The Chair and the Desk, 9/29/15

From the chair:

14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart 
be acceptable in your sight, 
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 

-Psalm 19:14

I didn’t really feel like being a student this morning, but this psalm provided me with a timely scholar’s prayer. In fact, the whole psalm–rejoicing over God’s revelation in the world, rejoicing God’s revelation in his Word, and this request–is a great anthem for anyone who spends the day reading, thinking, discussing, and writing.


From the desk:

“For the sake of the texts, and this does not simply mean for the sake of preserving them, but in order to put them into effect, to carry them out, dogmatic theology is directed to reality; and for the sake of reality (and this means speaking to it in such a way that one corrects it and shows it in its true light), dogmatic theology is directed to texts which have been handed down.”

-Gerhard Ebeling, Theology and Proclamation, trans. John Riches, pp.30-31.

This quote refreshed me this afternoon, and it contains two reminders we must heed: Our theology must be expressed in the real world we live in, but it must also be driven by the Word of God. This sounds simple, but for some reason seminaries seem to foster the kind of thinking that only remembers one or the other, becoming too abstract to communicate anything or too relativized to say anything.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/28/15

From the chair:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

-John 14:6-7

In the face of consumerism and individualism, the cross is still offensive. Jesus’ self-sacrificing love still confronts and challenges our (my) addiction to TV, fine foods, and relaxation.

However, in the theological academy, I’m not sure that Jesus’ cross is the real hurdle to following him anymore. Love, humility, selflessness are all almost taken for granted. We (theologians) take for granted that we are enlightened enough to see love as superior to hate, humility  to arrogance, and selflessness to domination. That doesn’t mean there’s no hurdle, no “offense,” and if we don’t pause, see, and confront it, then we will almost assuredly continue on the smoother way. In the 21st century, North American theological academy, I think the real offense of Jesus is his incarnation. We are confronted by the claim that God really has revealed himself, and that an endless quest to account for all human experience will come at the expense of attention to the divine revelation in Christ. We can’t just “punt” on transcendence, revelation, or the incarnation. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, if through him we have known and seen the Father, then God’s revelation has the right to dominate our lives.


From the desk:

“To be taken seriously by populations that are subjugated pastoral theology will need to have the capacity to engage systems of power…Pastoral theology needs theoretical resources that not only provide psychological insights, but can also interpret the wider cultural, social, economic, and political contexts.”

-Cedric C. Johnson, “Resistance is Not Futile” in Healing Wisdom (Eerdman’s), 162.

I’ve read a lot about politics and pastoring lately, and while I’m not entirely sure what to conclude, I do believe this: We can’t put all of our focus on individual psychological needs, we must attend to systemic political problems.

On the one hand, “pastoral care” shouldn’t pretend to be professional therapy. In fact, great pastoral care considers people’s psychological needs and helps people with things that professional therapy doesn’t specialize in (ongoing care, spiritual guidance, sometimes in partnership with professional therapy for more acute needs).

In the same way, pastors shouldn’t pretend to be politicians, but we must still consider people’s political needs. We live in a world of systems and power–some of which we suffer from, most of which I (and those like me) benefit from, and though as pastors this isn’t our “profession,” systemic justice must nonetheless become our concern.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/25/15

From the chair:

16 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. 

-Mark 16:1-8

The Gospel of Mark ends abruptly. It seems to just stop more than finish. According to my GCTS Mark Exegesis professor, Stephen Witmer, this is probably not a mistake or a manuscript error; it’s probably literary genius. Mark just stops because the story has not finished. We, the readers, must continue it. In the sudden silence, Mark asks us a question: What will you say about this Jesus?


From the desk:

“Diaspora imagination recognizes the diversity of diasporas and honors the different histories and memories. The diasporic experiences of being a Chinese in the United States are different from those of a Chinese in Indonesia or in Peru. The Jewish, Armenian, Chinese, Japanese, and Asian Indian diasporic communities in the United States are different not only because of history and religious tradition, but also because of class, race, and ethnicity…A diasporic consciousness finds similarities and differences in both familiar territories and unexpected corners; one catches glimpses of oneself in a fleeting moment or in a fragment in someone else’s story.”

