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Being Koi, Oil on canvas. Christopher MacDonald.

As the class winds down it seems I am getting to learn, or at least hone some skills in my Gospels class. 

Our professor had prepared a long document outlining the differences in content between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark an Luke) and John’s Gospel. It was a pretty good general list, and probably the thing I took issue with was just a part of some list he inherited (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt). 

My purpose in repeating my reply is simply to educate you about so-called “double stories” in the Gospels and the sort of (in my view) less than sensical assumptions some “scholars” can make which defy common sense, the texts and clear reason.  

In this case it has to do with the two miraculous “fish stories” of Luke 5 and John 21 where nets are cast over the side of the boat and a huge haul of fish is drawn in. Luke’s account takes place at Gennesaret on the first day that James, John and Peter become disciples, the nets tear and it is after Jesus does some teaching from the boat. Only Peter is in the boat with Peter – who essentially freaks out.  In John’s acount, it is after the resurrection when the boys have become men and been with Jesus for years. These men (seven of them) have been out all night fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee), when they obey a stranger (they do not know it is Jesus) the nets fill but do not rip. Peter has the presence of mind to throw on his outer garment before throwing himself into the sea, but the others (including James and John) come along with the fish and they then have the world’s quietest big fishing haul breakfast. 

Now some scholars would have you believe that these two stories are the same event.

It gets worse – they have tenure.

So I am “calling them out.”

Having spent a great deal of time in John 21 for my final assignment I am very familiar with the story of the miraculous catch of fish both from that chapter and from Luke 5 (4-11).

and keep insisting, contrary to the real possibility over a few years time – that Jesus may have given a hundred such sermons (heck, there may have been a “sermon in the ravine” Think of the acoustics!

I appreciate the hard work our teacher put in preparing this list of distinctions between the Synoptics and John’s Gospel. I want to add before I comment on the two miracle fish stories that:

  1. I have never felt any need or desire to reconcile or harmonize Gospel accounts or “smooth off the edges” of supposed contradictions one way or the other. I simply don’t care. There is never any real fallout of any real import and the long debates about inerrancy/infallibility etc..have always seemed to me a great away to avoid either real work in the texts, or actual service in the field. What a waste of time. It bored me at 19; it super bores me at 59. (And for those who feel like “well there is a contradiction so I don’t have to believe the Bible. Good. Don’t. Now, moving on…”
  2. Just because two things are vaguely similar on the surface does not mean they are the same event.

On point two this is especially pertinent when it comes to men and women with no imagination at all, for they cannot imagine that Jesus, for example, having given a sermon on the “mount,” might also give a very similar one on a “plain.” Now you would think they might have a clue as some of the content is different as well as some of the demeanor. But no, they do not make this possible connection at all – at least not many of them – and keep insisting, contrary to the real possibility over a few years time – that Jesus may have given a hundred such sermons (heck, there may have been a “sermon in the ravine” Think of the acoustics!)

And so we come to our fish story, where the fishermen, after a night of getting “skunked” simply obey the stranger on the beach (that is odd) and don’t get upset when he asks about their fishing in a less than diplomatic way (“Caught any fish boys?” is one possible translation) but they just do it. And then when the fish swell the net John is the first to realize – then Peter.

Is it possible that it is because it has happened before — say the first day they became disciples— these two?

The differences in the story are not just when they occur. Naw…It is ALL different…contexts, nets ripping, not ripping (and that being called into attention), two different responses by Peter…one with others…the other with Peter alone…two different locales. I mean, seriously, other than fish and nets what is the same?

So I would be happy to sign off on an obvious “same” story just slotted in a different place if there was evidence and a good reason to suppose that was so. But to do it here is to take away from the meaning and depth of both stories and minimize them both.

map_002It’s poor attention to detail and basically – sooner or later – insists that you subsume one story into the other. Why? Is there any good reason for this?

I’ll buy into each Gospel writer picking and choosing what they want for their own theological ends – quite comfy with that. But that is not the same as grabbing a story and re-engineering it. And that is always the underlying aspertion. No one actually comes out and SAYS this – but it is there.

Well I am calling that stuff out.

If anything it seems evident that every embarrassing detail has been left in, as well as no few incidental ones which seemingly have no purpose at all.

This just adds to my laundry list of why modern scholarship is out of touch in many regards: no imagination or common sense.


71LJxwivA5L._SL1000_I was talking with my best friend of 40 years the other day when the subject of “lawn gnomes” came up. When you have known a guy since you were 16 and you are both studied, expansive and explorers you going to, eventually, exhaust most every category…from early Gnosticism through the Bermuda Triangle to stone lawn gnomes. Of course, this is always after you have talked about girls. 

