Pray Without Ceasing? Why?: Towards A Theology of Prayer, Pt. 5

It is not uncommon in Christian cirlces to hear people haphazardly spout off portions of Rom. 12.12 and 1 Thess. 5.17. In fact, I have heard these verses quoted (more than I care to admit), with an air of piousness that is a bit bothersome. In Romans, there is a snippet of a sentence that says "always be in prayer" and in Thessalonians, one can take a snapshot of the statement "pray without ceasing".

These verses have been interpreted a few ways throughout history. For example, St. Chrysostom took them to refer to certain "hours / times" of the day that persons should pray. Others have suggested that since everything Christians do is "in the Lord", then everything Christians do is a form of prayer. Probably, the most popular reading of these texts today is also the most simple, a reading which promotes that of a "vigorous" prayer life.

Yet, what if all of these views are off? What if there is another, more fruitful way to understand Paul's view of prayer? Well, I think there may be! Using not only Paul's theology as a sprinboard for this discussion but also my previous posts in this series, I want to suggest here that "continual prayer" is not necesarrily a reference to set prayer time each day (though there's nothing wrong with that) nor is it the call to a sort of prayerful repetitiveness.

Recalling the definition of prayer that I have been eespousing ("Attending to the presence of God both around us and in us"), I want to offer the thought that continual prayer is the ongoing journey of seeking after God's wants and desires. From this view, prayer is not a repetitive (circular) event. You are not returning to simply say and do the same things over and over; it is not a "going through the motions" type of thing. Instead, from this perspective, prayer is more like a "trip" or "journey"; it is akin to walking a path and being awed time and again at the new things one experiences.

Thus, when we approach God in prayer, each time we do it, we are seeking the "new" desires and wants of His mind & heart. And then, introspection comes as we discern how, in our lives, we can please and glorify God by helping fulfill His wants and desires. This is truly seeking the presence of God in us and around us throughout all of life (e.g. "continually"). So, let's not think of "continuous" as repetitive or scheduled but rather, in a more linear fashion: like an adventurous path that goes on and on--it is a continuous road.

One last thought: The sad interpretations of "praying without ceasing" that many adopt and put forth, which are very self-focused, are quite out of touch with both reality and healthy theology! I always get nervous when I hear modern Westerners recite these verses in a "prooftexting" or "self-gloating" or "pietistic" sort of way; they were never meant to be used or taken as such! Unfortunately, to many today, "praying without ceasing" means "praying for me" or "praying for what I want / need". What this has caused is a narcissistic church culture. Think about it: If prayer is for me and about me and I am at the center of it, then when I pray without ceasing, I am constantly thinking about me, my wants and my desires. Thus, prayer has become nothing more than a psychological phenomenon wrapped in the garb of cognitive (self) therapy. This is but one more way that prayer has been raped and embezzled! Let's remember that prayer is first and foremost about God's wants and desires. And let us not forget that prayer is about attending to God's presence around us and in us! Praying without ceasing is to glorify God and to be seeking His mind and heart!


Other posts in this series:

1) Defining Prayer
2) Imaging Prayer
3) Asking in Prayer
4) Why I Don't Pray For Things


Celebrity Theology: Atheist Brad Pitt

If I were to be honest, I would have to say that I am somewhere "middle-of-the-road" when it comes to celebrities putting on their theology hats. On the one hand, I am well aware that not everyone has taken the path I have; not everyone has worked toward 4 degrees in biblical studies. And though I'm not Lutheran, the Protestant side of me realizes that biblical interpretation cannot be done only within the halls of the academy (thank God!). On the other hand, I get quite annoyed by celebrities who think that just because they've made some religious commitment, they are automatically "good" and "capable" theologians.

Steve Baldwin's recent charades on "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here" deal with just this sort of thing. On the show, he "evangelized" and then "baptized" the infamous duo "Heidi and Spencer". A few hours later, the two of them claimed to have visions and to somehow know "God's will" for their lives now (what I would call a huge misunderstanding of God's will, anyway). Shortly after the show ended, I saw on the Yahoo! Ticker that Heidi planned to pose for Playboy. This week, the headlines said that she would be starting her own Bible Study soon.

