Abilene Christian University

JOHN ADDS DRAMA TO GOSPELS

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Dr. Mark Goodacre, left, visits with Dr. Jeff Childers, center, and Dr. Robert Rhodes Nov. 9 during the Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University. Goodacre, a religion professor at Duke University, was guest speaker for the lectures. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

There is a reason Dorothy L. Sayers chose the gospel of John when she wrote her series of 12 radio plays in 1943 depicting key events in the life of Jesus titled, “The Man Born to Be King.”

And, there is a reason that director Franco Zeffirelli, who co-wrote the script to the 1977 television series, Jesus of Nazareth, chose the gospel of John for the script. In fact, the gospel of John is used as the basis for the script of most movies and television shows about the life of Jesus.

The reason that the gospel of John, not the gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke is most often used was at the heart of of Mark Goodacre’s first of two talks Nov. 9 during the annual Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University.

“John,” Goodacre said, “more than the other three is a drama.”

Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke University. Born in England, Goodacre earned two master’s degrees and his doctorate at the University of Oxford and was a senior lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham (England) until 2005, when he joined the faculty at Duke.

In his first lecture, Goodacre spoke on, “John’s Dramatic Transformation of the Synoptics.”  Title of the second lecture was “John’s Christological Transformation of the Synoptics.”

Goodacre distributed a handout with parallel passages from John and the other gospels that proved his point. For example, Mark 6:42 reads, “And they all ate and were satisfied.”

The parallel passage in John, Chapter 6, verse 26, reads, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, ‘You are seeking me not because you see signs but because you ate from the bread and were satisfied.'”

Another way John shows his dramatist side is by reducing anonymous people or crowds to a named person. An example is Matthew 28:17, which reads, “Some doubted,” compared to John 20:24-28, which reduces that to “Thomas.”

“John, like a good dramatist,” Goodacre said, “makes sure his characters have names.”

Goodacre also addressed the question of whether John presupposes that the readers of his gospel were familiar with the synoptic gospels. Goodacre suggested that John is best read alongside the other gospels for that very reason. In fact, he said, some of John only makes sense if the reader already knows details from the other gospels.

As an example, he cited John 11:1, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” The verse presupposes that the reader knows who Mary and Martha are from reading the synoptic gospels.

In a question and answer session following the lecture, a man asked whether, because of its dramatic style, the gospel of John was meant to be performed. Its wording has been used, sometimes in whole, by script writers, but Goodacre stopped short of saying it was written to be performed.

“I don’t think they acted it out,” he said.

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LUTHER’S THESES ‘POST-IT NOTE HEARD AROUND THE WORLD,’ SPEAKER SAYS

 

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McGarvey Ice, left, and Amanda Dietz, brought part of the Martin Luther collection from the library at Abilene Christian University, to the Abilene Public Library Nov. 7 to display during the annual volunteer luncheon. These works, and more, all are available in the ACU library. Through the end of the fall semester, they will be gathered in one collection called, “Here I Stand: Martin Luther’s Reformation at 500.” Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

Many words have been spoken about Martin Luther’s defiant act during the 500th anniversary of his historic deed that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and many more will be.

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Dr. Robert Ellis

But perhaps none will sum up the action, and the consequences, quite as well as Robert Eillis’ words at a luncheon Oct. 31 at Hardin-Simmons University, the actual date of Luther’s act.

“It was the Post-It Note heard around the world,” said Ellis, interim dean of HSU’s Logsdon School of Theology.

Every speaker points out that what Luther did in one sense was quite ordinary. He posted a notice on a church door, something as common in 1517 as sticking a Post-It Note on the refrigerator is in 2017.

But the consequences were extraordinary. His “Post-It Note” was a list of 95 theses arguing that the sale of indulgences or pardons from sins, a practice adopted by a few priests, was wrong and should be banned.

Luther wanted reform, and he got the Protestant Reformation, plus a church named for him. He also got excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Ellis was one of a long list of people who have spoken about the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation at Hardin-Simmons this semester. This semester’s Spiritual Formation Colloquium was titled, “Crises and Reform,” with weekly speakers. The colloquium started Aug. 31 and continues through Nov. 30.

