April 2014 Blog Archives
Wednesday, April 30
5:08 PM Travel update: Just accepted a gracious invitation to speak August 30-31 at the annual Bible Conference at Middle Creek Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Gettysburg, PA. This is a ministry of my dear friends Ken and Kathy Coley. Please pray that I don't get too distracted (they are only 10 minutes from the battlefield). Then in early September I will be speaking at a major apologetics conference in Southern California. Details shortly, but I'm already waxing down my surfboard. Later in the month of September I will return to Asia for two weeks of teaching. Not sure that I'm up to all this traveling. I just want to let my life be broken and smashed in order for His light to break out.
4:42 PM My colleague Nathan Finn asks Should Professors Allow Students to Use Laptops in the Classroom? To me it's a no-brainer. My answer is a firm yes. Although I think the classroom ought to foster a sense of community, I also feel strongly that it should develop independent thinking and the ability to make sound moral choices. Students simply cannot make these choices unless they are given the freedom to do so. This is one reason why I've never required attendance in my classes. It is also why I don't penalize students for being tardy. It's also why I allow students to miss class and to make up quizzes and tests if they have a good reason for doing so. I could on and on. I try to treat my students like the adults they are. Or are becoming. I have one basic rule in the classroom. It applies as much to the issue of laptops as to anything else. Let me explain:
In 1998, when I came to Southeastern Seminary, then under Paige Patterson, I had no great desire to leave the West Coast. But since several eastern institutions had been courting me I decided to write Dr. Patterson and send him my resume. In November of 1997 Becky and I flew out to Wake Forest for an interview with Dr. Patterson. We were made to feel right at home in the spacious Lion House and were feted night and day by various members of the faculty. There were many interviews, of course. In the one with the president I was able to ask any question I wanted to.
I recall asking, "How many office hours do you require for your faculty each week, Sir?" You see, I had been accustomed to being assigned by the Talbot administration a certain number of weekly office hours. I will never forget Dr. Patterson's answer. He smiled at me and said, "Dave, around here we have only one rule: We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Act accordingly." I thought to myself, This is a place I'd like to work.
And that's my simple rule for classroom conduct. I tell my students they are free. Free to do what is right. (Of course, the Christian is never free to do what is wrong.) I tell them, in essence, "You are adults. I'd like you to attend class regularly (and I will try my very best to make class a place you will want to come to). I'd like you to be on time (and I will try very hard not to keep you past closing time). I'd like you to use your laptops responsibly (knowing full well you will be tempted at times to use it in a less-than-responsible way). But I'm not going to hover over you, look over your shoulder, or be your conscience. You are personally responsible for your actions in this class, and one day you will have to answer to a much higher Authority than me. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so act accordingly. I will try my best to do the same. With God's help, let's all work together to make this class a success."
Is this rule foolproof? Is anything in life foolproof? But I'd like to think that it has worked out pretty well in my classes. A good teacher earns the respect of his or her students, and never demands it. One good way to do this is by placing our trust in them and allowing them to make choices in such gray areas as the use of an iPhone or an iPad during class time. Of course, if I see a pattern of abuse, I am free to lovingly confront the student after class and in private. Yes, I am always a little afraid that the horse might run away from them. But there are far more subtle temptations in this area than the mere temptation to check one's email during class. Teachers can maintain their intellectual integrity without robbing their students of the right to make moral choices.
P. S. I have not commented on the obvious need for students to be allowed to use their computers and other handheld devices for in-class note-taking, to do fact-finding, to read their Bible (in any number of languages), etc. It goes without saying that these behaviors should not only be tolerated but encouraged.
4:23 PM And the winner is:
The contest wasn't even close.
9:26 AM In case you live near Randolph, NY, here's my speaking schedule for the weekend:
The venue is Faith Bible Chapel.
8:55 AM Henry Neufeld writes Remembering Becky Lynn Black.
8:40 AM Last weekend at the PA conference I had the privilege of meeting a pastor from Charlottesville. He has now graced us with his post-conference reflections, and they are well worth reading. Thank you, brother Jeff, and very nice indeed to have met you.
8:13 AM Where to begin?
This Friday marks exactly 6 months since Becky's homegoing. Since I will be in New York, unable to blog (I am a dinosaur), now is the time for reflection. What has God taught me during these past 6 months? Here's the lowdown:
1) Predictability. I can predict with an excellent degree of accuracy that I will experience nothing but unpredictability in my life these days. Expect the unexpected. Be ready to be up and then down, in season and out of season. My emotions are a roller coaster. And that's okay.
2) Trust. God is aware of my pain and He moves among it. He is aware of my numbness and monitors every second of it. He is aware of my scars and is seeking to bring about healing. People sometimes ask me, "Do you ever ask Him to take away your pain?" How can I? How can I ask the One who daily delights to grant me the gift of pain to take it away? This terrifying, excruciating sorrow means one thing and one thing only: I loved her. And so I cherish the pain even as I writhe under it.
3) Memory. It's another precious gift of God. I was once a woman's husband. I was once loved by her. Her absence means a significant loss of who I am. There's a vacancy as large as a galaxy in my heart that no one else can fill. Going to certain places brings back the memories, the loss and the sadness. Sights, sounds, smells even are triggers. Some trigger pleasant emotions. Others do not. But the memories never dim.
4) Fear. Fear that I'm going crazy because of all the crazy feelings I'm crazily feeling. Fear to share my fear with others lest they think I'm going crazy. Fear to be honest any more, fear that people are getting tired of hearing me speak about my grief. Fear that those who love me will desert me. All these intense feelings of fear cling to me, like a Portuguese Man-O-War's tentacles. The fear is unnerving and brings a sense of insecurity. How long will it last? Will it be days or weeks or months -- or years?
5) Touch. Oh, the blessing of touch. I normally do not need you to say anything. I need you to hold my hand, to watch my heart break again and again. I need you to let me tell you how unbearable this is and that if I did not have your shoulder to cry on I don't think I would make it.
6) Sadness. But why should that be? I know where Becky is. I know what she is doing and who she is with. But my sadness is a gift. It's a yearning for the one I lost. It's passive resignation -- what else can I do but bear it? "My bed is soaked from my crying" (Psalm 6:2). If that is the price for having known and loved Becky, so be it.
7) Grief. This is the tough one. Really tough. I can never control it. It distorts my sense of time. I find it distracting and disorienting. And here's the most surprising thing of all: it has only gotten worse with time. They say the first stage of grief lasts from 18 to 24 months, and it hasn't even been 6. So what to do? Some make the choice to ignore or suppress their grief. But that won't lessen the pain. I have chosen to express it. Grief can't really be shared. It's mine. I must own it. I need its slowness. There are no "shoulds" and shouldn'ts" as far as I'm concerned. It's natural and normal.
8) Death. The one thing people don't seem to understand about me is that I am dying. We knew what death was when we watched Becky wither into a fragile stretch of skin and bones. We could see it. My life is like that death from cancer. It's a hurricane blowing through my life. With each new day the wind grows stronger, the sky blacker. My life, a small stalk of corn, digs into the soil and fights against the wind until my weakened leaves are sent flying to the four corners. The stalk is still there however, and the plant remains alive, to bear fruit, maybe, hopefully, eventually. Even when the dawn comes, life will still be cold and gray. But eventually the storm will subside, and it will be safe to stand up straight and tall again.
A final thought. To walk with loss is to walk the way of the cross. This is not some heroic action we perform. All of us will face unimaginable grief and loss some day if we haven't already. Then it will be time, with Jesus, to "learn obedience though the things that He suffered." When Samuel Rutherford experienced his own cruel cross of suffering, he wrote:
Millions of Christians (I am one of them) have found it so. Praise be to God.
Tuesday, April 29
8:18 PM Dwight Pentecost is now with the Lord. My favorite work of his: The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. My love and admiration for Dr. P. knows no bounds. He was the pastor of Grace Bible Church when Becky and I were married there in 1976. The man had a pastor's heart and a scholar's mind. Here we are in his apartment in married student housing on the DTS campus in September of 2012, the last time I saw him.
He was still teaching two classes every semester. We just sat there and discussed the Lord. His front door was always open, and students took advantage of his availability and counsel. Bravo for a life well-lived, my friend!
6:53 PM The vote is on! Go here and help a friend out.
12:23 PM I just ordered a used copy of Harry Sturz's The Byzantine Text Type and New Testament Textual Criticism from Amazon. I loaned my copy to someone (I have forgotten who) and have never gotten it back. If you are that soul, would you please let me know? My copy was signed by Harry when he gave it to me and has a special place, let's say, in my heart.
