‘ENCOUNTERING SCRIPTURE WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS’ ADDS DEPTH OF UNDERSTANDING TO READING THE BIBLE

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN READING SCRIPTURE, COURTESY OF:

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA

  1. What’s the obvious meaning?
  2. How does this impact how I live my life?
  3. How does this connect with or shape what I believe as a Christian?

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

  1. When I imagine myself in this situation or scenario, what do I notice?
  2. What does the text say that shapes my imagination of the situation or scenario?
  3. What does the text NOT say about the situation or scenario, such that I need to fill in the gaps with my imagination?

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

  1. How am I (or are we) the subject of this text? How are we the ones doing the things done  or saying the things said there?
  2. How am I or are we the object or addressee of this text? How might it be talking to us today?
  3. How am I or are we the topic of this text? How is it discussing me or us? How would I respond if I overheard that conversation?

Source: David Kneip, for Summit class on “Ancient-Future Reading: Encountering Scripture With the Church Fathers.”

By Loretta Fulton

Who better than the church fathers to help today’s readers get a more in-depth understanding of ancient scripture?

In an easy-to-understand and enjoyable presentation, David Kneip offered some insight into their thinking and understanding during a track on “The Ancient-Future Bible,” a part of Summit 2017 at Abilene Christian University.

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David Kneip

For those trying to take notes, Kneip, an assistant professor in ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry, handed out a helpful “cheat sheet,” which is printed above.

It doesn’t take special skills to read and appreciate the Bible, Kneip said. It’s like “an amazing, intricate pop-up book,” he said, and as you get deeper into it, “you see more detail and more beauty.”

But, reading the scriptures like the church fathers did can add an extra layer of understanding. Like a good professor trying to go easy on his freshman class, Kneip was reassuring about plumbing the depths of the minds of the church fathers.

“They’re not all that different from us,” Kneip assured.

Take Origen of Alexandria, for example.

“He was a guy who loved the Lord a lot,”Kneip said,

Origen, who was born in 185 and died in 254, believed that the Bible, like humans, had a body, soul, and spirit. The body is that part that is detectable or touchable, the soul is the seat of moral life, and the spirit allows ascension to God.

Correspondingly, the body of the Bible is its plain meaning, which may be obvious or it might be mysterious. The soul of the Bible is the moral meaning of the text: “What does this mean for how I live my life?” The spirit of the Bible is how it connects to God. He cited Numbers 33, but with a light-hearted preface.

“That was the book where I quit when I tried to read the Bible all the way through,” Kneip joked.

But seriously, Origen believed that when the scripture says the Israelites went “up out of Egypt,” it meant more than literally going “up” from sea level. It also has a metaphorical meaning.

Likewise, Kneip said, humans go “up” when they leave vices behind in pursuit of virtue or leave behind a life of sin and death to a life in Christ. Origen invites asking questions about deeper meanings of scripture than meets the eye.

John Chrysostom, whose name literally means, “Golden Mouth,” lived from 349 to 407. He was a monk who was drafted into church leadership, eventually being appointed Archbishop of Constantinople. He didn’t read the Bible as allegory but rather tried to amplify or magnify a text, Kneip said.

Chrysostom was so taken with the story of Lazarus and the rich man, as told in Luke 16: 19-31, that he preached a series of at least seven sermons on that scripture, Kneip said.

Chrysostom asked the people of his day if they did not see the situation in the text “as if it were present,” Kneip pointed out. And that leads to the questions for today’s reader, Kneip added.

“What do I notice when I imagine this situation? Are there clues in the text that help me imagine? What silences are there in the text?”

Augustine of Hippo, who lived from 354 to 430, was extremely influential on the Western church, Kneip pointed out. He wanted believers to become “more deeply Christian” as they gathered around the Bible as a community. He invited the use of imagination in reading scripture by alternately seeing ourselves as the subject, the object, and the topic of the text.

For example, Augustine asks the question of why did Jesus quote Psalm 22, verse 1, from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

“For what other reason was this said, than that we were there?” Augustine asks. “For what other reason than that Christ’s body is the church?”

‘You can’t think your way into holiness,’ Summit speaker advises

 

By Loretta Fulton

The Russian movie “The Stalker” isn’t nearly as creepy as it sounds, a speaker at Summit 2017 ensured, but its premise is pretty scary.

The movie isn’t about the kind of stalker we normally think of, James K.A. Smith, an author, speaker, and philosophy professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said. Instead, “the stalker” is a guide through a mysterious room in a post-apocalyptic world where wishes are granted.