Abilene Christian University will host a two-man panel at 4 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the Chapel on the Hill of ACU’S Biblical Studies Building. “The Reformation at 500 Years: Necessary Correction or Divisive Mistake: How Should it Shape Christians Today” will be the topic of the debate between John Armstrong, president of ACT3 Network, and Ryan Rojo, parochial vicar of the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart in San Angelo. Armstrong, a historian and ecumenist, participated in the production of the video documentary on the Reformation, “This Changed Everything.” The event is free and open to the public.

And, Abilene Christian University’s Doug Foster, professor of church history, presented two talks at First Central Presbyterian Church. Each of the talks has brought new insight.

MartinLutherThe presentations at Hardin-Simmons were based on Luther’s “solas,” which included “sola scriptura,” “sola fide,” “sola gratia,” solus Christus,” and “soli deo gloria,” or “scripture alone,” “faith alone,” “grace alone,” “Christ alone,” and “to the glory of God alone.”

On Sept. 28, Mary Alice Birdwhistell, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, spoke on the precept of “grace alone.” She said that at times, ministers feel the weight of the world is on their shoulders. They carrying the weight of what people say about them, the church’s finances and polarizing issues, plus the weight of the people’s concerns.

“Friends, ministry is heavy,” Birdwhistell said. “It is too much for any of us to carry on our own.”

Then, Ephesians 2:8 came to mind, “For it is by grace you have been saved.” The pastoral implications are great,  Birdwhistell said. Pastors can run their lives and their churches like they depend on works, but there is always more work to be done.

Birdwhistell urged the future pastors at the forum to pay attention to the moments when grace shows up “and we have nothing to do with it.”

And, she urged them to take care of themselves and to nurture their own relationship with God. Ministry is not a to-do list, she reminded.

“Ministry is so much bigger than we are,”  Birdwhistell said.

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Dr. J. Bradley Creed

On Oct. 30 and 31, Dr. J. Bradley Creed, a church historian and president of Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, gave two lectures at Hardin-Simmons on the Reformation and also spoke at a luncheon.

Luther had a good sense of humor, Creed said, but suffered from a troubled soul. He was looking for peace and forgiveness. He was looking for a gracious, forgiving God in the church and couldn’t find him.

“He had a hard time with God,” Creed said.

Luther couldn’t find the God he was seeking in the church, but he did find him in the Bible, Creed said.

Five hundred years later, we might ask, “So what?” in terms of the consequences of the Reformation.

First, we take for granted we can own a Bible written in our own language.

“Martin Luther is partly responsible for that,” Creed said.

Luther was hidden in a castle for a year by friends who feared for his life. He was a marked man because of his rants against church practices. He didn’t waste the year feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he spent it translating the Greek New Testament into the German language.

Second, Luther may have been responsible for the first sexual revolution, Creed said. He broke from the church, married a nun, and became a matchmaker.

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Dr. Douglas Foster

Doug Foster, church historian at Abilene Christian University, distributed a worksheet on a remarkable document at his concluding talk at First Central Presbyterian Church Nov. 1. The document was the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church in 1999.

The doctrine of justification was of central importance in the Reformation. Luther argued that humans were justified by the grace of God, through Christ. In the 16th century, the church’s position was that people were saved by good works.

The joint declaration stated that, “In faith we (Lutherans and Catholics) together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God.”

It further stated that, “We confess together that good works–a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love–follow justification and are its fruits.”

The last article of the joint declaration, Number 44, stated, “We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.”

It took 482 years for Luther’s 95 Theses to result in the joint declaration, with numerous monumental reforms along the way, but it did, indeed, turn out to be the “Post-It Note heard around the world.”

 

 

CHRISTIANS CAN ENGAGE IN CIVIL POLITICAL TALK, EVEN WITH OPPOSING VIEWS, SUMMIT TEACHERS ASSERT

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Cole Bennett, standing, and Scott Self, lead a class at ACU’s Summit 2017 on “The Christian Citizen.” Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

Scott Self and Cole Bennett are about as different politically as can be.

This is by their own admission. But, they are best friends, they are united in Christ, and they talk.

“How did this happen?” Self asked.

It happened–and happens–because both men are willing to try to understand where the other is coming from. Bennett knows that Self is a man who loves Christ first, and Self knows that about his friend.

“That makes a difference in who we are,” Bennett said.

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Cole Bennett

Bennett is a professor in the Language and Literature Department at Abilene Christian University and Self is director of ACU’s University Access Department.