-Kwok Pui-lan, Postcolonial Imagination & Feminist Theology, pp.49-50

Throughout this book, Kwok recognizes that as a Chinese person in America, she stands at a sort of crossroads. Looking down one road, she sees other ethnically Chinese people spread out over the world. Looking down the other road, she sees the various ethnicities of the people who live together in her community. “Culture” gets more complex, around the world, every day.

Kwok explains that this “diaspora” experience is both disorienting and promising. It gets harder and harder to have a home, but there are also possibilities for new understanding. In a small way, I feel like a similar “mash up” of the evangelical youth ministry I was involved in and the theological academy that we currently live in. The move from there to here isn’t an ascent into “real knowledge”–it truly is a mixing of new cultures. I’m learning new (to me) words, new (to me) ways of thinking, meeting new (to me) people. As these cultures run together, there is new knowledge, but it’s also harder and harder to figure out where/what home is.

The point isn’t just that immigrants experience fragmentation. It’s also that by moving they too are arriving at new understandings, and while my degree should declare “I’m learning–let’s talk” (or “I’m learning about God–let’s talk about God”), so does another person’s unfamiliar habits, temporary visa, or broken english.

Or broken Slovene. I believe in you, Kyle Evans.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/24/15

From the chair:

27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. 

-Mark 15:27-32

Rather than my own commentary, I’d like to offer a few lines from a detective story I read in bed the other night that made this scene come alive for me. This is from G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery, “The Man with Two Beards.” John Bankes has tried to convince Father Brown that the thief, found dead in the yard, must have committed the crime (because Bankes actually killed him to use him as a scapegoat for the crime Bankes committed).

“’It’s an under-statement to say his reformation was sincere. He was one of those great penitents who manage to make more out of penitence than others can make out of virtue. I say I was his confessor; but, indeed, it was I who went to him for comfort. It did me good to be near so good a man. And when I saw him lying there dead in the garden, it seemed to me as if certain strange words that were said of old were spoken over him aloud in my ear. They might well be; for if ever a man went straight to heaven, it might be he.’

‘Hang it all,’ said John Bankes restlessly, ‘after all, he was a convicted thief.’

‘Yes,’ said Father Brown; ‘and only a convicted thief has ever in this world heard that assurance: ‘This night shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.’”


From the desk:

“It is always possible to say, ‘Oh, some violence was done to me, and this gives me full permission to act under the sign of “self-defense.”’ Many atrocities are committed under the sign of a ‘self-defense’ that, precisely because it achieves a permanent moral justification for retaliation, knows no end and can have no end. Such a strategy has developed an infinite way to rename its aggression as suffering and so provides an infinite justification for its aggression. Or it is possible to say that ‘I’ or ‘we’ have brought this violence upon ourselves, and thus to account for it by recourse to our deeds, as if we believed in their omnipotence, believed that our own deeds re the cause of all possible effects. Indeed, guilt of this sort exacerbates our sense of omnipotence, sometimes under the very sign of its critique. Violence is neither a just punishment we suffer nor a just revenge for what we suffer. It delineates a physical vulnerability from which we cannot slip away, which we cannot finally resolve in the name of the subject, but which can provide a way to understand that none of us is fully bounded, utterly separate, but, rather, we are in our skins, given over, in each other’s hands, at each other’s mercy. This is a situation we do not choose. It forms the horizon of choice, and it grounds our responsibility. In this sense, we are not responsible for it, but it creates the conditions under which we assume responsibility. We did not create it, and therefore it is what we must heed.”

-Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (2005), pp.100-101


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/23/15

From the chair:

12  Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; 
forget not the afflicted. 
13  Why does the wicked renounce God 
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? 
14  But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, 
that you may take it into your hands; 
to you the helpless commits himself; 
you have been the helper of the fatherless. 
15  Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; 
call his wickedness to account till you find none. 

-Psalm 10:12-15

As I read this psalm this morning, it reminded me that behind this refugee crisis there is a war, and behind every war there is evil. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.