8:02 AM So I was asked, "What will be the theme of your next conference?" Oh, that's an easy one. "The Correct Way to Measure the Height of a Wave." This question has been debated since the Garden of Eden. It is the most daunting question of the ages. Californians exaggerate. "Hey dude, it's breaking 10-12 at Huntington today!" (To which I reply, after racing to the beach with my board, "Did you mean inches?") We Hawaiians, on the other hand, direct descendents of the mighty Polynesians, cut the wave face in half. Fair and rational. Humble too. Let the wave wars begin!
(Confession: I did use the California method on occasion, but only when trying to impress the girls at my college.)
Below: The mighty Greg Noll at the Pipeline.
I'd do anything to own a pair of those jailhouse trunks.
7:40 AM I appreciated Henry Neufeld's post-event appraisal of the PA conference. He concludes:
I really enjoy being around Henry. He knows his Greek and Hebrew, and yet he wears his considerable learning lightly. He is also a man of prayer and realizes that God's army always moves forward on its knees.
P.S. Henry promises a vote today or tomorrow about the title for my academic journey book. Stay tuned ....
Monday, April 28
7:54 PM The worst part? About grieving? It's unpredictability. It hits you when you least expect it. Like when we were singing in church yesterday. The pain came back and washed over me like a set of huge waves at Sunset Beach. We were singing a praise chorus that Becky and I knew well. It spoke of going Home, and during that stanza a feeble Becky and I would stand there and put our arms around each other and lay our head against the other's and the tears would well up. Today I felt great. Tonight I feel like a piece of driftwood I once picked up at Kailua Beach -- waterlogged, too heavy to lift even. As I said, it's unpredictable. Some days you might get two phone calls and the same number of emails from people who are dear to you. At other times, the people you thought would always be by your side forget to call or write, for weeks at a time. Perhaps they're dealing with grief of their own. Somehow -- maybe because of pure selfishness -- I feel I need my grief to be validated by others. I am walking through an unknown wilderness, and sometimes I just need someone to walk it with me. Honestly, it's cruel how grief sneaks up on you. As I type this, the house is quiet around me at the end of another long day. I know deep down that all I need is Him. But today's a day I'm just not getting it. It's God who will carry me through, but why do I feel like I'm coming up for breath for the third time after wiping out at Makaha? Tonight I'm re-reading a book I once wrote: Paul, Apostle of Weakness. The theme is simple. He is strong. And it's an awfully good thing that He is. Because I am not.
So tonight, as the rain falls gently outside, there are real tears and there is real hope. I rest in what the Psalmist said: "He brought me into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me" (Psalm 18:19).
7:04 PM Henry shared his testimony at the fellowship yesterday.
Which makes me think:
I love publishers who really love Jesus.
I love publishing companies that are more than all about the bottom line.
I love local church elders who are not super-possessive about "their" pulpit.
I love you. I love you for loving Becky. I love you for loving me.
6:48 PM Who needs traffic lights in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia? (Note: Keep your eye on the people trying to cross the street.)
P.S. This is light traffic too!
9:33 AM This just in: "From the Beach to the Bush." We're getting closer!
8:47 AM Mowing is done. Love my new ride mower!
6:17 AM "Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on the wrong level all day." Oswald Chambers.
6:12 AM Almost forgot: Thomas Hudgins also live blogged the conference and his is some of the best writing around.
6:02 AM Enjoying a meal at Ashee Ethiopian restaurant in Cary last night. Left to right: Daughter Rachael, son Nigusse, publisher Henry Neufeld.
As I posted on Henry's Facebook page this morning:
This was our first time at Ashee and I gave it two thumbs up. We all got to talking about the title for my next book with Energion. I've been calling it "My Academic Journey," but nobody seems to like that title, least of all me. So help us out folks -- what's a good name? The book traces my academic pilgrimage from Hawaii to SEBTS. Ideas so far .... From Wave to Weakness (weakness referring to the topic of my first book, Paul, Apostle of Weakness)? Basel Beach Bum. This Ain't Your Normal Homer's Odyssey. Confessions of a Recovering Greek Scholar. Help!
So please do help us out.
Sunday, April 27
7:45 AM Today I'm taking a much-needed break from scholarship. I'm going to spend the next few days getting the farm into shape for the haying season. My new ride mower (that was dead-on-arrival) was replaced yesterday, and I am hoping against hope that this new machine will start. The yard grass is already reaching Eden-like proportions, and I'd rather not bush-hog it if I can avoid it.
Let me just say a word about this weekend's Pericope of the Adulteress Conference on campus. A number of factors made it, in my opinion, a fabulous success. First, there was the high quality of scholarship represented by the five speakers.
That level of expertise provided the rest of us with an enormous opportunity that is often absent when these matters are being discussed or debated. Second, the lecturers all spoke with the greatest clarity -- and charity. The buzz in the room was definitely a positive one! This is partly because the speakers all knew each other fairly well; some have collaborated on writing projects for years. Constant association with one's colleagues cannot help but build a sense of genuine collegiality. It is partly because the speakers respected each other, and it showed. Third, it has been shown that the majority of people base their academic positions on exposure to various points of view. Hermeneutics is not so much a crisis; it is more a process. This may well be the most critical aspect of the conference: it both broadened and deepened the conversation in significant ways. Fourth, it is abundantly plain that the vast majority of people who attended left with a deep sense of satisfaction and even joy at having witnessed such cordiality and amiability. Each of our speakers is a warm, committed, unembarrassed Christian, representing different Christian traditions to be sure, but nonetheless "Christian" both in their approach to the text of the New Testament as Scripture and in their deportment.
Without a doubt, the most interesting speaker this weekend was our own Maurice Robinson, whose status among the textual critics present has achieved, it appears, almost that of Michael the Archangel.
Maurice's perspective draws from a lifetime of experience in encountering actual manuscripts rather than from the many books on the subject. Some may find him too detailed, but this is a good fault for a textual critic! For far too many Christians, textual criticism is a meaningless ivory tower pursuit or else simply the prolegomenon to something far more important. Maurice showed us that nothing could be further from the truth. He has spent a career showing average evangelical Christians how important and relevant textual criticism is to our understanding of sacred Scripture.
I was delighted in the extreme to see many students and "lay persons" in attendance. (The Johannine scholars seem to have stayed away in droves.)
Just as politics is too important to leave to the politicians, so textual criticism is too important to leave to the experts. They may know more than you do, but you are the ones who will have to decide, week in and week out, whether or not you teach or preach this disputed word or that debated passage. No, we cannot leave textual criticism to the scholars. Each church member has a job to do. And that job includes personal involvement, to some degree at least, in deciding between textual variants. I dread to think of the opportunities I constantly miss through my failure to dig deeper into the text on this level. Years ago one passage brought this home to me, and it will always stand as an example of the relevance of textual criticism for the church. In some manuscripts of Matt. 5:22 we have a Jesus who condemns all anger, while in other manuscripts we see Him forbidding only causeless (eike) anger. What a difference a little Greek adverb can make! To put it another way, our views about the legitimacy of anger for the Christian are dependent to a very great degree on our understanding of textual criticism. We have to engage in it!
This is now the third time I've helped to organize a conference of this kind on campus, and I must confess to you that all along I've had an ulterior motive. We Christians live a good deal of our lives in splendid isolation, rarely interacting with people from differing perspectives or backgrounds. It is sort of a self-imposed monasticism. And it is dangerous. My hope for all of our conferences is that they will become bridge builders. Christians are so varied, and their starting points are so diverse, that it is always good for us to listen to each other. I'm not suggesting for a moment that it is necessary to surrender our long-cherished views or personal convictions in order to engage in dialogue. What I am saying is that none of us has a complete handle on the truth, and so we need modesty. The world is filled with harsh, pushy people who are always trying to sell us something. We are repelled by them, and rightly so. Christianity calls for much more moderation than that. At the same time, Christianity also calls for us to speak with confidence whenever we proclaim the word of God. If that is the case, it follows that we should acquire at least of modicum of facility in the art and science of New Testament textual criticism. No, we may not always know precisely what the original reading is in a place of variation. But at least we can tell our people that we have done our own homework and have made an honest effort to understand the problem for ourselves. Christianity is inescapably intellectual. Engaging in exegesis is not an optional matter for those who "like" that kind of thing. It is an integral part of what it means to be a Christian.
Evangelical textual criticism is not the kingdom (God forbid!). But it is a tool in God's kingdom that tries to serve and please the King. New Testament interpretation does not end with textual criticism but it begins with it. No wonder the audience over the weekend seemed so delighted and pleased to have been treated to a clear and enjoyable presentation of the major hypotheses surrounding the PA. I hope the time will come when every serious Christian will join the conversation. An excellent entrée into the discipline is Harold Greenlee's Introduction to New Testament Criticism. My own New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, attempts to introduce the subject in a simple and clear manner. In all this, it is important to remember that we are not trying to undermine anyone's confidence in his or her translation of the Bible. We are simply trying to bring home to others the awesome responsibility that interpreting the Bible is. New Testament textual criticism is not an end in itself. The hope is that as we study the text of the New Testament we will go on until we find the pearl of great price as part of our search.