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James K.A. Smith

In the movie, the stalker is guiding two people into the room, a writer and a professor, when a question comes to the writer.

“What if I don’t know what I want?” he asks.

The scary part is that “the room” does know what he wants, even if it’s not what he thinks.

“Would you want to step into that room,” Smith asked, “the room that reveals what you really want?”

Smith spoke in four sessions Monday as Summit 2017 got into full swing at Abilene Christian University. Before Summit opened, David Wray, director, predicted that Smith would be a popular speaker.

“He’s one of the ones that young ministers read a lot,” Wray said.

He didn’t disappoint. ACU’s large Chapel on the Hill was packed with students, faculty, and guests for Smith’s first talk, titled, “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.”

“What we really want” can be shaped through practice, Smith said. Practicing “doing good” turns “doing good” into a habit.

“It has become part of who you are,” Smith said.

Just like breathing is automatic, virtue can become automatic through practice. But it takes actual practice, not thinking about doing good in order for virtue to become “second nature.”

“You can’t think you’re way into holiness,” Smith said. “It takes practice.”

Smith urged taking a “liturgical audit” to see what influences your life. Liturgies are not just those practiced in church, he said, but “something you do” that in turn “does something to you.” Liturgies are “heart-calibrating practices,” Smith said.

We need to be attentive to how our hearts are shaped, Smith said. The Apostle Paul got it right, Smith noted, when he gave the Corinthians a bit of advice.

“Be imitators of me,” Paul said, “because I am an imitator of Christ.”

‘Is My Religion a Religion of Peace?’ examined at ACU Summit 2017

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Imam Samer Altabaa, left, and Derran Reese lead a session on peace from a Muslim’s view and a Christian’s view. The two men presented a program Monday at ACU’s Summit 2017. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

When a group of Highland Church of Christ members arrived at the Islamic Center of the South Plains in Lubbock last year, they were greeted with a strange message from the imam–or at least it sounded strange until the imam explained.

“You guys are on your own jihad,” Imam Samer Altabaa said as way of greeting.

That would have been enough to make many Americans get back in the car and drive home. But the imam quickly explained that “jihad’ doesn’t mean what a lot of Americans think it does. It is not an act of violence or a “holy war.”

On Monday, Altabaa was in Abilene as a guest of the leader of last year’s “jihad” to Lubbock, Derran Reese, director of global ministries at Highland. The two religious leaders participated in Summit 2017, an annual gathering at Abilene Christian University.

Their program was titled, “Is My Religion a Religion of Peace? A Dialogue Between a Muslim and a Christian.” Altabaa presented Islam’s position first, followed by Reese giving a Christian perspective, and Altabaa wrapping up the session. A question and and answer session followed.

Altabaa explained that the word “jihad” means to “struggle to achieve good things.” It doesn’t to fight or bring about violence.

“This is a holy term,” Altabaa said.

Islam is a religion of peace, like all religions, Altabaa said. In fact, the word itself is Arabic for “submitting to the will of God.”

“It has the meaning of peace, he said.

Altabaa explained that Mohammed was not the “founder” of Islam, but rather he is considered the final prophet in a long line of prophets that included, among others,  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus.

Religion turns violent, Altabaa said, when one group tries to make another group convert to its ways. Various religions exist for a reason, Altabaa said. If God wanted all of us to be of one religion, he would make one religion, Altabaa said.

The Quran, Islam’s holy book, teaches much the same principle about violence that the Torah, or Old Testament to Christians, teaches. People have the right to fight back in the same manner they were attacked, or “an eye for an eye,” according to the Quran.

Reese outlined three views on violence–aggressive violence, “last resort” or “necessary evil” violence, and nonviolence or pacifism. Reese espouses the third option and cited numerous passages or phrases from the New Testament such as “blessed are the peacemakers, “turn the other cheek,” and “love your enemies.”

Justifying the use of violence, even in a “just war” scenario, requires that we think of humans in terms of “the other” or “them and us,” Reese said. But the kingdom of God dissolves those lines, he said.

The call of the gospels is for nonviolence, Reese said, and achieving nonviolent solutions to disagreements or misunderstands requires being proactive.

“We must work alongside Muslims,” he said.

The imam, Altabaa, concluded the formal part of the sessions by saying that religious people must add their voices to the call for an end to violence.

“We have to speak up and work harder to bring peace,” he said.

At the beginning of the class, Reese offered a prayer that included a request.

“We ask that you will give us clarity today,” he prayed.

His prayer was answered when the standing-room-only class responded with an “Amen” after the imam closed the session with a Muslim prayer both in Arabic and in English.

