of the mind with no direct connection to God take form in the slumbers of Joseph, Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s servants.  With a little bit of interpretation, these are implied in Genesis as fortuitous foresights into the future.

As Joshua Leibowitz explains, “The dreams in Genesis are very significant: Either they depict the future, or they cause future events.  Everybody dreams in Genesis.”[2] The Scriptural message is clear: dreams come from God.  Just as Genesis is interested in explaining the reason for mankind’s disconnect with God, the phenomenon of the rainbow, the reason for confusing languages, and the like, the authors thoroughly explore the nature and significance of dreams.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 122.

[2] Ariel Knafo and Tziporit Glick, “Genesis Dreams: Using a Private, Psychological Event as a Cultural, Political Declaration,” Dreaming 10, no. 1 (2000): 19.