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.