From the desk:

If you can’t carry it into the pulpit, how will they carry it out of the pew? 

This isn’t a quote–it’s a lesson I learned in Dr. Gibson’s Intro to Preaching course at Gordon-Conwell. It’s the first lesson from my first preaching courses that I’ve been able to pass on in others’ first preaching course as a pseudo-pseudo-teacher (the TAs are the pseudo-teachers, and I’m actually auditing what they’re doing, so…it’s very derivative). 

I was initially frustrated that we weren’t allowed to preach from manuscripts (which is not a rule here at Princeton); how could I preach such complex masterpieces without a script? I eventually realized that if my sermon was too difficult for my mind to carry into the pulpit, how could I expect my hearers’ minds to carry it out of the pew? This forced me to reflect on the point of a sermon: It is not for the preacher to say something clever; it is for the listeners to hear the Word of God. Therefore, in most circumstances, it really is ideal to walk up to the pulpit with just a Bible in hand (and an understandable sermon in mind). In conversation after class, a student was relating a similar situation, and I was glad to pass on this lesson that I’d recently learned.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/22/15

From the chair:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

-Mark 14:61b-62

Despite having read many opinions to the contrary, I still believe that Jesus said this, knew what he was saying, and said that this will “happen” in the way that normal people use the word “happen.” It’s dangerous to shave off parts of the gospels until we have something that’s easy to believe without any sort of inner conversion from our old way to the new way. This is a major part of what I believe and why I believe: Jesus was raised from the dead, he will raise us from the dead, and we will be with him.


From the desk:

“There has not always been, therefore, nor is there always and everywhere, nor will there always and everywhere (‘with humans’ or elsewhere) be something, a thing that is one and identifiable, identical with itself, which, whether religious or irreligious, all agree to call ‘religion. And yet, one tells oneself, one still must respond.’”

-Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge” in Acts of Religion, ed. Anidjar, p.73

It was a very dry and difficult afternoon of reading, but I think I understand and agree with one thing Derrida is saying: “Religion” is a word that comes from Latin, which suggests that it comes from Christendom, which suggests that to talk about someone’s “religion” other than Christianity (using the word “religion”) is really asking, “what is your Christianity.” To which others should respond, “I don’t have a Christianity,” by not accepting the word “religion.” Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc. all have similarities with Christianity in how they impact people’s lives, but they aren’t just multiple-choice answers to a question that everyone innately has (“what is my ‘religion’?”). I hope I understand what Derrida means, because now I’m taking it to go on and say something he doesn’t mean: When we think about reconciling others with God, we should think beyond replacing their religion with our religion, because Jesus Christ is neither absent in nor equivalent to our religious doctrines and practices.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/21/15

From the chair:

27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

[5 verses later]

36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

-Mark 14

I’m so much like Peter. I don’t do what I should do and I do what I should not do–but I still keep saying “I’ve got this.” Jesus isn’t surprised by Peter; he doesn’t coddle him, but he’s not harsh with him. He knows that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes, Peter, you’ve got this!” Jesus doesn’t say, “Whatever, Peter, you’re never going to get this.” He says, to all of us who are willing and weak, who know we’re inadequate but want to become less inadequate: Watch and pray! Or have we forgotten the irreplaceable habit of prayer?


From the desk:

preaching must not be confused with teaching. This is not to say that a sermon cannot instruct and stimulate the thinking of the hearers; indeed it should and, with all the boring sermons one is constrained to hear, it is to be hoped that some will be more interesting. But all that is instructive and interesting in the sermon is justified only when the sermon points up the questions which are inherent in this or that are of life, and what answers they receive in the light of the Word of God.

[1 page later]

It is true that the content of preaching may also be formulated in dogmatic language. For example, the fact that preaching says to man that he needs God’s forgiveness can be brought to expression in the doctrine of original sin. But the believing acceptance of such preaching is expressed only in the confession ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ and not in agreeing with any doctrine of original sin.”

-Rudolf Bultmann, “Preaching: Genuine and Secularized” in Religion and Culture, pp.238 & 239.

