Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review: What Christians Ought to Believe (by Michael Bird)

I grew up in a semi-credal Protestant church. We sang the doxology after the offering, received a benediction to close the service, and followed a fairly strict order of worship. But we did not recite the creeds. Thankfully, I had Rich Mullins to get me through wedding masses or visits to the churches of my Presbyterian and Methodist friends. Although my home church was by no means "low church," the Apostles' Creed was not part of our liturgy (nor was the word "liturgy" part of my vocabulary). Since my days in seminary, though, I've not only come to appreciate the creeds of the Church, but see their necessity.

As my teenagers inch closer to jumping out of the nest, it has become more and more apparent that I have done a woeful job in articulating the doctrines of the Church to them. We have had conversations, and I try to make it a point of speaking theologically to them when opportunities arise, but they have had no systematic training in Church doctrine (which is why I am now also now a strong proponent of some form of catechesis). So, when I saw Michael Bird's new book, What Christians ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles' Creed, I immediately ordered it from Amazon, and quickly read through it. I thought, "This could be just what I need to fill the gap in my kids' theological education!" And I was right.

But, I really underestimated the value of Bird's book. Maybe it's because he's an Australian, or maybe it's because he's a New Testament scholar rather than a theologian. Regardless, What Christians ought to Believe does an outstanding job of using the Apostles' Creed to explain the Christian faith from a biblical and historically theological perspective. Bird naturally discusses the Creator, the Virgin Birth, the suffering of Christ under Pontius Pilate, and the life everlasting. After all, these are mentioned quite explicitly in the Apostles' Creed. But, he also takes the opportunity afforded by the Creed to discuss the Trinity, the life and ministry of Jesus, and atonement, among other critical doctrines of the faith.

What I love most about this book is that Bird makes a strong effort to be ecumenical in his approach. He does not take pot-shots at various denominations; rather he lauds each of them for their contributions to the catholicity of the Church.

Diversity, even theological diversity, can mean riches for the body of Christ since we are forced to expand our horizons beyond our own faith and practices. Other traditions can help us overcome the blind spots in our own tradition. Catholics remind us of the ancient roots of the church. Baptists remind us that Christians are Bible people and the church is for believers. Methodists remind us about the importance of piety and personal holiness. Presbyterians remind us about God's sovereignty and God's covenant promises. Pentecostals remind us that God's Spirit is still with us and not on sabbatical. Anglicans remind us to hold together the catholicity of our ancient faith with the protest of our Protestantism. Lutherans remind us to remain true to justification by faith. Even among these diverse fellowships, the fact that they can all recite the Apostles' Creed is proof that there is still one church professing a common faith in one God, through one Lord, in the power of one Spirit. (p. 198)

So, how did I underestimate the value of this book? It's not just for my teenagers who are lacking formal theological education. It's for pastors, needing a refresher on why they do what they do. It's for church small groups and Sunday School classes. It's for church membership and baptism classes. It's for Christian high school students AND teachers. It's for Christian college faculty and staff who know the four spiritual laws, but not the three persons of the Trinity. Finally, What Christians ought to Believe, is the perfect book for College freshmen and sophomores majoring in business, music, education, psychology, or underwater basket-weaving who are forced to take an Intro to Theology course. The book is easy to read (and often fun!), and guides them through the doctrines they need to learn, love, and live.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Amarna Project

The Amarna Project is a website devoted to the archaeological and historical study of ancient Tell el-Amarna Egypt. The site is rich with resources and information about the ongoing work at the site.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Digital Mishnah

The Digital Mishnah Project will provide users with a database of digitized manuscripts of the Mishnah from around the world, along with tools for collation, comparison, and analysis. This demo provides fully marked up transcriptions of twenty-two witnesses to a sample chapter, Bava Metsia ch 2, and illustrates basic functionalities. In a number of cases, the witnesses available for browse expand beyond the sample chapter to include all of Bava Qamma, Bava Metsi'a, and Bava Batra.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Calculus and Cuneiform

"Tracking and recording the motion of the sun, the moon, and the planets as they paraded across the desert sky, ancient Babylonian astronomers used simple arithmetic to predict the positions of celestial bodies. Now, new evidence reveals that these astronomers, working several centuriesB.C.E., also employed sophisticated geometric methods that foreshadow thedevelopment of calculus. Historians had thought such techniques did not emerge until more than 1400 years later, in 14th century Europe."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Daily Dose of Biblical Languages

We all know that language acquisition and retention occurs with repetition. Zondervan has made it easier for students of the biblical languages to get daily repetition through their Daily Dose of Hebrew and Daily Dose of Greek video mini-lectures. In about 2 minutes a day (4 minutes for both languages), students can review grammar and vocabulary while watching Mark Futato (Hebrew; Reformed Theological Seminary) and Rob Plummer (Greek; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) work through a verse of the Bible. Subscribers will receive an email first thing in the morning with links to the day's dose.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Resources for OT Textual Criticism

Brian Davidson of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has put together a helpful resource page for students embarking in Old Testament Textual Criticism. Check it out here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

New Fragment of Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet V

The new T.1447 tablet, according to the article Back to the Cedar Forest: The beginningand end of Tablet V of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgameš published in June, 2014 is:
  • The revised reconstruction of Tablet V yields text that is nearly twenty lines longer than previously known.
  • The obverse (columns i-ii) duplicates the Neo-Assyrian fragments which means the Epic tablet can be placed in order and used to fill in the gaps between them. It also shows the recension on Tablet V was in Babylonia, as well as Assyria and that “izzizūma inappatū qišta” is the same phrase that other tablets being with.
  • The reverse (columns v-vi) duplicates parts of the reverse (columns iv-vi) of the late Babylonian tablet excavated at Uruk that begins with the inscription “Humbāba pâšu īpušma iqabbi izakkara ana Gilgāmeš”.
  • The most interesting piece of information provided by this new source is the continuation of the description of the Cedar Forest:
    • Gilgamesh and Enkidu saw ‘monkeys’ as part of the exotic and noisy fauna of the Cedar Forest; this was not mentioned in other versions of the Epic.
    • Humbaba emerges, not as a barbarian ogre, and but as a foreign ruler entertained with exotic music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings. The chatter of monkeys, chorus of cicada, and squawking of many kinds of birds formed a symphony (or cacophony) that daily entertained the forest’s guardian, Humbaba.
  • The aftermath of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s slaying of Humbaba is now better preserved.
  • The passages are consistent with other versions and confirm what was already known. For example, Enkidu had spent some time with Humbaba in his youth.