Pernicious Perichoreting

Motivated by Jim West’s tongue-lashing and near expulsion of Ben Myers from the biblioblogger lunch, I decided to take a look at the latter’s blog, which I have read on occasion, but not for rather some time. After a few minutes’ perusal, I have decided take a moment to publicly sing Ben’s praises. The reason is this wondrous sentence, which I quote for your edification:

When I hear the word “trinitarian” being used as a cheap slogan, I wince. But when I hear the word “perichoresis,” I reach for my revolver.

Amen and amen! As you all surely know, it irritates me to no end to hear or read references to the Most Holy Trinity’s perichōrēsis as “the (sacred) dance” or some such nonsense. Too bad for me, I guess, because this kind of trivializing tomfoolery seems to be rather en vogue these evil days.

Ben’s original post may be read here. And yes, I have chosen to overlook his wholly distressing fascination with Žižek.

Bibliobloggers at SBL: The Evidence

Jim West reports that one Christian Brady, exhibiting great kindness towards those of us who were unable to make it to San Diego, has posted pictures and a podcast from the recent biblioblogger lunch at SBL. Not surprisingly, it is the podcast that has caught my attention. Allow me, if you will, to note a number of things that I love about this podcast:

1) The saucy 70’s music in the podcast introduction and at the end.

2) That Jim West told Ben Myers that he didn’t belong in the biblioblogger lunch.

3) That “Jim West” is suddenly recommending W. F. Albright.

4) John Hobbins’ manly man voice.

5) The Erasmian pronunciation of Greek compounded by an American accent. It always gives me the giggles.

6) “This is Chris Tilling. I’m quite flatulent. I’m a swine, and I can’t help myself, because I’m a swine. That’s me, Chris Tilling, of christilling.com.de.edu.uk”

Well, have a listen (and a look), and enjoy!

The Welsh Countryside of Southern Indiana

Just because it has been a while since I last posted on the subject of seminaries and their curricular offerings (see here and here), it would be wholly misguided to assume that I have therefore ceased my explorations into that subject. Nothing could be further from the truth! This has been, in fact, a long-standing interest of mine: since the Year of Our Lord 1996, I have given myself to the exhilarating practice of reading through the academic catalogs of a majority of the theological seminaries, divinity schools and schools of religion in the United States. Not only do I derive a great deal of pleasure from these curricular inquiries, but in the process I have been able to compile a respectable archive of theological curricula in North America, and to document their development over a decade. I freely admit that my ultimate goal is to land a cushy job at the Association of Theological Schools which will allow me to put to good use my vast repository of otherwise useless curricular information.

(Incidentally, allow me to note the following: 1) if I can’t figure out what side of your “innovative” curriculum is up, I would suggest that perhaps there is a problem with it. I’m talking to you, Northeastern Seminary. 2) If there’s a howler in your catalog, I will find it and archive itno matter how many times you include a photoshopped version of it in later catalogs. I’m talking to you, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.)

Now, my inquiry has certainly not been restricted to ATS-accredited institutions because, on the one hand, a great many respectable university graduate programs in religious studies are not ATS accredited; and on the other, several church-related, unaccredited seminaries do offer, in fact, a theological education of excellence. (I’m thinking of such fine institutions as the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI and the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, SC.) Of course, when one opens the door to unaccredited institutions, one will inevitably chance upon many of the degree mills and other institutions of specious academic solvency operating out there. One of my all-time favorites in this latter category is the (in)famous Trinity College and Theological Seminary of Newburgh, IN.

Trinity, once a bona fide degree mill which for that very reason was chased out of the State of Ohio, settled in its corner of Southern Indiana in 1978. Since then, through front-cover ads on Christianity Today (which, I understand, have been discontinued) and other means of advertisement, the school developed a large constituency of non-residential students who were able to earn a variety of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees through correspondence coursework. Unfortunately, the quality of such work was weak at best. Trinity’s big moneymaker was always their ThD (later PhD) program, which required a fraction of the effort demanded by established, residential, and accredited doctoral programs, and minimal tuition by comparison.