My sincere thanks to all of the wonderful speakers (J. D. Punch, Jennifer Knust, Tommy Wasserman, Chris Keith, Maurice Robinson); to president Danny Akin of SEBTS for his enthusiastic support; and especially to my personal assistant, Mr. Jacob Cerone, whose tireless attention to a myriad of details -- sprinkled with a massive amount of live blogging -- reminds me daily of why I appreciate him so much.
P.S. For what it's worth, my own view is that the PA is original. The inclusion of John 7:53-8:11 is well attested externally; it is early (the Old Latin pushes the reading back into the second century); and the passage is sui generis with the rest of John's Gospel in terms of vocabulary and style. I'm not much of a fan of internal evidence, but I would accept either the "Liturgical Omission" or the "Ecclesiastical Repression" hypothesis as an adequate explanation for the omission of the PA in some early manuscripts. So, in conclusion, I would most certainly preach/teach this passage as Scripture but let's be honest -- there is no unique "evangelical" stance one can take. The issue is a matter upon which good people (including biblical inerrantists) will continue to disagree.
P.P.S. I agree with Dr. Robinson that the elephant in the room was the (often unexpressed) predilection for the Alexandrian text type among modern textual scholars. My friend Keith Elliott once called this the "hypnotic affect of Aleph and B." (I honestly do not know if he continues to use that language to describe this phenomenon.) I believe it is time to lay this misconstrued concept to rest. The NA 28 is no more to be considered an authoritative text than the TR was 150 years ago. At the same time, I think Maurice's case for Byzantine Priority is very weak. I'd love to believe it, but the evidence is just not there. I tend to lean more toward Harry Sturz' view (The Byzantine Text Type and New Testament Textual Criticism) that the Byzantine text, because it is unedited in the Westcott and Hort sense, remains a reliable witness to the text of the New Testament but not the only one. Which is why I've been speaking to Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications (who is now visiting with me on the farm) about the possibility of him re-issuing Harry's now out-of-print book.
So there you have it.
Keep thinking, reading, discussing, and living the Gospel!
Friday, April 25
5:45 AM There are so many things I love about scholarship and being an evangelical author. There's the day you publish your first work of scholarship. It's usually your master's thesis or a portion of it. In my case, my Talbot thesis was titled "The Address of the Ephesian Epistle" and the main ideas were published as an article in the Grace Theological Journal way back before most of you were born. In it I defended the originality of the words "in Ephesus" in Eph. 1:1.
Now, I don't normally see many M.Div. students writing masters theses any more, and I think it's a crying shame. Just trust me when I tell you that it's one of the best moves you can pull in seminary. That little essay formed the bedrock for my subsequent studies in New Testament Textual Criticism, including my books Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism, Perspectives on the Ending of Mark, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, and my Festschrift honoring a good friend and a leading American textual scholar, Harold Greenlee: Scribes and Scripture. Each of these books is still in print today. And the craziness continued. Even though I am not an expert in textual criticism, I went on to publish essays on the subject in Novum Testamentum, New Testament Studies, and Filologia Neotestamentaria. Unfortunately, just writing essays on textual variants doesn't mean you can convince someone of the correctness of your views. I'm not going to lie when I say that I'm just a tad disappointed that subsequent editions of the UBS Greek New Testament haven't changed much in terms of the readings they prefer, despite the many challenges to the status quo over the years. That's why I've been so keen on holding conferences on campus that allow students to hear from leading scholars on a variety of debated subjects in the field of New Testament Textual Criticism.
The icing on the cake is tonight's conference on the so-called Pericope Adulterae, the passage in John 7:53-8:11 where the case of a certain adulteress is debated (and just where was the adulterer?!). Our esteemed lecturers are published authors on this passage, and that includes our own Maurice Robinson. Other speakers are Jennifer Knust, Chris Keith, Tommy Wasserman, and J. D. Punch. Please pray for this conference. Please ask God to give all of us clarity as we discuss the evidence for and against this passage. Teachability -- it seems like such a small thing but it's everything. I've been at this business for more than 37 years and I know that I still have a long ways to go. By the way, I haven't recovered from jet lag yet, and I haven't gotten a full night's sleep in weeks. And I'm the host!
This could be interesting....
Below: From The Address of the Ephesian Epistle in 1980 to introducing J. D. Punch in 2014. You almost have to laugh.
Thursday, April 24
4:54 PM Beautiful day on campus today. I never cease to marvel at how fabulous our facilities are.
In chapel today we prayed especially for pastors and church staff. Prayerlessness only highlights our self-sufficiency, so it is always good to gather as the people of God and pray for one another.
And here's Michael Rudolph (center).
He passed his orals with flying colors today and will be walking (the plank!) in May. Heartiest congratulations, Mike! Don't ask me what his dissertation is about -- it's way over my head. Thanks also to Dr. Ben Merkle for being my co-persecutor today.
P.S. I'll be interviewed briefly on KWVE (Pastor's Perspective) today at 6:00 pm EST. The topic: Whether to measure the height of a wave from the front (California) or from the back (Hawaii). I wish. We'll actually be talking about the PA conference beginning tomorrow on campus.
7:22 AM Random reflections on a gorgeous Thursday morn:
1) A week from today I leave for the great state of New York to hold a Bible conference at Faith Bible Chapel near Buffalo. Next Friday the church is holding a pastors' luncheon. They're calling it "Lunch with Dave Black: Insights on Preaching from the New Testament After 37 Years of Teaching Greek." Man, even I would attend a luncheon if it had a title like that.
2) Today one of my Ph.D. students has his final oral exam. I know. I know. I love these guys and use any excuse to talk about them.
3) Last night I watched a commentary on America's secret war in Yemen. It is really just an intensified microcosm of the history of our sad planet. Every time you kill an enemy and there is "collateral damage," you create 50 more.
4) I'll be interviewed sometime on KWVE about the PA conference that starts tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.
5) Finally, loved this quote by Thomas Guthrie: "If the world is ever conquered for Christ, it will be by everyone doing their own work, holding their own post, and saying to Jesus, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?'."
6:53 AM Don Stewart is planning a "meeting of the boards" for later this year in sunny Southern California. Good luck, pal.
Wednesday, April 23
7:40 PM "Much of our praying is just asking God to bless some folks that are ill, and to keep us plugging along. But prayer is not merely prattle; it is warfare." Alan Redpath.
3:38 PM "Loneliness is the first thing which God's eye nam'd not good." John Milton. Remember, though: Loneliness can be a gift from God. It's an opportunity to listen to the Word, get your bearings, and draw near to God.
6:37 AM Just got my exercise for the day. Learning to enjoy my own, very unique corner of the world.
True satisfaction always comes when you realize that you are a unique creation of God with unique desires and "issues." So stop thinking you need to compare yourself to anyone else. Just enjoy being you.
5:15 AM Hope never to see this:
4:30 AM Up again at 4:00 am, still jet-lagged but slowly recovering. This morning I am hungry. Hungry to know Jesus. Eager to finish well. I want to experience the power that the early believers in Acts had. I admire their courage to be honest. And the first verse to hit me this morning? 2 Tim. 2:2. Why? Because I'm already in the mentoring phase of my career. It's time to think about tapping my students on the shoulder and asking them to receive the torch. I truly believe that the ultimate measure of my success as a teacher is going to be the way I pass that torch and to whom I pass it. My teaching overseas is a good example of what I'm talking about. Originally, when traveling overseas, I would be asked to teach pastors in courses like hermeneutics. I never found this very satisfying. Why couldn't local leaders teach hermeneutics to their own pastors, without a translator? And so I've often been drawn to 2 Tim. 2:2, where we see a mentoring movement that's at least four-deep: Paul mentoring Timothy, Timothy mentoring others, and they mentoring still others. This plan, thank God, is working well in Asia and Eastern Europe in places where I serve. By the time I return to Odessa in November, the plan is to assemble the Greek teachers from all the seminaries in Ukraine for a weeklong course in Greek pedagogy. How cool is that? This is instruction where it probably counts the most. You see, not many years ago I was like these guys -- a young upstart, eager to grow into leadership. Young leaders don't have as much experience as I have and they don't know as much as I do (in certain areas). But you know what? I trust them. I trust them, whether they are my Th.M. students or my Ph.D. students or my trainees in other countries. I well recall one of my own mentors telling me many years ago, "There can be no success without successors." It's not that I don't enjoy my work. I still love it. I enjoy my work immensely. But this is all the more reason to get involved in downward mentoring in view of that day when I will pass the torch. I am encouraged by the built-in year of mentorship we have in our Ph.D. program here at SEBTS. My students are fast outpacing me in areas like Greek pedagogy and the use of social media, and I am very grateful to see it. Some call this "facilitative leadership" -- and it works. My real job as a teacher is to help my students reach their full potential as future scholars and missionaries --- "to empower God's people for works of service," as Paul puts it in Eph. 4:12. I give my students a fairly long tether and let them work on their own if they wish. When William Carey's superiors told him to sit down and shut up, what did he do? He ignored them and became one of the world's greatest missionaries. I love mentoring students. I love writing short emails to them, simply affirming them in their calling. Most of us wildly underestimate the power of a personal phone call or visit. I remember being dumbfounded when Dr. Harry Sturz called upon me personally in my college dorm room at Biola. I remember him thanking me for being such a hard-working student in summer Greek and wishing me well in my future Greek studies. That meant a lot to me. We all need teachers like that, but they seem to be a dying breed. There is no more powerful pedagogical tool than the personal touch. I'm an optimist, folks. My attitude toward my students is no less than the spirit of Carey, who declared to his followers when he left for India, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!" The greatest leaders in my life inspired me to go places I would never have attempted to go on my own and to attempt to do things I would never have thought possible. Suddenly, 37 years of teaching makes sense to me. It all fits together. "There can be no success without successors." And that is a lesson I am re-learning each and every day. The greatest people in the world are not those who have mastered many things but are those who have empowered others to master those same things. Or, in the words of Winston Churchill, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
What will you give today?
