Friday, August 28, 2009

Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible

Over the past year or two, I've noticed the publication of several volumes in a new series called the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. R. R. Reno (pictured here) is the series editor. Reno is a professor of theology at Creighton University and authored the Brazos volume on the Book of Genesis.

Of all the commentary sets out there, I have to say this one intrigues me the most. For one thing, you might not always recognize the names of the authors. Most preachers and teachers expect to see commentaries on New Testament books by well-known specialists like Ben Witherington III, Scot McKnight, Gordon Fee, and the everywhere-all-the-time N. T. Wright. If it's a commentary on an Old Testament book, then you expect names like Tremper Longman, Choon-Leong Seow, Terence Fretheim, and John H. Walton. But none of those names show up on the Brazos list.

Something else about this series: when I do recognize an author's name, it's usually someone who's earned his or her reputation in a field next to biblical studies, not in it. For example, the volume on the Book of Acts was written by the late Yale professor Jaroslav Pelikan, who made his mark as an historian of Christianity and the Middle Ages. Pelikan was a great scholar. But he was not a biblical scholar per se. The commentary on Colossians has been assigned to Christopher Seitz, an Old Testament specialist who, to my knowledge, hasn't published much at all in the area of New Testament (but who has always shown an interest in the theological unity of the Christian Bible). The volume on Matthew is by the popular theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas. And Ellen Charry, a theologian who teaches at Princeton, is scheduled to co-author the commentary on the Book of Psalms.

In short, this series deliberately steers off the beaten path. Instead of biblical specialists, it turns to people who are more theologians to say what they will about the various books of the Bible. This comes across clearly in the official blurb:

Leading theologians read and interpret scripture for today's church, providing guidance for reading the Bible under the rule of faith. Each volume in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible is designed to serve the church--through aid in preaching, teaching, study groups, and so forth--and demonstrate the continuing intellectual and practical viability of theological interpretation of the Bible.

It will be interesting to see where this series will go, what impact it might actually make in the way that students of the Bible hear and apply the text. If you need to know the answer to some technical question, there are a handful of resources you can turn to (e.g., Word Biblical Commentary, International Critical Commentary, etc.). But to hear what historian Timothy George might have to say about the Book of James? That sounds especially interesting to me.

So, has anyone out there taken a look at one of the Brazos volumes? What did you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In the Beginning

Yesterday was the first day of school at Amarillo College. Needless to say, for the past week or so it's been a little hectic here at the Bible Chair.

As all teachers know, there are a thousand and one things that just have to be done before you start a new school year. And even when you think you've got all the is dotted and all the ts crossed, a couple more issues always come along at the last minute. As the first day got closer and closer, I knew I had to have everything set. Here's the schedule for Monday:

The Old Testament 9:00-10:15 a.m.
The New Testament 10:30-11:45 a.m.
Intro. to World Religions 1:30-2:45 p.m.

A total of 62 students signed up for those three classes, one of our best enrollments ever. And yesterday, every single student on the roster showed up. In the time I've been teaching, that's never happened before.

So far, the hard work of the last few weeks has paid off. The first day went pretty well. The biggest snag came in the afternoon. Within the last few days, there was a location change for the World Religions class. So students who printed off their schedules early went to the Music Building for class. Students who printed off their schedules later came to the Bible Chair instead.

When I realized what had happened, I told the people at the Bible Chair to stay there, ran to the Music Building to meet the other students, explained to them what was going on, wrote instructions and drew a map on the chalkboard for anyone who arrived late, then walked everyone over to the Bible Chair where we started class a few minutes late. No one got lost, and more than half the students took in a little exercise for good measure.

Tomorrow's schedule will include all of the Monday classes plus a short session on the Gospel of John, from Noon til 12:50. Then, beginning September 3rd, there will be a Thursday evening course in Elementary Biblical Hebrew, starting at 7:00 p.m.

Auditors are welcome to attend any of these classes other than The New Testament, which is completely full.

I like this job, and I'm thankful for it. I think it's going to be a good semester.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Free Course in Elementary Biblical Hebrew

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

What efforts I spent on that task (i.e., learning Hebrew), what difficulties I had to face, how often I despaired, how often I gave up and then in my eagerness to learn began again … I thank the Lord that from a bitter seed of learning I am now plucking sweet fruits!
– Saint Jerome, Epistula 125.12.


Beginning Thursday, September 3rd, a course in Basic Biblical Hebrew will be offered at Amarillo Bible Chair. There are no pre-requisites for this course. No previous knowledge of the language is expected. Anyone interested is welcome and encouraged to attend.

The class will meet each Thursday evening, beginning at 7:00 p.m., at the Bible Chair building, 2501 S. Jackson (corner of Jackson and 25th), just across the street from the south parking lot of the Washington Street campus of Amarillo College. Students should plan for class sessions lasting about two hours.

As soon as the course is added to the AC curriculum, students will be able to receive full credit. It is anticipated that the first semester of the course will be offered as a “Fall Too” (late fall) class.