Over the past several years, however, things seemed to be changing at Trinity. Firstly, they increasingly started to involve faculty from accredited seminaries, as well as other established scholars with impeccable credentials, in supervising and grading the work of their distance learners; people with real academic positions and earned research doctorates from such regionally and professionally accredited institutions as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dallas Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, The University of Pittsburgh, Purdue University, Michigan State University, The University of Iowa, Syracuse University, and others. This necessarily raised the level of instruction at the school, a change almost immediately reflected in the literature required for academic coursework, which now resembles in many ways what is read in many Evangelical seminaries across North America. (For details, check out Trinity’s virtual bookstore.) These positive changes had a purpose, of course: Trinity applied for regional accreditation, and was granted candidacy status by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 2004. However, Trinity resigned from their candidacy status in October 2006, and this after having conducted a self-study and hosting a (reportedly positive) accreditation team visit. It is rumored that allegations of financial impropriety and the establishment of a “satellite” PhD program to compensate for the loss of their own profitable PhD, which would have been sacrificed in the process, brought Trinity’s promising bid for regional accreditation to an abrupt end. Still, the many positive changes recently instituted seem to be permanently in place.

In light of all of the foregoing, it has always been a source of great wonderment to me that Trinity has managed to establish a legitimate relationship of one kind or another with a number of British universities. In 1996, the University of Liverpool granted accreditation to Trinity’s programs “as of an appropriate level and quality.” After 2002, British accreditation (later only endorsement) was extended by Canterbury Christ Church University instead. And now, as of 14 September 2007, Trinity appears to have been validated by none other than the University of Wales! This allows Trinity to offer a number of University of Wales bachelor’s and master’s programs, through coursework done entirely through Trinity. The degree is granted solely by the University of Wales, however, which is also the guardian of the transcripts after the students complete their program. The UW coursework is separate from Trinity’s regular courses, but it is supervised and graded by Trinity faculty (the quality of which, again, has improved drastically over the past several years).

What Trinity stands to gain by such arrangements is immediately evident, but I wonder, what do British universities (and UW, in particular) gain from this? It is certainly not money, because Trinity isn’t charging any more for the University of Wales degrees than they’ve been charging for their own. Whatever the reasons, one thing is certain: at least for the time being, a small, unaccredited, and even infamous school has somehow managed to turn their corner of Southern Indiana into the Welsh countryside, and a tiny little town just east of Evansville into a campus of the Prifysgol Cymru. As they say, one can’t make this stuff up! I find it all quite fascinating, and of course, I intend to keep watching.

[UPDATE: The University of Wales finally cut its ties with Trinity as of November 2008. See the BBC news report here.]

Book Notice

I was very pleased to learn that my former teacher Dick Thompson has rather recently published a book entitled Keeping the Church in Its Place: The Church as Narrative Character in Acts (New York: T&T Clark, 2006). Steve Walton of the London School of Theology has written a terrific review of the book, which I hope will encourage all parties seriously interested in Luke-Acts scholarship and narrative criticism to obtain their own copy.

Thompson had previously edited, with Tom Phillips, a Festschrift for their Doktorvater Joe Tyson on the occasion of his retirement from Southern Methodist University after four decades of teaching; this was entitled Literary Studies in Luke-Acts (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998).

[H/T: Michael Pahl]

New Bibles Are Wuv, Twue Wuv

Kevin Edgecomb reports that he is rather in love with A New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), which is now available for purchase. Read his post linked above for a mouthwatering review of the physical features of the book, and a keen assessment of the scholarly comprehensiveness of this new translation and its enormous value to students of the Septuagint. And of course, you may view the entire text of the NETS at its website, which contains a full electronic edition for review in fractured PDF files. (Note: If you’re interested in having the NETS in electronic format for your personal use, I would suggest that you download and archive these files soon, since there’s no telling when, or whether, they may disappear. Indeed, when the Psalms volume was published a number of years ago, the corresponding file was removed from the NETS electronic edition, and remained unavailable until the final revision prepared for publication was once again presented for review. Whether they will phase out the electronic edition entirely now that the translation has been published in paper format I do not know; but I do know from experience that having ready access to these valuable files is well-nigh indispensable!) The NETS is available for online purchase from Amazon.com for $19.80 USD (34% off).

Now, in light of Kevin’s profession of his undying love for the NETS, I must admit that I have been involved in a torrid love affair of my own, but one, tragically, as yet from a distance. The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, edited by David Norton, is nothing less than a masterful critical edition of the King James Version in modern spelling (i.e., “show” for “shew”) and presented in readable paragraph format! (See an excellent review of this edition by J. Mark Bertrand.) I’m delighted to report that it contains the full text of the masterful and learned preface of the Authorized Version, The Translators to the Readers, likewise in modern spelling. So far as I can tell, the only unfortunate feature of this edition (other than its price!) is that Norton decided not to italicize the translator’s “added words,” thus departing from the customary practice verified since the very first printing of the KJV. Needless to say, this is only a minor and easily bearable editorial infelicity. Happily, Cambridge/Baker has decided to make available through its website the entire front matter of this fine edition, including the full text of The Translators to the Readers. Also available for review is the entire book of Ecclesiastes. The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible is available for online purchase from Cambridge/Baker for $64.00 USD (20% off).