Tuesday, April 22
4:56 PM "Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can." John Wesley.
11:46 AM As you know, I will be joining my colleague Maurice Robinson in hosting the Pericope Adulterae Conference on campus this Friday night and Saturday morning. Go here for more information. I know of at least two individuals who will be live-blogging the event, and we have also set up a Twitter hashtag, #paconf.
Be there or be square!
9:42 AM Today is a day for extravagance. You want extravagance? Eat a papaya. Here's mine.
Go outside today and smell a freshly cut lawn. Smile at your restaurant server. Laugh out loud. Read a good book. Or how's this? Talk to God. Don't need to say much. You can even mumble. He understands you. And don't forget eating ice cream or sending birthday cards or surprising a daughter with a bouquet of roses or taking a bubble bath or giving your dog a cookie or belching out loud.
As for me? Today I am extravagantly planning a party. May 10 is the day. It's not exactly 6 months since Becky went Home, but I'll be in New York on the second so the 10th will have to do. Family will be here. Lots of family -- kids and grandkids galore. Special "others" will also be invited, people who meant the world to Becky during her final months on this planet. I'm asking Him for a special day. A day when we can be extravagant with our love. A day when each of us says some variable of "I remember you" expressed in a hundred different ways and in who knows how many accents.
And there is one more extravagance. As you know, behind all great people there is a woman. There is a woman who stood behind Becky for 60 years. Her name is Betty Lapsley, and yes, she is Becky's mother. Betty will be flying in from Dallas just to be with us. And guess what? The next day, Sunday, is none other than Mother's Day, which also "happens" to be Betty's birthday. Now that is more than coincidence! Betty's love for Becky was displayed in very ordinary, everyday ways. It will be good to see her again. After all, whenever I look at mom, I see so much of my wife.
As the years go by, families seem to go their separate ways. But each of us in the Black family remains linked to others by our common heritage of love for Becky Lynn Lapsley Black, complemented by all of the memories and good times and joys and sorrows we shared at a place called Bradford Hall. Our address is 2691 White House Road. That's our map address. But our real home is more than a building or a street number. We are a family. And that is an extravagance.
8:27 AM Vote here.
8:20 AM I am very pleased to report that Noah Kelley has been admitted to the Doctor of Philosophy program in Biblical Studies (concentration: New Testament) starting this fall at SEBTS. I will have the joy of being his major professor. Noah has a wonderful family and edits a great blog called Earthen Vessel.
Greek students will find these two essays very helpful:
Heartiest congratulations and all best wishes to you as you begin your doctoral studies, Noah.
Monday, April 21
8:38 PM Potpourri before hitting the sack:
1) People should give the Bible the same attention they gave their nose upon discovering a huge zit the evening of a big date.
2) "If you really want some mail, read a letter from Paul." Author Unknown.
3) The twenty-first century will belong to China. Are we prepared to pray for that nation as never before?
4) To some people, "the whole world" in Mark 16:15 means the people of their own race who live on the right side of town. Others would expand it to include the United States. I surmise that God's vision of the world is bigger than ours, way bigger.
8:27 AM Read Blogging as Public Therapy. Excellent thoughts, Allan.
8:13 AM Today I am pondering (as I suppose I am always pondering) the meaning of loss. Or better, diminishment. For that is what a death represents. Things or persons you are familiar with simply vanish. One of the first diminishments to hit me after Becky's homegoing was my ability to focus and really concentrate on a task. Take my writing as an example. The key to writing is simply sitting down and doing it. The fact that I can't focus on my writing for more than a half hour is, well, aggravating, irritating, and humiliating. It is perfectly plain to anyone who knows me how frustrating this is to me. What to do? The obvious. First, you pray and commit the matter to the Lord. Second, you get busy and do the things you can do. So today will be filled with little projects that are do-able. My list includes sending my Ethiopian daughter a Money Gram to pay for her rent, contacting the bank about a money wire transfer to India, renewing the vehicle registration for one of my cars, paying medical bills, getting the lawn mower key, buying new ink cartridges for our printer, depositing checks at the bank, etc. And meanwhile the pain of Becky's death goes on its merry old way, week after week. I strain to hear some prophetic announcement from atop the Mount. (Actually, a small whisper will do.) Of course, the thought that God has abandoned me, that He is silent, is nonsense. Here's what I must do. I must realize that all of my diminishments are really blessings, to be received and accepted and, if the Lord be willing, transformed and multiplied like those fish and loaves the boy offered Jesus, or the widow's mite. And so diminishments, because they are actually blessings in disguise, remind us that we have not been left to ourselves, that no matter how painful the loss we must see ourselves in the light of God's truth, the same God who used Christ's diminishments (His incarnation and death) to accomplish our salvation. It follows that if we are to truly enjoy this Easter Monday, we must continue to share in Christ's death, which means the willingness to offer up to Him not only ourselves but all of our little losses, all of those little aggravations and frustrations in our lives, so that by His grace we may be brought a little closer to Him and be made a little more like His Son.
The Risen Christ still calls us to serve Him, and the conditions are the same after the resurrection as they were before: "Take up your cross daily and follow Me."
Sunday, April 20
8:33 PM Got a bad case of hay fever tonight. Yep. Can't wait to get up our first hay cutting of the year. Fertilizing the pastures has sure made a big difference. Green, green, green!
The animals are jumping for joy. They've been dreamily waiting all winter to be munching again on delicious orchard grass and fescue. The dogs, too, like to play rough house with each other in the grass -- that is, until they run across someone else's skubala, and then they just have to roll in the stuff. Awful, but instinctual I reckon.
Oh, the joys of farming.
Tomorrow I was hoping to mow the yards with my new ride mower, but the good people at Lowe's forgot to deliver the owner's manual, as well as the keys, when they unloaded the mower prior to my trip. If I wait much longer to mow I might have to cut the grass at 8 inches!
5:28 PM If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes as much as I do, I'm sure you'll want to know that on this day in 1841 the first ever detective story was published. The author? Edgar Allen Poe. Which means I need to pay a visit to Amazon this evening and order The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The basic idea, as I understand it, is all about problem solving -- which is what a lot of New Testament research involves. Think the synoptic problem or textual criticism or even authorship issues. Hey, who needs Luminosity when you can read a good detective novel?
5:21 PM Have any of you used voice recognition software that you were impressed with? I'm thinking especially of "Dragon Naturally Speaking." The reviews I've read blow really hot or really cold. Your recommendations? (This may well help us with transcribing the DVDs.)
5:10 PM Check out What's New? at our New Testament Greek Portal. Especially if you like Greek instruction via YouTube!
9:10 AM Listen to the Pope's Easter message here and review your Italian at the same time. Transcription into English here. I am not a Catholic, but I join the pope in praying for peace. However, the world will not see peace until they see the face of Jesus in us and hear the Gospel not only from our lips but in our lives. The biblical requirement is that we should voluntarily go out of our way to accept assignments that involve discomfort and suffering. Why then do we refuse to accept suffering as a part of the Christian life? Even Christian parents will oppose radical Christian service when their own children are willing to give up all for Christ. There is no place in Jesus' band for those unwilling to accept inconvenience and uncertainty. This has always been the price of following Jesus. Pray for peace? Yes. Tell people there can be peace without the cross? No way. Accepting death to my ego is the only way to manifest the Gospel and the life of Christ.
