In Which I Start Blogging Again

photo-on-8-6-16-at-1-39-pmA little more than a year ago I entered a new career. My life had fallen apart. Though there were plenty of underlying causes, the fault was primarily my own.

So my main blog has been dormant. I’ve been doing some blogging at TheHebrewNerd.com and TheIsaiahNerd.Wordpress.com.

Well, fall is here. More than a year has passed. I plan to write again.

I have been and continue to work on Isaiah, the Elijah stories from 1 Kings, and Paul within Judaism. I’ve also continued and greatly improved my commentaries on Torah and the Gospels (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts) over the past year — if you’re not subscribed to my Daily Portion notes on them you can do so here.

I find, of course, that a full-time career in IT doesn’t allow me to keep up with all of these projects at once. So things will be sporadic. There might be a short run on Paul. You might see some Gospels articles, because I had nearly completed a book, Living Yeshua, which I will soon resume work on.

Themes and topics that have emerged in my life since then have included:

A mission to help people who see the critical realities involved in believing nonetheless retain their faith.

I’m talking an awareness of things like the darkness as well as the goodness of human life, the absence as well as the presence of God, the errancy as well as the transcendence of the Bible. Naive faith proclaims, “God will heal and help.” Critical faith understands, “Children will get cancer. The Holocaust was real. We’re all going to die. The powerful rule with violence. Things do not get better in any meaningful way under the sun. God may be absent and silent, but he is also present and he speaks.”

Along with the first, an objective to help people read the Bible critically and yet with faith.

Smart people who have not been able to move to a critical manner of reading the Bible do the next best thing: they quit reading it. After all, nothing can kill your faith faster than a lot of Bible reading. Vengeance. Genocide. Contradictory views of God (angry warlord? the ultimate good father?) fill its pages (and it’s not an “Old” vs. “New” Testament thing either). How wonderful it is to meet hundreds of scholars who read critically and at the same time believe in the power of the Bible.

A desire to help people read Isaiah better, getting beyond the Christian vs. Jewish impasse and the “messianic prophecy” dead-end that has obscured the powerful ideas in this most poetic of ancient Hebrew books.

Isaiah is supposed to be important. Along with Psalms it is the most quoted book in the New Testament. Yet it is a book that is widely considered boring, except for a few standout inspirational excerpts. Nothing elicits yawns quite like the announcement of an article or book on Isaiah. And no commentary on Isaiah has really explained it with the power it deserves to a popular audience. Meanwhile, those stuck on “Isaiah wrote the whole book” and “it is a book of messianic prophecies” have missed its beauty and significance.

A plan to explore Elijah and Elisha, two enigmas among the biblical figures in the Biblical histories.

I wrote my Master’s thesis at Emory University on these narratives. It is not that I think them among the most important in the Bible, but rather, among the most curious. They seem a perfect arena in which to demonstrate the practical value of Hebrew learning and the explanatory power of literary criticism (poetics).

A fanatic urge to communicate the brilliance of Paul the Jewish teacher.

Paul, in my opinion, is misunderstood in Christianity and even more so in Judaism (I speak from personal experience, having spent eight months in a Conservative Synagogue). Even in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots communities I used to associate with, Paul is often held at arm’s length. It’s hard not to be bitter about Paul. Churches overuse him (and miss his power at the same time in what has to be the greatest irony of western religion). Paul the anti-Jew is so firmly fixed in tradition, we are tempted to let this color our perception of Paul himself who had absolutely nothing to do with it.

An increased belief in what is often called universalism — the idea that God’s transforming power will eventually reach every person.

I used to feel pressure not to go this direction. I was clergy. Many of my constituents were sold on what seems to be the crux of evangelicalism: salvation is a contract. God’s part is to provide afterlife. The part men and women must play is to arrive at a correct doctrine about Jesus prior to dying. Conditional salvation, with the stakes so high, is after all, the only “fair” way, many will opine. We had to believe and it wouldn’t be fair of God to save people who did not win the race of believing before they took the eternal, celestial dirt nap. Well, I won’t share all my reasons in this little paragraph, but I am more than ever convinced God doesn’t have prerequisites for his love and intent to transform us, all of us. Nor does God face any deadlines, such as the oft-believed and weakly supported notion that death is the last chance.

A continued, ardent faith in Yeshua, divine Messiah, and the power of his life and sayings which I believe have been passed down to us by eyewitness testimony.

I wrote a book saying that Yeshua really is divine, or that’s what the earliest followers of Yeshua concluded anyway. I still believe it. I think Yeshua is the stuff. God’s love and power were never seen in anything like the depth that they became apparent in the appearance of Yeshua among us. I know it seems like a great mystery to many people. What’s the big deal? He preached some cool countercultural goodness. He was martyred. He is alleged to have returned to life and ascended above the clouds. He didn’t change much down here. Well, the big deal is actually, truthfully big. I don’t think religion has communicated this very well to the masses. What is classically known as christology has not been emphasized enough. Let me say it simply: Jesus is a big deal, bigger than you and I can even comprehend, and it is possible to uncover why the earliest witnesses thought so.

29 Comments

  1. Faith redefined…I will be looking forward to reading your blogs. I feel like I am adrift in truly understanding what all of this means to me in my relationship to the Divine. Blessings!