So I asked Scott, “I mean think about it – who was the first person to say to another ‘Whatta ya think about casting some little 2.3 foot cement gnomes…and painting them so people can put them on their lawns and stuff?”

The “and stuff” part was important because you really should see all the different places people ended up placing this crazy little things.

imagesWell we kinda ran that idea out a bit (figuring copious amounts of alcohol had to be initially involved..maybe one of them saw gnomes?) because the whole core of the initial idea had no shred of sense to it at all (if you think about it…does a lawn lay begging for a painted cement fantasy figure that is slightly grotesque…one you would shell out $25 clams for?) But somewhere at sometime someone (had to be two guys – sorry) came up with this insane notion and the next thing you knew it cement lawn gnomes were everywhere! Heck…they are even on TV hawking Travelocity destinations…geeez.



New Testament Scholarship


Frank Loyd-Wright home. Integrating living space with nature.

Put simply, New Testament Scholarship is a lot like ornamental horticulture. On a grand scale (big picture) it is like our national parks or local ones – they need massive curation and to be handled well by true professionals so we can all enjoy them and they can be preserved. When it comes to personal landscaping, that too is best planned out and done in an educated and mindful way with the best supplies available. Clear-thinking, good soil and care are crucial.

Lawn gnomes? Eh…they are not so crucial to actual growth and  leave brown dead places on your lawn. More offensive lawn gnomes that are racist or moon people may elicit havoc leading to penal events which are irretrievable.  But usually it is not that big a deal unless you litter your whole property with them and make that the priority.

I should make it clear – I have nothing against lawn gnomes. They are a handy metaphor. In seminary (at the Graduate Theological Union) I am presented with both instructors and books of “scholarship” that range, in fact, from “Horticulturists” (keeping the metaphor) of great skill and care who know exactly what they are doing and could oversee the care of an entire National Park, to those obsessed with lawn gnomes who would water a cactus the same as a tree and then get upset if you said anything.

I was blessed to have been taught how in my 20’s and it makes my intellectual and spiritual life vibrant to this day. It is a constant adventure.

You don’t have to deal with them. But their bad books are out in stores and a lot of their half-baked ideas in wide circulation (like lawn gnomes). And you can have lawn gnomes if you want them. I am just saying that you also have the opportunity (for free) – biblically speaking – of having something that you cannot have in any other area of life.

61Jt+xZeYVL._SL1000_You can have a Frank Lloyd Wright house of study with all its beauty and integration if you so choose, instead of a study library  more akin to a half dead lawn with cement lawn gnomes. I have cultivated the former for over 40 years, and it is so incredibly beautiful (and I should add that it is of extreme benefit in seminary as professors  dispense materials: “Yes, I’ll take these four wonderful native bamboo trees in indigenous soil with instructions from the preparer; but I’m going to pass on the Trump AND the Obama Chia pottery planters please.”

But First

You must pitch out the garbage. Any re-landscaping job requires you bulldoze all the crap away. So OUT with the pseudo-scholarship of the Bart Ehrman’s and all the Gnostic crap (I will cover this in my next post..or find older posts that have already done so…it is not difficult in the least). And the fear-inducing Tim LaHaye End Times books? Did you notice that he signed a long-term multi-book deal at the time?  Wise up people and just “be ready” – that is all Jesus asked. 
1-image0-001Then there is the question of “scholarship.” Oh boy. There is a reason that, in my textbooks, the poor scholars resort to “most scholars now believe” instead of actually making a weighted case, while the really good ones in the book simply make the weighted case. It is because “most scholars now believe” is code for “I really don’t know what the heck I am talking about..I’m bluffing.” 

How do I know this? I pay a lot of money to be in graduate school- and these scholars are some of my instructors. Some of them are unbelievably smart, skilled and learned. They can explain just about anything in great detail. Others? They are as dumb as a bag of hammers and clueless. When they say this phrase I get to ask them what theiir rationale is. When they are bluffing they become very angry because they do not have an answer.

Their anger, their lack of an answer, or trying to bluff me at $680 a unit is not my problem. I asked nicely and respectfully, as I always do.

If you cannot hit major league pitching don’t complain to me.

As you might expect, my really good instructors (who are not bluffing) have unbelievable answers – and take things farther (wow!) 

So there is every good reason to be encouraged! There are wonderful resources out there for YOU. And we will find them together and help you build your own dream house and landscaping. 