I must stop here and ask: Does making a religious commitment, especially if you already have celebrity status, give you the rights and know-how to conduct a Bible study? Shouldn't there be some sort of bounds here? Does Heidi know what the word "exegesis" means? How about "hermeneutics" or "eschatology" or heck, even "theology"? Does she know the basics of how to read and interpret; the building blocks (if you will) of exegesis? I would venture to say: No!

But Heidi is just one among many famous persons who use their "celebrity" to gain religious clout. And if that's not bad in and of itself, perhaps one of the most twisted parts of it all is that evangelicals LOVE IT!!! Yes, that's right, evangelicals love when celebrities use their platforms of fame to speak a word about religion or faith. I may be reaching here, but I would venture to say that part of the evangelical eroticism that is expressed toward Christian celebrities is the mindset: If I back someone famous who is saying things about God, well, then I am (even if indirectly) helping fulfill the Great Commission. How sickening!

But what if the religious or theological remarks come from someone who is not Christian? Well, this has become increasingly popular too! In a recent interview with the German magazine BILD, Brad Pitt, former Southern Baptist turned confused theolebrity (I Just Coined A Word!!!), was asked asked if he believed in God and if he thought the soul was spiritual. His reply was emphatic as he said it twice (6 times): "No, no, no." He continued, "I'm probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don't think anyone really knows. You'll either find out or not when you get there, until then there's no point thinking about it."

Now, to be fair, his opinion was asked for in an interview format! He didn't just make his way to some podium and announce these remarks via press release. But still, the fact remains that once he issued these words, they were heard like a shot 'round the world. Indeed, a quick Google of the phrase "Brad Pitt Atheist" leads one to thousands of pages and blogs where discussions about Pitt's comments are the topic at hand.

But the thing that gets me is twofold: 1) What gave the interviewer the idea that in asking Pitt this question, he'd get some profound response? and, 2) Why is there so much hype over Pitt's statements? And before I deal with those 2 questions, I would also like to point out that among atheists and agnostics alike, there is just as much "eroticism" about celebrity platforms being used to promote an ideology or cause! Now, to deal with my first question, I would say that the interviewer probably never expected to get a deep response. It is probably closer to the truth to say that he used religion as a sort of "hot topic" that he knew would be "saucy" and draw attention. Pitt has no background that would allow him to provide a sound theological answer and everyone knows this, especially that interviewer. So, on to question two and its answer; I would say that so much hype was created because people hang on the words of those they revere. Pitt is a sexual icon of this century and always will be; he is adored by billions of people across the globe.

It is clear from Pitt's answer that he's not only an agnostic about religion but he's agnostic about his own beliefs (20% atheist and 80% agnostic); Pitt doesn't know and isn't sure of what he believes; he doubts himself; he's confused. For those of us who have studied cultural trends like Post-Modernism, we see that philosophy undergirding Pitt's statements. Like many, he wants a buffet styled philosophy / theology / religion (a little of this and a little of that). Such a view is appealing to the current generation.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the interview is that when Pitt is asked these questions, the commentator notes that he sort of smugly laughs; Pitt's arrogance makes him "seem" sure of himself while his comments reveal that he's confused. Could his nervous body language be a cover-up for not wanting to appear confused? Perhaps. If not, it doesn't really matter. What I am really wanting to get at is: Brad Pitt can discard faith in two breaths and everyone hangs on his words. Just as well, his attitude promotes empty responses from other people in the culture who follow him and revere his every utterance. The truth is: Brad Pitt has no grounds for making the statements he did. He doesn't have the theological or philosophical know-how to back up his remarks. And so, he ends up being just another celebrity who needs to not be taken seriously.