The two friends took a tag team approach to leading sessions at ACU’s Summit 2017, held Sept. 17-20. The class, taught in two parts, was titled, “The Christian Citizen: Christianity and Public Policy.”

Bennett projected a graphic on a screen from a 2013 book titled, “Three Languages of Politics” by Arnold Kling. The graphic showed three axes, with “Progressive” as the label for the first axis, “Conservative” the second, and “Libertarian” the third.

Each axis had words on each end with opposite meanings. The “Progressive” axis had  “oppressed” and “oppressor” on opposite ends, “Conservative” had “savage” and “civilized,” and “Libertarian” had “coerced” and “free” on the opposite ends of its axis.

Whenever hot button political issues arise, it’s best to be aware of when you aren’t listening to someone on a different axis.

“We need to be able to talk on all three axes,” Bennett said.

Bennett listens to a particular podcast because of the civil conversation, as opposed to the strident voices on one side or the other that are usually heard on talk shows. There is a simple reason that the conversation is civil, Bennett said.

“It’s because they move on all three axes,” he said.

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Scott Self

Likewise, Self and Bennett move on each other’s axis when talking about the size and role of government. It would be inappropriate, Self said, for him to say that Bennett doesn’t care for the poor just because their political views differ.

“How he does (care) is very different from how I care,” Self said.

People have the resources needed to try to understand another person’s point of view and to engage in civil discourse, the friends agreed. They are blessed with the capacity for compassion, forgiveness, joy, peace, and patience.

Bennett said that no matter what form the government takes, as a Christian he has duty to live according to the teachings of Jesus.

“I still have a responsibility to the poor,” he said, no matter how the government views assisting the poor. “I can’t ever give up my responsibility to God and my neighbor.”

‘GOD DOESN’T KNOW BOUNDARIES, JUST POSSIBILITIES,’ LECTURER REMINDS

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By Loretta Fulton

“You were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”

“You were an alien in their land.”

Why does God insist on saying that?

Because God wants his people to remember that they were aliens once and to feel empathy toward the aliens among them. He wants his people to look at those who are different and say, “Here is somebody just like me” because they share a common experience.

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Mark Hamilton

That is a lesson from Deuteronomy that can’t be ignored, Mark Hamilton, an Abilene Christian University professor of Old Testament, said during a session at ACU’s Summit 2017, held Sept. 17-20.

Theme for Summit was “Ancient Scripture, Future Church,” based on reflections from Deuteronomy. If anyone is tempted to dismiss the Old Testament as “old,” Hamilton has a reminder–Christians are a community that inherited Deuteronomy, and other Old Testament writings, as part of their value system.

“We take these texts very seriously,” Hamilton said.

So, what does that mean for today’s Christians? Hamilton recalled that when he was a 12-year-old living in western Arkansas, Fort Chaffee became the home to 25,000 refugees from the Vietnam War, which ended April 30, 1975.

“We came face to face with the reality of immigration,” Hamilton said.

The church he and his family attended worshipped with the refugees in old World War II barracks at Fort Chaffee. As a 12-year-old faithful Christian, Hamilton said he felt an obligation to meet with the strangers, worshipping, singing, and sharing the gospel. He thought that’s the way it was supposed to be.

“And, I still think that’s just the way it’s supposed to be,” Hamilton said.

His belief jibes with the texts in Deuteronomy that he cited. The book is filled with examples of how God intends for his people to interact with the aliens among them. There is nothing vague or abstract about them, Hamilton noted.

“You don’t get to oppress people simply because you can, because they’re an outsider,” Hamilton said.

With so much migration today, churches most likely will have an opportunity to be a host to refugees or immigrants in their community. What, Hamilton asked, does it mean to be the host of migrants?

First, ask questions like, “What do you know about God?” rather than making statements like,  “Let me tell you about God.” Both the migrant and the host can learn from that kind of interaction.

The good host isn’t controlling nor does he blame migrants for the problems in his own community or country.

There is challenge, Hamilton said, but also great opportunity with so much migration in the world today. Hamilton told of a friend in Austria who attended a church that was dwindling in numbers. The church prayed for new people, new workers in the life of the church. And, just like that, an influx of Nigerians filled the pews.

“God doesn’t know boundaries,” Hamilton said, “just possibilities.”

 

‘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.”

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