Saturday, April 21, 2012

do you have highlights?

At a recent family meeting, Danny tried something new. "In a minute," he told us. "I'm going to ask each of you to share the highlight and lowlight of your week. So be thinking about what you want to share with the rest of us." (Stay tuned and I'll share mine.)

But Easton (almost 4) couldn't wait a minute. He needed to share right now. "I have a high light!" he exclaimed. We all waited to hear what he had to say. "I can reach it if I climb up on Emma's ladder, and then my room's not dark anymore!" As we all giggled he added, "I have another high light in my closet, but I can reach it if I stand on my bed."

My highlight yesterday was watching Easton check out the latest addition to our family library, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament, edited by John Walton. A beautiful set! Even Easton thought it was cool. He pointed to every map, asking, "Is this where we live?" Then he found lots of other pictures and kept asking, "Is this from 'Prince of Egypt'?" (My answer was yes.) He did eventually go back to his Thomas the Tank Engine catalog, which is even cooler. But I was delighted to see how much he liked these commentaries!

Commercial break: Check out this fun promo video Dr. Walton sent me yesterday. If you come to ETS or SBL this November you'll be able to buy a set at 50% off (which is what I did at the regional ETS meeting last month). The set takes you through the entire Old Testament, offering insights into the cultural and historical background that can help you understand each chapter.

My highlight today was finishing the last of my 5000+ pages of required reading for the semester. Yahoo!
One more paper to write and I will officially be done with my first year of doctoral study. {brief pause to celebrate} Then I can dive into my summer projects (you guessed it ... read, read, read, and learn French, take a class at Notre Dame, read through the whole Bible, and write my first chapter).

All this reading is giving me highlights of another kind ... long gray ones. They must be a sign of my increasing wisdom (the gray matter is leaking out, right?). I can tell I'm getting smarter because every day that passes I feel like I know less than I did the day before. With every new thing I learn I realize how much more there is to know. Very. Humbling.

So how about you? Do you have any highlights?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

a rescue of Titanic proportions

All three of our kids are fascinated by the story of the Titanic.

Exactly 100 years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, a few hundred people huddled together in a handful of lifeboats, shivering from the cold, lost at sea. The massive monument to human pride and modern progress sank fathoms beneath them and settled on the ocean floor, a giant tomb for those unable to escape. Hope of survival faded with each passing hour.

But rescue came. As dawn broke the Carpathia sliced through the icy waters toward the desperate travelers, and all at once hope was reborn. When the ship caught sight of the bobbing lifeboats there was no question that every single person in the lifeboats would be saved. But the process of lifting each one to safety took hours. One by one they were hoisted by ropes to the deck of the Carpathia where they could be fed and clothed and given a place to rest. When all were aboard, the ship turned back and brought the travelers to terra firma. I can only imagine the joy and relief and sorrow that ensued.

100 years later, we are in a similar predicament. Spiritually, the human race is lost at sea, unable to make it to safety on our own. Our lifeboats are ill-suited for ocean travel. Human pride has failed us, and we depend completely on a rescue from outside ourselves. But hope is not lost! A rescue has been sent. Jesus Christ was sent to lift each one of us to safety. To refuse that rescue is utter foolishness, but the choice is up to us. Will we climb aboard the good ship grace?

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8–9

Faith is admitting that we can never make it ashore on own own, grabbing hold of the ropes that are being lowered to us, and allowing Jesus to lift us to safety. I hope that you can say along with the author of Hebrews,

"We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved." Hebrews 10:39

Thursday, April 12, 2012

a milestone

Blanchard Hall from the Billy Graham Center
Yesterday afternoon was a significant milestone in our time at Wheaton. I took my place at the head of a looooong table on the fourth floor of Blanchard Hall (a civil-war era castle), flanked by seasoned professors and fellow PhD students, 21 in all. We were gathered to discuss the dissertation proposal I submitted last week. First I had a few minutes to tell why I had chosen this topic, then the faculty questioned me for about 30 minutes. I anticipated some of their questions, but some took me by surprise. Thankfully, the professors were gracious. When it was all over there was no blood on the floor. The faculty asked us to leave while they discussed my proposal among themselves. When we returned to the room Dr. Treier shook my hand and offered his congratulations. My proposal was accepted with only a few (very) minor revisions! Immediately following my defense, my colleague Austin took my place at the head of the table and successfully defended his proposal. Now both of us are cleared to begin the biggest research and writing project of our lives – some 300 pages spanning the next 2 or 3 years.