In the end, I wish Bill Maher would take the time to make another film, this one though, about the varied and skewed versions of atheism and agnosticism that many celebrities promote; maybe he could title the movie "Celebulous". He could travel to production sets, go on tour buses, go to theaters where actors and actresses just getting their feet wet training, he could interview Perez Hilton and others to show the rampant ignorance that runs through Hollywood when it comes to theology. But no, he'd never do that because it would simply undermine his own views. It seems as though on the one hand, celebrities decrying religion is the "new cool". On the other hand, it seems like many celebs are taking some interest in faith matters. Either way, I would venture to say that Hollywood is not a pulpit and that typically, whatever theology comes out of there is incredibly flawed, so, beware. As for "celebrity theology", well, I think it's time we confront it saying "That's A Wrap"!


Debunking Rapture Theology

Here's a "Spoken-Word" I wrote last night that attempts, in a sort of unusual way, to confront the unhealthy "Rapture Theology" (Dispensationalism) that has run amuck in the American Church. 3 and a half minutes is the length; give it a view and share your thoughts:


A Conversation With Brandon Wason: Interview Series, Pt. 8

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time in conversation with the author of SitzImLeben.com, Brandon Wason. Brandon will begin is PhD work at Emory this fall and is highly intersted in Christian origins and New Testament studies. Take a few minutes and drop-in on our conversation; I'm sure you will enjoy it, just as I did. When you're done, be sure to visit Brandon's blog.


Michael: Brandon, thanks for agreeing to chat with me for a few minutes, I anticipate that this will be quite fun. I was wondering if, to begin, you could set the context for the rest of the conversation by sharing some of your personal background?

Brandon: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate the experience! Well, I'm originally from California and have spent most of my time there. I was not into academics very much during high school, mostly just skateboarding and basketball, but after graduating high school I started becoming more involved in church and started reading more books on the bible and related subjects in order to teach small groups, etc. Actually studying books on the bible really intrigued me and I started reading more technical books and decided that I should go to college and major in bible or theology. I ended up majoring in classics after reading F. F. Bruce's autobiography and that is sort of the very short version of how I became interested in academics.

Michael: For those who haven’t read Bruce’s autobiography or may not know exactly who he is, could you say a little bit about it and why you think it influenced you in the way that it did?

Brandon: F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) was a leading evangelical, biblical scholar. Since I participated in an evangelical church, his writings were well known to me. He's written a ton of commentaries on the New Testament and various books about the nature of the NT writings, its history and its theology. But what made him so popular, I think, is that he was very accessible to people just getting their feet wet in this field of study, like me. I rated his opinion very highly and so when he talked about his experience as a "classics" scholar, that made me consider majoring in it for myself. Of course, I had to make up for the lack of studying Judaism and theology when I came to seminary. Still, his book was very formative for me, in fact, you can read my thoughts about it here: 5 Influential Books.

Michael: I find it quite intriguing that it was someone’s autobiography that pointed you in the direction of what sort of school to attend in your pursuit of biblical academics. It seems clear to me (and others perhaps) that academic texts are still a major influence in your life. To see this, one needs look no further than your blog actually, which brims with information on books. So, can you say a little bit about your blog and why you started it?

Brandon: I had originally started a blog back in the summer 2005 called Novum Testamentum Blog. It was just me at the beginning, but some time later I opened it up to other authors. I enjoyed the blog immensely and it opened up many avenues of discussion and fostered many friendships. But as things became more and more busy as at seminary, it became increasingly difficult to maintain and eventually, it suffered a slow death. Nevertheless, I continued to follow many biblioblogs and continued to do the biblioblogs.com website with Jim West and John Hobbins. It had always been my intention to get back to blogging and so, I finally did this summer and already, I've found it very worthwhile. Since reading academic books is such a large part of my life now, it naturally becomes a focus of the site. Still, I hope that it remains only one aspect of the blog because if it were just about books, well I imagine that it will become quite boring.

Michael: The name of your new site is Sitz im Leben, is there a story behind that title?