Regarding textbooks: Students will eventually need to purchase Biblical Hebrew, Second Edition SET (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004). The two books and three audio CDs should be purchased as a package.

Questions? Please call the instructor, Frank Bellizzi, at (806) 372-5747, or send an email to . . .

Friday, August 14, 2009

So Long to the Legendary Les Paul

Anyone who's ever picked up and played a solid-body electric guitar has had the great Les Paul to thank for having done so much to bring that wonder into the world.

But "Red-Hot Red," who died yesterday at the age of 94, was more than an inventor. At different stages in his life, he was a sound guru, a recording artist, and, above all, a performer. In fact, he was still playing two shows, one night a week, until earlier this year. Few people have lived such a full life.

Back in 2005, I traveled with my daughter Chloe and some other musicians from her high school to see him play at the Iridium Jazz Club in Manhattan. What a night! So glad we went.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recently Read

According to the New Testament, the first, most-basic quality of a church elder is simple: he must be trustworthy. In the words of the text, the ideal pastor is above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2) and blameless (Titus 1:5). He leads an honorable life, reeks of integrity, has a rock-solid reputation.

Speaking of our fifth President, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson once said, "Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it." That's the idea.

As I read The Ten-Year Century by Tom Hayes and Michael S. Malone, it made me think that as the pace of change continues to snowball, the quality of trustworthiness will, if anything, become even more important. Aren't you thankful for those people you can count on to do their best to do what's right?

- - - - - - - -

The genre of short story isn't dead. But it ain't what it used to be either. The Valetudinarian, a story by Joshua Ferris recently published in the New Yorker magazine, is a step in the right direction. It's about a grouchy old widower who thinks he's dying before he decides to live. This one will likely entertain more guys than girls. Either way, it's one fine piece of fiction. Read any good short stories lately?

- - - - - - - -

I recently finished Antony Flew's much-talked-about book, There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. People who are up on recent debates about the existence of God, or on the recent history of the Churches of Christ, might remember that in his atheist days Flew participated in a four-night debate with the late Thomas B. Warren. To see what Flew says about that, see this post.

And what would Karl Barth say about Flew's "conversion" to Theism, but not Christianity? A lot. For the skinny, you can check out three previous posts:

Natural Theology: Is it Christian?

Karl Barth's Rejection of Natural Theology, 1

Karl Barth's Rejection of Natural Theology, 2

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bellizzis and Caruthers

Another photo from last Friday night. Michele and I with the honorees, George and Elaine Caruthers, who were married on August 7, 1959 in Lubbock, Texas. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: in addition to being the parents of my beautiful wife, they are some of the finest people God has anywhere. I'm proud to be a part of their family. (However, they're way too clean, neat, and orderly. It's something I'm trying to help them out of. No success so far).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Latest Family Photo

Michele and I and our six children at Michele's mom and dad's 50th wedding anniversary last Friday evening.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Final Countdown to the Start of School

Two weeks from today we start a new school year at Amarillo College. I hope to make these some of my best classes ever. I've been doing this for three and a half years now. During that time I've learned a lot about myself, about the subjects I teach, and about the kinds of things that work (and don't work) in the classroom.

From one semester to the next, I've tried to improve the content of each course and my own delivery of the material. One principle I keep going back to is that students learn and retain the most when they are actively engaged in what's happening in class. It helps them, I think, when they do a good bit of the talking: raising and answering questions, expressing what they've learned, etc. If a person can accurately describe something and clearly explain it, then it's a sure thing that they understand it.

I also try to accommodate the wide array of learning styles among my various students, giving them things to see and touch, as well as hear. I'll never forget the strained look on one lady's face as she listened to my sermons week after week. I thought she was angry or distressed. So I finally asked her about it. She told me that she didn't object to what I was saying. There was no "problem." She was just doing her best to really listen to what was being said. Sometime later, I noticed that whenever my sermons were accompanied by projected text or artwork, her expression was much more relaxed. It was a wake-up call on the importance of making it easier for people who are highly visual and who don't learn very well by simply hearing. (It makes me wonder if, for example, Jesus actually picked a flower when he said, "Consider the lilies of the field").

Anyway, these are just a few of the things running through my mind these days. Here are my questions to you: Who was the best teacher you ever had in high school or college? What made that person's classes so great?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Beach Boy Week

I'm thinking about my parents this morning. It's their 54th wedding anniversary. What a record of faithfulness through joy and tears, good times and bad. I'm very proud of and thankful for them.
- - - - - -
Nine of our crew splashed around in the Long Island Sound yesterday. Hammonasset Beach in Madison, Connecticut is nice this time of year. I'm glad I live in the day of waterproof spf 30!
- - - - - -
Oh, and the night before? Michele and I got to go cruising in a friend's '61 Vette convertible. A 283 with dual 4-barrels and a 4-speed. Drivin' round, top down. Photos and a Beach Boys song to follow. The friend was driving his other car: a '59 Vette convertible that's even faster. I think he's enjoying his "retirement."