 

HSU’S LOGSDON FOCUSING ON REFUGEES

 

 

By Loretta Fulton

A photo exhibit, “By the Olive Trees,” by Michael Friberg and Benjamin Rasmussen, lines the foyer of Logsdon School of Theology, telling visitors who walk in that an emphasis is being placed on the plight of refugees.

The exhibit is free and open to the public. It previously hung in the main hallway of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

The stunning photos show individuals, places, and families affected by the crisis facing Syrian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon. In an interview with the Abilene Reporter-News prior to the exhibit going up at Aldersgate in February, Friberg said refugees from war-torn countries often are treated in the abstract. The photo exhibit shows the faces and living conditions of the people affected.

“I hope it makes people see these are real people with real stories,” Friberg said in the Reporter-News interview.

On Sept. 14, Logsdon faculty hosted a forum on refugees, beginning with a luncheon and “table talk,” and an evening presentation featuring a film about the photo exhibit and a talk by Myles Werntz, holder of the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons.

At the luncheon, videos of two refugees enrolled at Logsdon was shown and a live interview was conducted with another. Kelly Pigott, who teaches church history at Logsdon, conducted the interview with Ni Thang, a native of the Chin State in northwestern Myanmar.

In an Abilene Reporter-News article, Thang told of having to fee to India in 1998 after he took part in protests to bring democracy to the military-rule country. He eventually arrived in the United States, at the invitation of a friend who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His parents still live in Myanmar.

“It is very, very hard,” Thang said.

 

ACU ALUMNI CHORUS, SAUNDERS SET THE BAR HIGH FOR SUMMIT 2017

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By Loretta Fulton

The ACU Alumni Chorus and Landon Saunders set the bar high Sunday night for the opening of Summit 2017, the 111th edition of the event known for years as Bible Lectureship.

Summit, or “Lectureship” as some of the longtime attendees might be tempted to call it, will feature two and a half days of worship, fellowship, classes, and entertainment. Guests who attended the kickoff events Sunday night at University Church of Christ will have high expectations for the rest of Summit, following a concert of rousing, inspiring music from the chorus and a rousing, inspiring sermon from Saunders, former minister at Highland Church of Christ and founder of Heartbeat Ministries.

“It is an honor for me,” Saunders said, “and a tremendous blessing to come back here.”

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Landon Saunders

Theme for Summit 2017 is “Ancient Scripture, Future Church: The Choices We Make and the God We Serve,” based on passages from Deuteronomy. For a lineup of classes, worship sessions, and other events this week, go to www.acu.edu/summit

We are living in an uneasy time, Saunders said, and some have chosen to give up and drop out. The passages from Deuteronomy put that into perspective. Moses, “one of the leading characters” of the story, tried to get the Israelites to focus on what was really important–who they were and why they had been chosen to show the world what it means to be a human being. Others would look at them and say, “Surely, this nation is wise and discerning.”

But they wandered for 40 years, forgetting who they were and forgetting why they were in the world. Then, Saunders said, prophetic voices rose and reminded them of what was important–mercy, justice, faith, love.

“These are the highest of human ideals,” Saunders said.

For Christians, Jesus embodies those ideals, showing the world that, “This is how to be a human being that God created.”

Today, the church is facing issues that “challenge the very core of who we are,” Saunders said, issues like civil rights, LGBT or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, terrorism, and extremism.

“Sometimes they bring out our best,” Saunders said, “sometimes our worst.”

The Bible contains 31,000 verses, Saunders said, and unfortunately differences over how to interpret and practice them leads to endless arguments. But taken as a whole, those verses urge people to focus on justice, mercy, humility, faith, love, just like Moses urged the Israelites to do.

In the time of Jesus, religious leaders argued over scripture, too. But Jesus made it easy for us by granting permission to change our minds about our interpretation. He also granted permission to reduce the 31,000 verses to two–love God and love your neighbor.

And, Saunders said, Jesus grants us permission to see the human being standing in front of us as we read and perceive scripture.

Reading scripture is not just about reading the letter of the law, Saunders said.

“It’s also about reading the human heart,” Saunders said, and urged using scripture “for human beings, not against them.”

 

Summit 2017: At ACU lectureship, it’s in with the new, in with old

SummitProgramCoverRead Loretta Fulton’s story in the Abilene Reporter-News about what’s coming this week at Abilene Christian University’s annual Summit. The three-day event features sermons, classes, special events, fellowship and entertainment. The theme this year is based on passages from Deuteronomy. Read more