8:34 AM I have an important request. My Greek DVDs are going to be overdubbed into Mandarin. But first, I am looking for someone who will transcribe the DVDs for me so that the translator can work from a printed text. Please email me if you might be interested in doing this for me. A knowledge of at least a modicum of Greek is required since so much of what I say on the DVDs involves Greek words. Go here for a sample YouTube. Please send me your current CV as well as a description of your Greek proficiency. A stipend will be paid for this service. Home scholars (high school and above) are welcome to apply. Application deadline is April 30.
7:04 AM West, Texas. Until a year ago, most of us had never heard of this town near Waco, pop. 2,800. I think it's significant that one word keeps cropping up as the media attempts to describe West and the disaster that suddenly struck it, and that word is "community."
Displaced residents didn't live in shelters set up by the government -- they stayed with friends and family. The first responders were volunteer fire fighters -- from West. On the night after the disaster, the town held a vigil to honor the dead. All marks of community.
How's your church doing in this department? It is hard work to build community. It takes prayer and obedience and love and patience. For all the hang-wringing today over church growth fads and worship styles and leadership principles, why is it that we ignore the essential question: Is my church a genuine community? We now erect sanctuaries with glass fronts and baby grand pianos in the foyer and restaurants catering to the public, but people on the street look in and see little to make them exclaim, "Look how they love one another!" I believe we are in the midst of a great awakening in the slumbering church of Christ. God is infusing new strength and vigor into an aging body. Jesus stretches our view of "family" beyond mere kinship. Biological family is too small to encompass what He is doing in this world. We are meant to be "fam" -- a community known for love for God and neighbor, authentic relationships, and interdependence.
A town in Texas has shown us the way.
6:43 AM Thoughts on my first Easter Sunday without Becky:
Because Jesus lives, I am not alone in my sadness. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He's not trying to rush through my sadness, so why should I?
Because Jesus lives, God is always near me. There is never a single minute when He is not walking right beside me. Even when I don't feel His presence, I am never, never alone.
Because Jesus lives, one day I will meet Becky in the air when she will be reunited with her body, and together we will shout Hallelujah.
Because Jesus lives, death loses. Which means that I don't need to fear death and its consequences. It also means that whenever death haunts me, stalks me, whenever I am preoccupied with death and the pain it produces, I don't need to hold back and bottle up. God gives me the freedom to express my feelings -- and overcome them.
Because Jesus lives, I know that I too will receive a new body. During the past five months grief has affected every part of my being -- emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually. On days like today my body aches from the inside out. My feelings are raw. Touch me and I bleed. But one day Christ will make me a new person, body, soul, and spirit. Waiting for this day is a bit unnerving. But come it will.
Because Jesus lives, I can believe that ALL of God's promises are true. He will see me through. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. Heaven is real. (Becky is there!) God still has work for me to do. Etc.
Because Jesus lives, my loss is not just mine; it is ours, His and mine. He was there when I was ambushed by grief. He was there when I let go of Becky's cold hand. Why, I believe He even cried with me at that moment. He, the One who some day will "wipe every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 21:4), wept with me. Amazing grace indeed.
Because Jesus lives, I have a story to tell. When Jesus left for heaven, the apostles were careful to set down a record of His life and deeds. There's was a collection of a thousand brilliant one-liners. One of the roles I now have after the loss of Becky is that of family historian. It is my job to convey to others who this person who died really was. And it's not just facts. It's who Becky was as a person. It's about encapsulating the important moments of her life, commemorating who she was, and testifying about her faithfulness to all who will listen. If you knew Becky, give voice to your memories. Just tell others what you saw and knew about her. And do this not just for the sake of others but for your own. Treasure the life she lived so well.
Because Jesus lives, maybe, just maybe I can go through a day without crying, or look at her picture without pain, or be patient with myself whenever I experience a "grief spasm," or replace despair with hope.
So there you have it. I knew today would not be easy. I know it will get better with time. I'll find a new routine. But right now it's all so strange and not a little bit disorienting. Yesterday I splurged and bought me a papaya from Food Lion. Becky would buy papayas for me only on very special occasions. I just wish you could share it with me. It's going to be good.
Saturday, April 19
6:02 PM Paul Himes has just published a quick book note about Becky's autobiography. I agree with his conclusion:
7:22 AM Just a quick note to let you know I'm alive and well and very glad to be back on the farm, where these two little newborns were waiting to greet me.
As a standby passenger it's always iffy as to whether I will get home as planned. Yesterday I somehow managed to get the very last seat in the very last row in economy class, right next to everyone's favorite meeting spot, the potty. When I arrived home yesterday my neck and back were in considerable pain and I was glad to lie still and flat and wait for my pain medication to work. I was a mere 19 years of age when I made my first plane ride by myself from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Today I have only to close my eyes and see me as I was before, a strong youngster with blue eyes and thick brown hair, always full of energy and enthusiasm, irrepressibly cheerful and continually active. The Dave Black I saw in the mirror this morning has not changed in spirit, but he will never again be able to travel comfortably on long haul international flights. To my astonishment, I cried almost all the way home from the airport. I tried to make my grand entry as dignified as possible, but I felt defeated and depressed, the result of too much ministering and too little rest. My governing rule nowadays, in case you didn't know, is to live for today and close my mind to the worries of yesterday and tomorrow, but I am clearly still in process when it comes to applying this rule. I am almost too old for the rigors and exertions of the travel game -- almost! Age has become a heavy burden that sometimes makes me morose and solitary. To make matters worse, this was my first trip abroad for ministry where I was not welcomed home by Becky afterwards. I well recall how carefully I would enter the house at night, tip-toeing through the bedroom where I knew Becky was already asleep. I would shower and brush my teeth, and then slowly crawl under the covers. Inevitably a hand would reach out, find mine, and give it a little squeeze. "Honey," she would say, "welcome home." We would give each other a kiss and then just lie there, holding hands as a silent Hallelujah Chorus to the One who allowed me to return safely from yet another trip. I could not have asked for more in a wife. Even in my darkest hours she was there to comfort and console. Who wouldn't have missed a wife like that?
Speaking of Becky, did you know that the second of May is fast approaching? I never thought I'd feel so sensitive about what most people think is just another day on the calendar. But it turns out it is the day that marks 6 months since Becky's death, a day that completely changed me, a day I'm still learning how to cope with. Which is why I suppose there's a big lump in my throat this morning, knowing that on May 2 I'll take another small step toward closure. Another arrow will point away from the uncertainty and exhaustion and sheer overwhelmingness of Becky's homegoing and at the same time point forward toward new adventures and new experiences and untrodden paths. Honestly, that I've made it this far I credit to one Person and one Person only, a man who truly knows me and understands me, the one who has walked with me through this desert and has provided just enough manna for each day -- no less and no more. Last night as I sat on my bed weeping, I offered Him yet another piece of my broken heart, bleeding and hurting more than I thought was possible. Odd, but as the anniversary of Becky's death draws closer, I feel a pain as raw and visceral and intense as when she slipped from my arms into the arms of her Beloved. I'm shaking as I type this. What in the world shall I do on the second of May? And He keeps saying to me, "Dave, commemorate! Celebrate! Do it every chance you get! Use every excuse you have to face your loss head-on, to say goodbye for the millionth time. Remember, Dave, I am a God who wants His children to remember their past, who does not want them to forget the good times and the bad times, the successes, the mistakes, even the wonderful, crazy, exhilarating thing we call marriage."
A formal goodbye, like a funeral service, causes us to ask questions that need to be asked. How will this death impact my life? Whom can I trust? What are my true values in life? It is another opportunity to say our mahalos and alohas, to accept the stark reality of her death, to take another tiny step in adjusting to life without her presence. It's a chance to say formally, celebratorily, "Thank you, Becky. Thank you for the wonderful years we shared together. Thank you for standing by me on bright and cloudy days. Thank you for the memories we shared. Thank you for enriching me as a person and as a Christian. I love you, Becky. I miss you. You are never forgotten. I'm letting you go, but you will never leave me." Should others be able to commemorate this special day with me, they too will have a chance to convey what Becky meant to them, to give voice to their own memories.
Of course, being the amazing klutz that I am, I have no idea how to go about planning anything like this. I have no idea how to be the strong father figure to my children when my own heart is scattered into tiny little pieces around my feet. And so here I am this morning, exhausted and sore, feeling like I've just run 11 consecutive marathons, emotionally bruised and battered, praying with all my heart that I still have the courage to face life square on. But the good news is that I don't have to have it all figured out. I am enough because He is enough. For many of us, Becky's death created a hole with sharp, jagged edges. The good news is that Father Time has already done his work. The edges are a bit duller, the absence a bit more familiar, the quicksand a little less miry, the numbness a tiny bit diminished. I'm so grateful for all of you. We're connected not only through the words on this page. We're reconnected on a much deeper level. We're tuned into the same frequency and my, what a difference that makes. No one but Jesus could understand what I'm feeling. But some of you come a pretty close second. I'm glad I know you. After all, none of us is meant to go through anything like this alone.