Brandon: Broadly speaking, the German phrase Sitz im Leben refers to original context of a situation. It's a term that is widely used in biblical studies and it loosely describes what my blog is about: getting back to the first-century origins of Christianity. To be sure, it's not that my posts focus heavily on form criticism—they do not, though I do talk about those things here and there—but really I was just surprised that the domain name sitzimleben.com was still available.

Michael: Speaking of life settings and origins, so far, you have shared a few things about the origins of the faith & academic spheres of your life. What are your ultimate academic endeavors and where do you hope all this study leads?

Brandon: Originally I became interested in this field because I thought it would be wonderful to teach the bible, but I soon also became very interested in the research side of things as well. Because, ideally, I'd like to teach in a seminary environment in the future (although, I wouldn't mind teaching at a secular institution either), I decided to attend Candler School of Theology at Emory University. I am very grateful that I will be able to stay at Emory and finish my doctoral studies here as well. Without a doubt, I think that it is a great school for the academic side of New Testament studies, but also one that has a mind toward the church. So, when I will be finished in about five years, the plan is to be able to teach this material at a school that is a healthy environment for both teaching and research. As far as specifics, that's just too hard to know at this point.

Michael: Following up on your comments, let me ask: What advice would you give to budding scholars or those who have a desire to teach in biblical higher education some day?

Brandon: Well, I'm just starting off at the doctoral level, so, others will be able to make much better and more thoughtful / mature comments on the matter. There are a number of things that has helped me get to this point, although I still have much further to go. My wife has been very supportive of me during the highs and lows, without her, I don't know where I'd be. Second, I think I developed my desire to do doctoral work pretty early, so, things like a good GPA, fruitful relationships with professors, and familiarity with the field in-general just came natural. I usually planned most of my coursework around how I thought it would prepare me for graduate work, therefore I was able remain very focused. One thing I found very helpful was talking to professors who know the field well. Many of them have been able to give me sound advice about papers, resources, and the dreaded PhD application process. Nobody likes applying to PhD programs and the waiting period is the worst—it's a necessary evil filled with rejections. It's also good to have friends in similar places as you. (Michael and I actually talked quite a bit during the waiting period and it was nice to share good news with each other!)

Michael: A moment ago, you mentioned “specifics” about your future as a teacher being a little uncertain. Would it be appropriate to ask if you have any specific “research topics” that you are considering doing dissertation work on or is that a subject that is still being mulled over?

Brandon: I recently wrote my MTS thesis on the Eucharist in the Didache and I continue to be very fascinated by that document. I may or may not do more work on the Didache during my graduate career but I do plan to write more on it in the future. One of my main areas of interest has been Luke-Acts and Emory is one of the best places to study this. I've already taken a few courses on Luke-Acts during my master's degree but I plan on doing more work in this area. I have a few ideas on the table for dissertation topics but I haven't decided on anything concrete yet, or who my advisors will be. I think they give a little bit of time to figure those things out while in the program. So we'll see.

Michael: Your fascination with the Didache piques my own interest. Can you say a little more for my readers about what the Didache is and why you have such an interest in it?

Brandon: Thanks for asking. Actually, I'm going to be starting a short blog series on the Didache. Basically, the Didache (or, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) was an early Christian church handbook. It probably dates to around 100 C.E. or earlier and reflects some segments of the early church that we do not find in the New Testament. Nevertheless, it has a very "biblical" feel to it. The first major section is an adaptation of a Jewish “Two Ways” tractate (also included at the end of the Epistle of Barnabas), which describes the way of life and the way of death. The Didache further talks about early Christian rituals such as fasting, prayer, baptism, church leadership and the Eucharist. Given all of this, one can easily see how this document is important.

Michael: Moving from the Didache to biblical scholarship in general, what would you say are the two most important discussions happening among biblical scholars today?