  2. Welcome back. I’m pleased to read that you’ve spent eight months in a Conservative synagogue environment, though I’m curious if it was one on the liberal side of the Conservative spectrum (Conservi-form) or on the traditional (Conserva-dox) side. Nonetheless I hope you found it an enlightening experience, albeit a short one (which I say from my own perspective of more than three decades as a member of such synagogues). If I’ve inferred your current outlook correctly, from between the lines above, I look forward to some discussion of traditional versus critical perspectives on Jewish literature from Torah onward.

        1. So, are you no longer able to attend this shul with its enjoyable chanting that now you miss? Are we referring to recent experience during your hiatus from blogging, or to some other period?

  3. Discovering your blog gave me something to look forward to during the dark days when my spouse was battling bone marrow cancer. I managed to retain my faith in the goodness of G-d despite facing the last enemy of death and an uncertain path alone with two dependants to bring up. This site was one of the few places where I could go to for an early morning read before facing the day.
    It was sad when you stopped writing (I had my selfish reasons, of course)but I knew you needed a time-out. Hoping you seek G-d daily and will always turn towards him in humility and heal. Hope you find some way to reach out to your family despite all. Not that it will be easy for them (or for you) to forget the past.
    Glad to have you back. All of us are broken people in some way which makes our journey together all the more important in the light of G-d’s word, putting our trust in Him. I have really gone through a lot that has opened my eyes as to how good G-d is, and how much He can be trusted to be there in spite of the prevailing mood. One day at a time.
    Hoping to bring new readers to you, in my corner of Africa. Some insights I do share with my boys – Leviticus was particularly intriguing to us. Paul, I love and respect more than ever too!
    Glad to be able now to read the Hebrew characters. Don’t mention the nightmare of going through the vowels – but I did manage to get through by sheer doggedness…It resembled Morse Code, and I almost believed that whatever grey cells I had were gone. My quiet days were spent learning at least one new thing from your Hebrew site.
    So welcome back.

    1. Margareth, I am humbled by the experience you went through and the thought that my writing could be an encouragement to someone needing to find it in such a trial. Blessings and thank you for the encouraging words you have sent consistently throughout this past year. My trials have largely been the consequences of my own actions. Yours have been largely pains you did nothing to bring on yourself. May God keep showing you more and more light.

  4. Glad to see you’ve returned to blogging, old friend. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

  5. Allow me to add my welcome back and I look forward to reading your blog again. May The Compassionate One who has shown you chesed cause your words to bring understanding to many and allow your new talk (and walk) to be an inspiration to those of us who too had to learn the reality of Torah the hard way. May we both be able to joyfully apply Romans 8:28 to our biggest failures and say with Rabbi Akiva “this too is for the good”. Shalom.

  6. Derek, I always enjoy your writing, but I’m stumped at how the dozens upon dozens of references to the “day of judgment” in both the Tanach and NT can be reconciled with universalism. What new spin will Matt 25 get so that separating the sheep from the goats becomes a happy ending for all of humanity? Universalism sounds lovely, but it’s completely incompatible with an honest reading of the biblical text. You’re a sharp guy — I’ll be curious to hear how you’ve come to this conclusion.

    1. @Lois — I would suggest that the sheep vs.goats scenario, among other pictures of judgment, is a depiction of ultimate events after all opportunities have been exhausted, all appeals have been heard, decisions have been rendered, and justice is finally and unavoidably executed. However, that does not eliminate efforts by HaShem prior to that point to provide all possible opportunities for universal education and repentance. The unanswered philosophical question is whether some of these efforts must occur after what we know as physical death, in order to ensure that fair deliberations may occur in an environment free of political and cultural pressures that existed during a sinner’s lifetime. Certainly the judgment itself is depicted as occurring sometime beyond death; hence we should not rule out the possibility of other pre-trial activities. An example of the philosophical basis for the universal application of such justice may be found in 1Tim.2:4,6. Nonetheless, universal grace, mercy, and justice do not guarantee a universally happy outcome for every individual, which we know will not occur because we see otherwise in Rev.20:10-15, due to the likewise universal opportunity to choose destruction via the evils of rebellion and pride.

      And so it goes…

      1. Thank you for the theological response to Ms. Tverberg. I always look forward to your responses to the comments.

        I didn’t visualize scripture very well until I visited the Holy Land and saw how goats and sheep were herded. I felt joy in understanding following their Master’s voice when I saw a shepherd move his flock from one area of the field to another and there were a few sheep that had diddled around grazing. When they became aware the shepherd had moved on, they hurried to catch up with the others. The picture was very clear to me.

    2. Lois,

      Thank you and I look forward to seeing you in San Antonio. We need to have breakfast or lunch or something.

      I do plan to explain myself. In the meantime, I highly commend the book The Evangelical Universalist (by Robin Parry, who I think you know, but the nom de plume on the book is Gregory McDonald).

  7. Derek, I, too, am glad to have you back at writing. I always enjoyed reading your blog, you helped me gain a much better understanding of Torah and of Paul from a Jewish perspective and I found it always inspiring and encouraging. I like your honest way to ask critical questions in troubling issues and to allow questions to be asked, I think it´s good to learn together. So, I look forward to read more from you.
    I wish you and your family much blessing,
    Angelika

  8. Derek, I love your work and appreciate your availability to blog. Fundamental evangelicals have done a great job keeping my mind boxed. I cannot blame them, however, since I willingly accepted the underlying premise they were right and anyone/everyone else was wrong – any venture into another view was being deceived. Your words and work are important to many of us as we journey. Thank you.

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