Grace and peace,
Wednesday, April 9
2:20 AM I'm packed and ready. By the grace of God and through your prayers, several men will begin their studies of Greek. I can't wait to get started. Pray for me that I will see every circumstance through God's eyes. This is much bigger than me, so huge and momentous and downright crazy. But it's the work to which He has called me.
If I live to be a hundred years old, I'll never understand the grace of God.
Adios, amigos. Mahalo and aloha. Dave
Tuesday, April 8
5:06 PM Parting is such sweet sorrow. It's always a bittersweet time when I leave the farm. I know; I'm not supposed to be sentimental. But leaving Bradford Hall is like leaving Becky behind. Folks, you'll never know how much I miss my life partner. When Becky died, I had no idea how my heart, soul, spirit, mind, and body would crave her personal touch. My mind starves for her simulating conversation. My soul starves for her companionship. My body craves her touch. I miss her laugh, the sound of her voice on the phone with one of our daughters, her singing in the kitchen, the patter of her footsteps on the porch stairs, the little pats that said "I love you," the kisses and hugs and prayers. Not one hour ago I saw a picture of her and began sobbing. Usually I have it all together, but not then. I felt as out of control as a rodeo rider who has just been bucked off his horse. I don't have words to describe how much I miss her human touch, her physical closeness, her wit and wisdom. My kids and grandkids have been a great source of encouragement and comfort to me, but they can never replace her. My mind is like a video stuck on continuous replay. I ask myself, "How long will it last?" Grieving is just plain hard work, folks. It's unfamiliar territory. I want to be more than a widower who remembers. I want to laugh with her and kiss her cheek and take her out for Chinese food.
The only one who can truly sustain me is Jesus. It's not a sick joke when the Bible says that He does more for us than we could ever ask or imagine. I cling to Him. It is He who will enable me to gradually transition from a grieving widower to someone who embraces the possibility of looking forward to being in a relationship again. One thing, though, is certain. He understands. He knows my pain. He is acquainted with grief. He is sad when I am sad and happy when I am happy and lonely when I am lonely and excited when I am excited. There is never a moment when He does not share my grief. "When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought great joy to my soul" (Psalm 94:19). Yes, her death will always be a mystery to me. But the Bible has the answer. "Be still and know that I am God." It doesn't say, "Be still and know why."
Please accept my heartfelt apologies for ranting on like this. In case you haven't noticed, blogging is a coping mechanism for me. It doesn't make the pain go away. It just makes it a bit more tolerable.
So I will be fine.
At least until the next crying spell.
3:05 PM As I leave tomorrow for the foreign field, I am grateful for all those who are praying for my trip. All over the world there are quiet men and women and boys and girls working behind the scenes to make missions happen. They are promised their reward.
2:24 PM Information can never be substituted for action.
2:20 PM Packing. I hate packing. That's why I travel light, as Jesus commanded us to.
Monday, April 7
1:12 PM Do you see a lost world as Jesus sees it? How can we be His body if we're not thinking as He thinks and loving as He loves?
10:40 AM I am scheduled to make my fourth teaching trip to Ukraine this November. Today I received this prayer request from the Odessa seminary president:
Let's remember, folks: there is one church. These are our brothers and sisters. Each of us is assigned a different place in the harvest field, but we are all God's co-workers. Right now our job is to interceded on behalf of the nation of Ukraine. I'm calling on believers everywhere to join me in this duty and joy.
Below: My hermeneutics class at the Odessa seminary in April 2013. I love these guys so much it hurts.
10:33 AM Elizabeth Achtemeier:
What? A church without stained glass windows? What? A Christmas program without a living Christmas tree or a manger scene or Christmas greens? How very Barthian!
P.S. Who in the world is this good-looking couple in Basel?
9:42 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Reformation, Revival, or Restoration? I'll be sharing these thoughts with church leaders this weekend in Asia. My thoughts aren't inspired, of course, and can't come close to the authority of the Bible. What I am simply trying to do is to ask the Scriptures themselves what a New Testament church ought to look like. Unfortunately, it seems that in many corners of the modern church there exists an aversion to asking such basic questions. The traditions of Paul have been replaced by our own traditions. So I suggest we get back to the Bible and try our best to retrieve our ecclesiology from the first Christians, to the extant that this is possible today. I see no reason why we shouldn't call into question our current practices especially since we all believe we have in the Bible a source authority.
Still more to come. Stay tuned.
9:16 AM Quote of the day (James Hamilton):
And you? Will you treach John 7:53-8:11? You say, "Dave, I have no idea what you're talking about." Good! This means you will love our forthcoming conference on this passage. The dates are April 25-26. The place? Southeastern's beautiful campus. The conference details may be found here.
It's certainly something to think about.
8:52 AM Ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, my first blog post of the day has nothing to do with Becky. I am intrigued -- but not too surprised -- to see the MIT Technology Review suggest that an increase in internet use leads to a decline in religious affiliation.
Now, I am reading this to mean that religious affiliation is on the wane (i.e., church attendance) though not necessarily interest in spiritual things, which is not at all a bad thing if people are simply going through the motions of religion. We now have at our fingertips an information explosion that has begun to wean people from over-dependence on authority figures. The internet also exposes its users to multiple worldviews and religions. Taboo topics can now be safely discussed "at a distance" and in relative privacy. If your pastor says "such and such" is true, you can check out the veracity of what he is saying in an instant. And because of the power of search tools, we can go directly to what we are looking for. I am thrilled that some are even using the internet for evangelism and discipleship (some call this "diskypleship"). The internet can be an incredibly useful for teaching. Many of us blog about spiritual topics. Websites like Bible Gateway and Biblos offer users thousands of online helps for serious Bible study.
The fact is that we live in a technology-saturated world. Let's be sure to leverage this technology for good and for the Gospel. In his essay The Use of Technology and the Equipping of Leaders, my colleague Alvin Reid writes: "I like many others have decided to use this technology for the gospel and for training leaders." For Alvin, this means:
I'm increasingly convinced that the only way to tackle the internet revolution head on is to use its power for the work of the Lord. Multitudes of people around the world have become disenchanted with their "religion," whatever it may be. On top of this, the use of social media is at an all-time high. Life is very short. It's also very full of good things, things so full of wonder and potential for great good. Blessings on all of you as you look hard at these gifts and seek to leverage them for the Lord Jesus.
Sunday, April 6
7:38 PM "Come apart or you'll fall apart." Learning this slowly.
7:24 PM This came today from a pastor:
A good resource is Craig Keener's review of Strange Fire. Agree with Craig or not, you will appreciate his conciliatory tone.
7:12 PM There is no place in the church for those who aren't willing to accept inconvenience and uncertainty for the Lord's sake.
6:53 PM Those who stay behind and pray are serving Christ just as effectively as any frontline warrior.
3:30 PM Seated here are the three volunteer missionaries our church body commissioned for their trips beginning this Thursday to Asia.
I am so grateful to God for the loving care and concern I receive from my home church every time I travel. To my right are Dr. Rick Godwin and his son who, along with their mother, will be doing medical work in the Philippines for 2 weeks. Rick once did the same thing with us in Ethiopia. And so we leave, buoyed up by the prayers of God's people, carried along by the Lord and relying on Him alone for mercy and grace in our time of need.
Then it was lunch with the Bradshers.
The kids have stolen my heart. Have you noticed?
9:21 AM Looking forward to lunch today with Joel, Kim, and the Fabulous Five!
8:40 AM I just filled another 4 orders for our Greek DVD series. If you are interested in learning Greek on your own, here's a YouTube you might find helpful. My thanks to Robert for putting it together.
8:22 AM So I'm sitting here trying to type up my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church and I keep getting interrupted. It's her again. The pleasant memory of her life. She was one of the humblest people I've ever known. And one of the most committed missionaries I've ever seen. Becky and missions. They went hand in hand. It was not always this way. Ditto for me. But the Author of life had other plans for us. He took two weak and weary Christians and called them into something much bigger than they could ever have been without Him. I just thank God that each of us, regardless of who we are or where we've come from or what we've done, stands equal before God. If you find yourself wandering today, splintered by the concerns of this world, you need to start -- I mean really start -- taking Christ seriously. You need to get that Solid Rock underneath you, quick. It wasn't that Becky and I didn't love Jesus before. But we loved the church more. We loved home schooling more. We loved gardening and reenacting and horses and writing and our businesses more. Then God lit a fire beneath us. Even today, if I sniff ever so gently, I can still smell the smoke.