Danny and I are grateful to have this hurdle behind us. While I still have another year of classes, an increasing amount of my time will now be spent on this research and writing project. We have three hurdles remaining: finishing coursework, finishing comprehensive reading of the field, and defending the dissertation. We trust that God's grace will sustain us through each of these challenges. His faithfulness has already been so evident, and we're marveling at his rich blessings towards us.

Ironically the defense of my masters thesis at Gordon-Conwell took place exactly one year ago, on April 11, 2011. Will I be able to defend my dissertation two years from now on April 11, 2014? Only time will tell.

Monday, April 9, 2012

is the Bible just like any other book?

Or are there distinctively Christian ways of reading Scripture?

Todd Billings thinks so. His book is a great introduction to the theological interpretation of Scripture. According to Billings, "Something much bigger is going on in receiving, understanding, and believing the word of God than human linguistic understanding" (3). Later he explains, "Through Scripture, the Spirit addresses all of God's people, not just the original hearers" (61). Not only are we addressed, but we are invited to participate in the drama of God's action in the world. The process of interpreting Scripture is not complete until we are changed. He says, "Revelation brings not only knowledge of God but fellowship in and with the triune God, a saving fellowship that transforms believers ever deeper into Christ's image as Christ's body" (198). This fellowship extends not just vertically (with God), but also horizontally, as we are formed into a community of God-followers. This community transcends space and time, as we join those who have read Scripture in the centuries before us and in cultures around the world. Together we are transformed.

In answer to our opening question, Billings concludes, "While there are important practices of reading that apply to nonbiblical books as well as to Scripture, ultimately we should not read Scripture as we read other books. We should read it in prayer, memorize it, speak and sing it with the congregation in worship—worship that delights in telling and tasting the story of God's saving work in Christ, accessed through Scripture. We should come to Scripture, as we do to worship, with an expectation of meeting the mysterious triune God, with the prayer that we would grow in our love of God and our neighbor—becoming more like Jesus Christ" (224, emphasis mine).

Billings was here on Wheaton's campus in December serving as the outside reader for the dissertation defense of a fellow student. I'm glad to have had an opportunity to read his book. His vision of the promise of theological interpretation is coherent, compelling, and accessible to a wide range of readers. If you've been wondering what it should look like when Christians read the Bible, this book is for you!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

making sense of Easter

We're all at various stages of trying to make sense of Easter.

Last night was pretty rough on Easton, poor kid. We attended a Good Friday service, and warned Easton (age 3) ahead of time that we were going to church to help us remember when Jesus died for us on the cross. Before he even got to his class he was crying, so we let him sit with us in the service. But the somber tone of the service was too much for him. He just curled up in my lap and sobbed. "I don't like Jesus dying on the cross," he kept saying. "I don't want Jesus to die." He and I spent much of the service in the lobby. Between his bouts with tears I explained more about Jesus' death and why it was sad but good for all of us. He listened intently to Pastor Ray's message through the speakers and picked out words that he could understand (blood, death, shepherd, etc). He told me, "The Lord is my shepherd." But he refused to accept the idea that God planned Jesus' death. He simply likes Jesus too much to be okay with his death. And of all the hundreds of people who were at the service, I'm guessing no one had a clearer picture than he did of the most sorrowful and mysterious day in human history.

Emma and I went on a picnic date to her school playground this morning. We had imagined that it would be cool and quiet, sunny and breezy. What we didn't imagine was a city "Easter" event in the park next door, complete with costumed characters, loud music, and crowds pushing strollers. Emma (age 6) was disappointed not to be able to hear the birds singing, and she confessed to me that she did not like the music because it wasn't worship music (I was inclined to agree ... Madonna's 'Material Girl' was not my idea of Easter music). Later this evening on our way to church (where an Easter Egg hunt was planned for the kids) Emma was still trying to make sense of the way our culture celebrates Easter. Her musings went something like this: "Easter has nothing to do with bunnies or eggs, but eggs are a little like Jesus, because he went off by himself in the garden to pray. Not many people knew about it. He hid away just like the eggs." A valiant effort, I'd say! I'm afraid I can't think of a better way to connect the two, unless we want to talk about eggs as a sign of fertility . . . and God's promises of a lush new creation (?!).