UPDATE: ElShaddai Edwards has also posted on the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible today!

Flying Scholars, Spaghetti, and San Diego

Over the past few days, several bloggers have posted notices of their departure for San Diego to attend the ETS, SBL and AAR annual meetings. To all of them, good riddance! Er, wait. My apologies. I meant to say safe travels. Really.

I had entertained the thought of attending SBL this year, but several things didn’t fall into place in time and I was thus unable to get my membership in order. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to attend some other time!

Speaking of the professional meetings taking place in San Diego, I was startled to see the following news item earlier this morning:

Pasta Monster Gets Academic Attention

I thought at first that the Press, and hopefully also the Authorities, had uncovered John Hobbins’ planned spaghettata (or, as the Rev Mr Ker has called it, “a beach-side orgy awash in gorgonzola and tiramisu”). Disappointingly, the story turned out to be something quite different. It clearly illustrates, however, why SBL attendees shall be glad to be wholly rid of AAR types next year.

(I kid, I kid…)

Two Recent Posts Right Worthy of Note

I. John Hobbins, at the insistence of Doug Chaplin, has posted what he considers to be the 10 paradigmatic questions of the Bible in order to answer a question he himself raised elsewhere, and which he restates thus: “What ten verses of the Bible sum up that book’s message more than the others?” His answer is extraordinary, and the homiletical and catechetical possibilities opened by his choice selections are simply staggering:

(1) “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) [God to Adam and Eve]

(2) “Where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:9) [God to Cain]

(3) “Where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7) [Isaac to his father]

(4) “How long, O Lord, will you forever ignore me?” (Psalm 13:2)

(5) “Who may dwell, O Lord, on your holy mountain?” (Psalm 15:1)

(6) “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:2)

(7) “Would you impugn my justice? / Do you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8) [God to Job]

(8) “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) [Jesus to his disciples and the large crowd who accompanied him]

(9) “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) [Jesus to his disciples]

(10) “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, / how long will it be before you pass sentence / and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Revelation 6:10) [the martyrs to God]

As John so poignantly, and rightly, states: “The meaning of life consists in responding, asking, and bearing witness to these questions.” Please read his full post; you’ll be glad you did.

II. Isaac Crabtree, an Orthodox layman and my good friend, interacts briefly but rather thoughtfully with Father John Behr’s book The Formation of Christian Doctrine, Volume 1: The Way to Nicea. This is his first review postthe first, I hope, of many, because this kind of interaction with “critical” literature is evidently very good for him. Would that all of us read as seriously as he, and were so open to being challenged, and perhaps even persuaded, by our reading!

Thoughts on "Reformation Day"

Last Wednesday was October 31, and many people noted in various venues that it was the 490th “anniversary” of the Protestant Reformationactually, of the posting of Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (i.e., the “Ninety-five Theses”) on the doors (i.e., bulletin board) of the Castle Church at Wittenberg in 1517. They were, however, sadly mistaken to commemorate that date.

When Dr Luther posted his summons to academic debate, the Pope’s (i.e., Gregorian) Calendar had not yet been birthed. Therefore, the Theses were posted on October 31 according to the Old (i.e., Julian) Calendar, which date corresponds in A.D. 2007 to the Gregorian November 13. Thus the much-touted “anniversary” will not occur for yet another week, I’m afraid.

However, I am uncertain that even this would be the best (symbolic) date on which to keep the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It has always seemed to me that a better candidate might be December 10 (December 23, N.S.), because it was on that date in 1520 that Dr Luther publicly burned the papal bull Exsurge Domine, which condemned his teachings and threatened him with excommunication. That would also a better year to commemorate because, while Zwingli might have started preaching the Reformation Gospel in 1516 (as Jim West is wont to remind us), it was not until 1520 that he finally renounced his papal pension of 50 gulden a year, awarded him for his public support of the use of Swiss mercenaries in the secular affairs of the Papacy. This was, then, the year of clean breaks.

I might further add here that, since the celebration of permanent ecclesiastical severances seems to be so dear to many, another Luthero-Zwinglian anniversary must be kept in mind by all parties concerned: October 4 (October 17, N.S.) was the closing date of the ultimately failed Marburg Colloquy of 1529, convened to attempt a resolution between Luther and Zwingli’s respective views on the Eucharist (and by extension, on Christology) and to achieve a unified Protestant front. This date marks, then, the anniversary of the (quite permanent) failure of the Reformation movements to achieve doctrinal, and therefore ecclesiastical, unity.