Friend, take a deep breath. Something's burning in your life right now. It's Christ's call to love. Servanthood is the normal Christian life. It's not reserved for super-saints or clergy. It's for Greek profs and housewives and troubled teenagers and the imprisoned. Let the flame burn, friend. Let it spread from house to house and through your church until the whole world is engulfed by the wildfire. In 2005, I took this picture of Becky.
Her life had already been consumed by this flame. She lived and loved and sacrificed and suffered and gave up everything for the sake of the Grand Fire-Maker. And you know what? He accepted her just as she was, without qualification. He used her to hug on the poor and forsaken. Oh, it cost her. It cost her plenty. The price tag read "Calvary." And He can use you just as He used Becky, big ears, freckles, cancer and all.
Do you believe this?
Well, do you?
6:02 AM Up early this morning in a strangely contemplative mood. I am (and have always been) a goal setter. Wherever I am, I push quickly against anything that might slow me down or keep me from pursuing my goals. Yet God has impressed on my heart recently the need to slow down, to fully abandon my goals for His. In His will alone, wrote Dante, is our peace. In His will alone. What does that mean for Dave Black? It means sacrifice. "If a man will let himself be lost for My sake, that man is safe" (Luke 9:24). It means to give myself to God for His world. It means to bear His name to the nations rather than remaining comfortably at home. It means to relinquish something of importance for the sake of the Gospel. It means to measure life by loss and not by gain. On Thursday I leave to serve a church that is far away from here. I love these people. In the midst of all the pain of Becky's loss, God is still so good to me to allow me to serve others. I'm often overwhelmed by the idea that He would use me. This is the life I'm learning to live all over again since Becky died. Life is not intended to be a gloomy and morbid sort of thing but a glad offering of love. Affliction is an opportunity for service. It's like thinning out our pine tree stands so that the trees that remain might have more of the sun and more potential for growth. How I have grown since God allowed Becky's death! I am learning to trust and love Him better. I am learning that His love for me is unconditional, despite all of my failures. I am learning to say "Yes" to the new life and the goals He has in store for me. I am not my own. My old life is gone. My old, hard shell of self-protection and self-sufficiency has given away to utter weakness and dependence on Him. I am learning that the greatest joy always comes forth from the greatest sorrow. This morning at church, broken vessels will be re-commissioned for service abroad. Passports are in hand. Visas are stamped. Bags are packed. There is a golden harvest ahead.
"All I care for is to know Christ, to experience the power of His resurrection and to share in His sufferings, in growing conformity to His death" (Phil. 3:10). That's my goal. I must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. I must have Thee.
Saturday, April 5
9:02 AM Finally, George Bush and I have something in common: art!
8:28 AM H. H. Drake Williams III reviews my Paul, Apostle of Weakness.
7:46 AM Social media is wonderful. Yesterday I learned on Face Book that one of my granddaughters took a huge step forward:
Yes, I did want to know -- and heartiest congratulations to mother and daughter! Then this came across the internet yesterday:
The admission comes, of course, from my good friend Kevin Brown. You can read all about it here. Way to go Kev, but you've got a long way to go to catch up to me!
But the web is not all fun and games. Yesterday I spoke about an inter-family squabble over the question of the sign gifts. Did these gifts cease in the first century or not? I remain deeply troubled by what I've been reading and hearing. Clearly, this question does make a difference in the life of the church, yours and mine. I'd like to make a further observation here. A mark of constructive theological dialogue is the ability to agree about what our differences really are and how to express those differences. I don't think the differences we sometimes talk about (not wearing ties to church or the absence of hymn singing) are our deepest concerns. I do not think the absence of a church choir or whether your pastor wears a coat are major concerns that most Christians think deeply about. I think what people care about -- what they instinctively long for -- is to sense the Spirit's presence in their midst as He forms and shapes and unifies and, yes, corrects His church. They long to be unified around the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They desire the Holy Spirit to guide them into truth, not just books about the Bible (including Vines). They want to be an army arrayed for battle, ready to bear witness. But unless we have the power of the Holy Spirit, we shall achieve nothing at all. This is precisely Luke's emphasis when he writes in Acts 1:8: "It is only when the Holy Spirit comes upon you that you will receive power to be My witnesses." We do the witnessing, but it is God who gives us the power and who produces conviction in the hearers. I fully sympathize who those who think that the Charismatic Movement has led to extremes. In some cases it has. But I'm not sure that this is the main danger we face as a church today. In fact, I have never been in a Calvary Chapel congregation and witnessed tongue-speaking. Instead, I am usually treated to a careful, God-honoring, verse-by-verse exposition of a biblical book. The pastors I've met are by-and-large self-taught, as were the earliest followers of Jesus. Few are seminary grads, but I can assure you that they are not anti-intellectual. I fear that sometimes seminaries produce ministers who are afraid of the Holy Spirit. They are afraid that if the Spirit were set free in their congregations, chaos would ensue. That danger is real, of course, but it is not the main problem. I long to see a church in which the Spirit once again becomes an invading force, inundating our parched lives, burning away the dross and sin (including the prideful claim that we are not charismatics!), where the Spirit is trusted and not confined to pulpit exegesis. The Lord who is Spirit must laugh at our intramural debates. He will not be confined by our paltry thinking. He is in the business of transforming us as individuals into the likeness of Jesus Christ and of preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Power for selfless living. Power to love the lost. Power for witnessing. Is that not needed today more than ever? How can we claim to be "together for the Gospel" without the perfect love which the Spirit gives to all His people, regardless of their views on cessationism?
So let the discussion continue. Maybe representatives from both sides should hold a cordial conversation at a neutral site such as Biola. (No one is allowed to promote their books!) And when that is over, let them serve together in a soup kitchen in South Central, sharing the love of Jesus with everyone who walks through the doors. I think we need to move beyond words. I think we have to work hard to find some common ground upon which we can show the world that we are one despite our diversity.
On my trip to Asia next week I am going to re-read a wonderful little book called Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? The editor is Wayne Grudem, and the four contributors are Dick Gaffin, Bob Saucy, Sam Storms, and Douglass Oss. At the end of the book, Grudem gets to the core of the matter when he writes:
He then concludes with these powerful words:
All all the people said?
When we as a church are willing to come to that humbling place of recognizing in practical detail the lordship of Christ over our lives, then I truly believe that He will pour out His Spirit upon us again afresh and anew. But we have to seek it. We have to to ask for it. We have to come together and work and serve together in unity. Once we put ourselves unreservedly at His disposal, and ask Him to unify us despite of differences, He will do so. If, perchance, the Spirit would grant that kind of unity to the churches in Southern California, and to our churches nationwide, let us thank Him for it. And keep on thanking Him ... and loving one another ... and serving together in the cause of the Gospel ... and witnessing for Him in the power of His Spirit. Maybe, just maybe, we will turn the world upside down.
Friday, April 4
2:15 PM Kim and the kids came over today. What fun.
Between trapezes. That's how I feel these days. Sure helps to make the leap knowing you've got such a great support team.
11:22 AM How to win Muslims for Christ?
11:14 AM My, my. The persecution has already begun (starting with this dastardly email from a "friend"):
10:23 AM When God takes us into His family He gives us a work to do from which we can never retire.
10:12 AM The Vienna Philharmonic does it again. Watch this spectacular performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and be totally blown away. (Speakers all the way up!)
9:42 AM Good stuff here: Tips for Success in a Foreign Land.
9:38 AM Newsflash! I'm thinking about redesigning Dave Black Online and actually going "modern." (Yep. Front Page is a dinosaur, I know.) If you're a web designer and have any suggestions for a new platform, let me know (and send me a link to your web site). I am also open to a completely new look to the site. Readers, please send me links to current websites that you really like (including your own) and that I might use as exemplars of a clean, attractive, simple, and uncluttered home page. Finally, if you have used a web professional to design your site, I am open to referrals. Thanks!
Dave, the one-and-only-ultimate-unblogger.