And what does Easter look like from an 11-year-old's vantage point? The kids visited Awana (a kids Bible club) on Wednesday evening, and Eliana came back jazzed about the message the leader gave about the atonement. "It was so deep," she told us. "I mean, I didn't agree with everything he said, but he really made me think." She's so ready for a challenge, and has great theological questions.

Don't we all? Wherever we are in our spiritual journeys, each of us is trying to make sense of Jesus at some level. How can he be both man and God? If he's God, then why does he still need to pray? Was his death inevitable? Did he really rise from the dead? Pastor Ray's message this evening went straight to the heart of the matter. "All of us have doubts at some level," he said. "But salvation doesn't come to us when we finally understand it all. Salvation comes when we grab hold of him." You may doubt whether he can hold you, but you won't know if he can until you throw yourself into his arms.

Christianity doesn't claim to resolve all mysteries on this side of eternity. To some extent, we all need to embrace the mystery, not because Christianity lacks historical reality or absolute truth, but because our ability to assimilate that truth will never be complete in this life.

Faith and mystery—together—drive my study of Scripture. To use the age-old dictum, its a journey of "faith seeking understanding." Following Jesus requires our whole selves, including our minds. God is glorified through the time we spend thinking, pondering, and studying his revealed Word, pressing in for more understanding. But we need not suspend our faith until understanding comes. I believe that God has revealed himself to us in his Word. I believe there is no greater good than knowing Him. I believe He is worthy of my trust and my praise. I believe that Jesus was sent from the Father, lived, died, and rose again. Do I understand how it all works? Not yet. Maybe never in this life. But I keep pressing on to know this great Love. I hope you'll experience his Love for you this Easter and press on to know him more. Embrace the mystery. Throw yourself in his arms.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

a milestone

Austin and I will be the first from our cohort to defend our dissertation proposals. After spending the morning wrestling with bibliographical style and print drivers, we are both thankful to have deposited copies of our proposal in each of the faculty mailboxes. Exactly one week from now, we'll be seated before all the PhD faculty and students, while they grill us with questions.

As one of our colleagues reminded us at lunch, "No one has ever failed a propoal defense before. So if you do, you'll be the first!" I think that was supposed to be encouraging, so that's how I'm going to take it. If you think of us, pray for clear thinking for all involved. Better to get helpful, critical feedback now then at the end of our project!

Austin and I are both writing about the name of God (Yahweh), so our projects overlap some, and we're both studying with Dr. Block. It's been fun to collaborate so far . . . and this is just the beginning. The hardest and best parts are still to come!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Imagine our surprise to discover this evening that our oldest daughter is now too old to order from the kids menu. Where has the time gone?

Not so long ago Danny and I were at our wits end, trying to figure out just what our little 6 1/2 pound bundle wanted so badly that made her scream all night long. That first night home from the hospital was LONG. And now, suddenly, we have an eleven year old.

She folds laundry. She cooks pancakes and bakes cookies. She asks penetrating questions. She makes homemade bread. She dusts the house and vacuums the stairs. She manages all her own homework. She writes all her own thank you notes. She's reading through the Bible on her own. Where has the time gone?

I knew I had worked myself out of a job when I overheard a conversation in the living room the other day. Emma saw some strange markings and wondered what they were. Eliana told her they were Roman numerals. Before I could make it to the living room to seize the teachable moment, Eliana beat me to it. In one minute flat Emma (age 6) had the system down pat, thanks to a big sister who is really good at explaining things.

Eliana and I made our way downtown this weekend to visit the American Girl store. It was "Addy" day, so we brought Addy along for the adventure. And what an adventure it was! We took 3 trains to get there and 3 trains to get back. If you ever decide to brave downtown Chicago on public transportation, be sure to let me know first. I can tell you from experience how not to do it! Eventually we got there and had a lovely time. Eliana treated us to tea at the American Girl restaurant with her birthday money. What fun! Then we set out on the 2+ hour trek home.

I have always dreaded middle school. It was so rough for me, and kids can be so mean. The other night I was lying in bed when this truth dawned on me: she's ready. Eliana is ready for middle school. Changing classes and managing assignments and navigating conflict and finding solid friends. She's confident and mature, smart and fun. Now that we're here I'm not a bit worried. You go girl!