Throughout the afternoon I thought, “there will be no ‘from the desk’ today,” because I disagree with Bultmann on so many key points–who Jesus is first and foremost. However, we do agree on this distinction between teaching and preaching. In fact, I heard a sermon yesterday that was too much teaching with no preaching purpose, but in the car I said to Annie, “I really can’t rag on that sermon too much, because I’ve preached it before.” We’re all learning–my hope is that I and the preachers around me are learning to stop marching around God with our words and to make way for his Word to address each of us.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/18/15

From the chair:

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

13 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 

-Mark 12:41-13:2

This passage reminded me how quickly we forget what God prioritizes. In the story, I’m like the disciples who want to talk about beautiful buildings while Christ’s attention is fixed on this un-cared-for and faith-filled woman.


From the desk:

Instead of thinking about the topics you want to teach, focus on learning outcomes: What do you want your students to be able to do after they have studied the material and completed their assignments? What knowledge skills, attitudes, and ‘habits of mind’ do you want your students to acquire during the semester?

-Barbara Cross Davis, Tools for Teaching, 2009 ed., p.3

This one goes out to my mom. The phrase “learning outcomes” is actually very familiar to me, because I think all along she’s been teaching me to be a teacher. Nonetheless, this, on the first page of my first teaching textbook, was a good reminder. Sometimes the process of academia makes it seem like it’s all about me. I’ve had to work on building my CV to show my knowledge and my experience to get into my program to write my dissertation to earn my degree to get my job. Yet, teaching isn’t about me, especially teaching in a seminary. Teaching is about students, and teaching in a seminary is about the pastor-students, which means it’s really about the Church, which means it’s really about Christ. This was a good reminder that it’s not about packing my brain or launching my career or writing my ideas. It’s about developing theoretical and practical wisdom to serve the servants of the Church, which serves God.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/17/15

The chair:

26 “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

-Jesus, to the Sadducees, “who say that there is no resurrection,” Mark 12:26-27


The desk:

Death at the grave mocks the survivors: ‘Now you speak!’ And to this one must answer: ‘Love is the victor!’ This statement is a postulate. And this postulate is the postulate of faith. 

-Ernst Fuchs, “The New Testament and the Hermeneutical Problem,” in The New Hermeneutic, eds. Robinson and Cobb, 1964, p.140.

My first class presentation will be on Ernst Fuchs, and there are aspects of his thought that I agree with and aspects I don’t. However, most of what I find most true and beautiful in Fuchs emerges in this graveside scene. Death challenges us; it challenges us not to love. “I win,” death declares. “‘Survival of the fittest.’ There’s no time for you to love.” At the grave, it laughs at the living: “Do you still dare to live as if anything other than me has the final say in this world?” Fuchs calls us to retort, “Love is the victor!” This is what we believe: We believe that love has won in Christ, love is the way to live in the present despite all signs to the contrary, and love will win in the future that only God can control. If we believe that love is the victor–in other words, if we have faith–then we will release our grip on self-preservation and instead entrust ourselves to the God who is love.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 9/16/15

The chair:

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

-Luke 10:24-29

Anyone reading (or writing) this today has not seen Jesus, at least not how we see the other people walking past us each day. Therefore, we are each left with the single, timeless, decisive question: Do I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Seminary student, custodian, politician, or general manager, we are each faced with the irreducible question of faith.


The desk:

“…why must we accept all or nothing? It uses the notions of language event, ‘world,’ and ‘common understanding’ creatively. Yet Fuchs insists that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a ‘linguistic event’ rather than one of ‘objective’ history. May it not be both self-involving and ‘factual’?”

-Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction, 2009 ed., p.193.

I know this quote seems like a string of random characters to most non-nerds, but it represents why I want to both preach and teach, why I describe myself as both evangelical and critical, why I will stay connected to Gordon-Conwell and currently attend Princeton. He’s talking about a school of thought called “The New Hermeneutic,” which many evangelicals bristle at and many mainliners frame over the mantle, but asking, “Why must we accept all or nothing?” I still haven’t heard an answer to that question, which is why I believe preachers must aim to both say what the text says and do what the text does.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.