8:05 AM Since publishing The Jesus Paradigm and Christian Archy, I have gotten all kinds of invitations to talk about what I believe are the essentials of a New Testament church. Often I am asked for my opinion on a particular hot-potato issue of ecclesiology today, and that is the gift of tongues. "Would you tell us your views on the Continuationist-Cessasionist debate?" I have declined all offers. The reason is simple. When controversial issues arise in the church, it is all too easy to allow the debate to dissolve into an either-or discussion when often it should be both-and. Tongues is just one among many issues on which equally devout and equally biblical Christians of all denominational stripes disagree and likely will continue to disagree about until Jesus returns. The solution is to continue to discuss the matter with one another without denigrating those on the other side or pressing our views dogmatically. Not to put too fine an edge on it, the early church succeeded where we don't largely because they got this right. These people were enthusiasts for Jesus Christ, not for their pet doctrines. The mark of their gatherings was transparent love, for without love of the brethren there can be no effective evangelism. If non-believers do not see in our Christian circles a more accepting and caring fellowship than they can find in the world, they are not going to be too impressed with all of our "God talk." Today, we tend to polarize instead. We push people to one side or the other. This is why I was delighted to see the calm and clear way in which Calvary Chapel recently responded to its critics vis-à-vis the Charismatic Movement. This desire to reach out and dialogue is very powerful. Of course, there is no excuse for sloppy thinking on this matter of the sign gifts. I have my own personal convictions about the subject, which I am happy to share with my students -- but only after I have lectured for 4 hours on "The History and Theology of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement" and only after we have exegeted together, from the Greek text, the book of Acts and all of 1 Cor. 12-14. We would be wise to study these texts for ourselves, or we may well prove to be the blind leading the blind. Christian leaders of our younger churches especially need to discern not just between what is essential to the Christian faith and what is not, but also between what is honorable to Christ and what is dishonoring. Uncritical emotionalism is as stupid as uncritical conservatism, and just as dangerous. Contemporary Christians are often called upon to walk a tight rope, neither forsaking the study of theology nor embracing a modern form of Gnosticism. Perhaps the greatest danger we face is that of confusing tradition for Scripture. That simply will not do, regardless of your convictions about the sign gifts. A Christianity that has lost its unity over essentials has lost its salt and is useless for the world. And this is why I have declined, and will continue to decline, to debate the question of cessationism in public.
In other news, I've been prepping the fields for this summer's hay harvest, both by fertilizing the pastures ...
... and by removing debris from the fields caused by the recent ice storm.
What better way to enjoy the springtime weather than by working outdoors? I was also blessed to meet Brian and Sonia Davis who are planting a church in Philly's tough inner city this summer, and Karen has decided to join them. We had dinner together here at farm and then chatted around the fire.
What an amazing thing that God should make His appeal to others through us. What an astounding thing that He should entrust the ministry of reconciliation to our earthly vessels. Once you have been gripped by the lostness of those who do not know your Lord Jesus Christ, you will need no other motivation to become involved in global evangelization with everything at your disposal. The early Christians found that there was no joy like it. Have you? Oh, here's their website: Risen Christ Fellowship. Check it out!
In the meantime, be peacemakers.
Thursday, April 3
7:15 AM Odds and ends:
1) William Mounce offers some excellent advice on Bible translation here. An excerpt:
To see how we might apply this philosophy to one passage in the New Testament (Heb. 12:1-2), see my Too Much Lettuce?
2) I recently had a brief conversation with a colleague who teaches New Testament at a sister seminary. Students are constantly asking him why he is always going on mission trips. "I read the New Testament," is his reply. Love it!
3) Danny Akin reflects on his ten years at Southeastern.
4) How to leverage the movie Noah for the Gospel.
5) I have been in many parts of the world and have trained students in New Testament Greek in many different countries. Two things are abundantly plain. The kind of criticism leveled by some today against the traditional method of teaching Greek is irrelevant. Most students are seeking a basic modicum of grammar and vocabulary to enable them to work in the text of the New Testament with the use of the lexicons and commentaries. They are also not impressed by hierarchical figures like pastors and professors telling them what doesn't work. There is nothing faddish about traditional pedagogy. It is not the latest bandwagon to climb on. It does have its weaknesses, for sure. If you feel it can be replaced by other approaches, have at it. But I for one am not convinced. I espouse the traditional approach because it accomplishes what it promises and no more. I have seen its fruitfulness in countless students who have gone on to teach Greek to others.
I am delighted at the diversity one finds in Greek pedagogy today. Whichever method you prefer, please use it to equip God's people for works of service. And there is no greater need for this equipping today than among the nations. To that end I would appreciate your prayers as I leave next week to begin another course in New Testament Greek in a faraway land.
Wednesday, April 2
8:12 AM Looking for a good movie to watch? Why not try "Seabiscuit"? I reviewed it here. This was one of my takeaways from the movie:
This is where I am in my life right now. A student asked me the other day, "What are your goals for the next few years?" To be honest, I'm not sure that I have any. 37 years ago, when I was fresh out of the starting gate, I was full of eagerness. Goals I had, aplenty. Today the tendency is to kick back and relax. But a teacher can never become smug. There's always room for improvement, both in and out of the classroom. One change I made last year was showing up early for class. Just hanging out with the students gives them a chance to talk with you (if they want to) without having to make the long trek to your office. I'm also being more intentional about visiting my colleagues' offices to chat and pray with them. I'm sure there are many other "adjustments" I need to make. But let's never become complacent. Growth is not something just for upstarts. It's for all of us. Even us "long-shots" like Seabiscuit.
7:55 AM I see that Golden Gate Seminary is finally selling off its property in Marin County and moving to Southern California, which has a much larger population base and is a much more affordable place to live. Very smart move, in my opinion, and I speak as one who loved teaching on the main campus in Strawberry Point. I must have flown up there several dozens of times to lecture and loved flying into SFO and driving over the Golden Gate. I know of no other seminary better poised to reach the Pacific Rim nations with the Gospel than GGBTS. In multos annos!
7:45 AM Was at a church in Dallas a couple of weeks that had no Wi-Fi during their services. None. They have a website, of course, plus Twitter and Face Book, and they encourage online giving. But no Wi-Fi. I was glad to hear Paige Patterson in chapel yesterday invite the audience to "scroll down" to the passage he was preaching from. Yes, devices can be distracting, especially if you are a boring speaker. Starbucks has free Wi-Fi at all of its U.S. locations. I think local churches should be just as generous. Here’s a good Church Tech Today article about some technical approaches.
Tuesday, April 1
1:50 PM Wow, wow, wow! What a great chapel service we had today! Here are just a few tweets I read during the service:
Here's the thing. None of us would be here today had it not been for Paige Patterson. That is most certainly true of yours truly. In 1998 he invited Becky and me to visit the seminary and then opened a slot in New Testament just for us to come. I've said it before, but I am the most blessed man on planet earth. I am so grateful for Paige and Dorothy Patterson. No one prayed harder for Becky during her illness than they did. I am so grateful for Danny and Charlotte Akin. They have stood by me through thick and thin and enabled me to be Becky's main caregiver at the end. God is doing a miracle today in world missions. At Southeastern, He is raising up hundreds of evangelists and church planters, educators and pastor-teachers. I sincerely believe that the task of world evangelization has never been more possible than at this point in history. "God's work done in God's way will never lack for His supply," said Hudson Taylor. Praise be to God. It is He who has raised up Southeastern for such a time as this. And to think that I get to play a small role in that work. Amazing Grace!
7:54 AM I just reserved a guest cottage in Kailua for the second week of July. That's just before I speak at several churches in West Oahu. I want to go into the weekend well rested, and what better way to do that than by visiting the place where I grew up. In fact, the cottage is only two blocks away from "my" beach and only one block from the house I first lived in when we moved to Kailua in 1955. It's funny -- this need to reconnect with the past. To you, that might not mean very much. It might conjure up images of surfing or soaking up the sun on the most pristine 3-mile stretch of beach in the world. For me, it is so much different and more. I feel the need to filter Becky's loss through the places we loved. We were there. We lived and loved together. I shared in her joy and she in mine. I felt the grip of her arms around my neck, the soft caress of her body, the smiles, the laughter, the good times. And there were many good times. I shared all of them with her and could not begin to describe to you the joy that made life so unbearably sweet.
Yesterday, after I addressed the Board of Visitors, many of them came up to me and told me they had been keeping up with me on the blog. So I'd just like to mention how encouraged I've been by all of you. I know that some people feel uncomfortable being around grieving people. They want you to get back to "normal" as quickly as possible, even if you are not ready for it. Thankfully, that has not been my experience. You all have given me permission to be Dave Black. Because Dave Black doesn't want to do a grief bypass. He wants to put down on paper his thoughts and feelings. He wants to describe what he has learned from his grief. He wants to enter fully into his sorrow. He wants to face grief head-on, deal with it, learn from it, let it do its perfect work. I'm learning that God is always present. He works the night shift. He is aware of my emptiness and seeks to fill it. He sees my open wounds and is prepared to heal them deeper than I can ever imagine. He is acquainted with grief. But His promises are true, and I believe He still has work for me to do. I have a new life ahead of me.
I think going back to Kailua is exactly what I need. Because sometimes it's good to remember. Sometimes you just need to stand on the beach and cry your eyes out, knowing that He won't love you any less if you do. Knowing that whatever He has in store for a widower like me, He'll be right there.
7:23 AM Read Not original therefore not inspired? The story of the woman taken in adultery. Of course, there are still those who believe that the passage is both original and inspired. The matter will be fully discussed later this month on campus. See our Pericope Adulterae Conference page.