And I won’t spend a LOT of time on why this or that author is full of scabula – the fact is if Christian authors had been doing their job of providing really good vibrant materials instead of commercialized processed cheese-whiz…well a lot of it may not have happened. 

We keep going back to people like C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and others because they had the audacity to speak truth plainly. Well, they also knew how to study.  I was blessed to have been taught how in my 20’s and it makes my intellectual and spiritual life vibrant to this day. It is a constant adventure. I would share that with you. 

Amy-Gannett-0008.jpgThis superb article was just published by Amy Gannett, a writer whose works I just came into contact with through a Facebook friend who recommended her article on How Evangelicals are Losing an Entire Generation.

She is – to my mind – a master of clarity who managed to steer clear of a lot of nonsense.

This article is on how the ESV version/translation of the Bible has really made some strategic errors (she is more gracious than I am). Rather than scolding or getting on a high horse, Amy uses the situation as a teachable moment to uncover some very deep issues for the Church at large.

I could not agree more with her conclusions.

And with that I shut my cakehole and invite you to red her marvelous article at her blogsite:

WORD & CRAFT (main site)

LIFESTYLE THEOLOGY FOR THE WOMAN OF GOD (article…and it’s good for men too).


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Earlier Brueggemann talks of the “ultimate consumerism” in the face of death as
“consuming one another.” This reminds me of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker’s stunning comment that Modern humanity is “drinking and drugging themselves out of consciousness, or they go shopping, which is the same thing.” (The Denial of Death).

We are “causi sui” – “self-made” men and women – and death is the great deflater – the little boy who says we are naked and all our pretended meanings are nothing.

Thus Brueggemann rightly says “the end of the rual fantasy” – like the Emperor’s new clothes.

I again point to Berger – In the Precarious Vision The prophet Samuel comes to David after Bathsheba and tells him the story. Then says “You are ‘the man!'” – not “the King” – The man.

David is undone.

My question is: How, fearing death most, and needing an adequate answer to it – do we in the public square speak openly to those with no faith in the resurrection speak to those who face it and must cling to meaning structures to keep in unreality? And how do we speak to the household of the faith who also disbelieve in the reality of resurrection and think heaven ephemeral and iffy at best?

My first class at The GTU is FT2722, taught by Adjunct Professor Robert Wilkins, the CEO of the YMCA covering the East Bay the last 18 years. A fascinating class, we are asked to provide online two questions fro discussion online. being ABSW’s newest student, I do not have a password to the GTU system yet, so I am doing it hee for this orning’s classs – and in a hurry from last night’s class.

Readng Walter Brueggemann in a hurry is like running through a minefield. I have size 14 shoes.

Here goes.

Fro W.B’s “The Prophetic Imagination,” chapter 2:

“This God is no court of appeal for the marginal ones over against the king, for he is now completely beholden to the king. The essential criticism of Marx is obviously pertinent here. It is precisely religion that legitimates and makes possible the econom­ics and politics that emerged. And prophetic faith knows that if a criticism is to be mounted, it must begin in the unfreedom of God, which in turn results in a royal order quite free now to serve its own narrow interests.

Brueggemann brings up Marx and the therefore the atheistic critique of religion. Sociologist Peter L. Berger in his 1962 work The Precarious Vision notes the same similarities between the atheistic critique of religion and the Old Testament prophets as essentially “anti-religious” possibly best summed up by the title of  another book by Berger named “The Noise of Solemn Assemblies.”

Yahweh hates religion and expresses it through His prophets.

Moses’ God was free of religion. I Am that I Am.

It seems obvious to me that scripture is typological. It doesn’t take any imagination at all to see how societies build upon these same modes of control and self-legitimization.

Brueggemann himself comes to this conclusion later (p. 36) equating Pharoah with Solomon – then us.

All that is left of Moses is the prophetic voice – and indeed that is what we find in the Old Testament.

Question one: In what ways does American Christendom follow this same three-fold pattern of joining an economics of Affluence; a Politics of Oppression; and a religion of Immanence (based in a narrative of Creation and hyped-up Messianic expectation that is militant/Davidic)?

Follow up: In what ways are we called to be “counter-culture?” (prophetic) Bringing a subversive (sub-text) within the dominant meta-narrative?

This video is deep background on the subject of “textual criticism”. It is here in case you need it. Questions may come up on how we know the text of the Bible we have is reliable.

Books come out attacking the reliability of the Bible and they are inaccurate and wrong-headed. Dr. Wallace here gives a great class on the subject.

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