Brandon: Michael, that's a good question but a difficult one to answer. First, I would say that the role of the "theological" interpretation of scripture within the academy is fairly important since it seems that the academy and the church’s use of scripture have two separate, although, equally important agendas. This isn't a discussion that I've been involved in much myself but I am curious how this discussion will pan out and what ultimate role the "theological" approach will play in our field. Second, I would probably say that rhetorical criticism is an important discussion currently taking place. It seems like a lot of people are taking a stab at it but there aren't many set rules for doing rhetorical criticism, so, it often ends up looking a little like the Wild West. I think those participating in the Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity group at SBL are making some good progress but, again, the field is still very open-ended.

Michael: I know you said you weren't up to snuff on all the conversations taking place regarding the theological interpretation of scripture, but do you think you have any significant contributions to make to the dialogues surrounding rhetorical criticism? If so, would you mind sharing one or two?

Brandon: Like I said, there are a number of different ways of looking at a text through rhetorical criticism. Betz and Kennedy have paved much of the way but personally, I find the use of judicial, epideictic and deliberative species of rhetoric more applicable to the Greek citystate than the early Christian situation. Paul, after all, was probably not a trained rhetorician. I took a directed studies course on rhetorical criticism with Vernon Robbins and I like his approach of utilizing earlier Jewish discourse to inform the discussion of the six different types of Christian rhetorical dialects: prophetic, priestly, miracle, apocalyptic, pre-creation, and wisdom. So, I generally try to think in terms of those categories. Of course, that leaves the question open of how to utilize other forms of Greco-Roman rhetoric such as the progymnasmata, which I think are important, but still, I think we need to do more work in the field to know exactly how they relate to NT discourse.

Michael: Thanks for those insights; I think you make some great points there, points we could surely talk about for a while! However, we’ll start to bring this to a close now. Let me just inquire about one more thing, it’s a question that I ask everyone I interview: If you could own just one book (along with the Bible), what would it be and why?

Brandon: Another good, but difficult question, Michael. Recently it was asked on my blog which “one book” I would choose on the Historical Jesus and my answer was Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus but that certainly wouldn't be my answer here. Instead, I might choose an edition of the Apostolic Fathers because that, in addition to the Bible, has been influential on my thinking about the early Church and is often a good source of devotion. Otherwise I might choose BDAG so I can read my Greek new testament better. But I can't imagine being in such a situation and I certainly hope it never arises.

Michael: Great answer! Brandon, thanks again for taking the time to interview. I enjoyed the conversation immensely and hope that those reading got to know you a little better, just as I did!

Brandon: Thanks Michael, it's been fun chatting and I always enjoy the conversations we have. All the best!


Again, if you get the chance, head over to Brandon's site and check out some of his work. You can go there directly by clicking the following link: SitzImLeben.com.


Other Interviews in this Series

* A Conversation with James McGrath: Interview Series, Pt. 7
* A Conversation with Eric Sowell: Interview Series, Pt. 6
* A Conversation with Alan Knox: Interview Series, Pt. 5
* A Conversation with Chris Tilling: Interview Series, Pt. 4
* A Conversation with Scott Bailey: Interview Series, Pt. 3
* A Conversation with John the Methodist: Interview Series, Pt. 2
* A Conversation with Josh McManaway: Interview Series, Pt. 1


The God Who Is Love, First Adopted Us...

It has been a little while since I've talked about our adoption here on Pisteuomen, but in this brief post, I want to say just a few things about it. First of all, it has been a lengthy process. By the time we fly to Ethiopia and return home (not exactly sure when that will be), this process will have taken about a year and a half. That's a long time to be "expecting". Regardless, we are so glad that some time in the near future, we will see our son.

Throughout the course of the adoption, numerous people have asked us questions like: Why are you adopting? Why from Ethiopia? How long does the process take? What does it cost? Will you have to travel? How can we help? Etc., etc.

Below is a short video that my wife and I created. We have sent this to a number of people and have played it in a couple of ecclesiastical settings. This video is a 3-minute attempt to capture our feelings about the adoption and to answer some of those questions. Please, if you have 3 minutes, watch this video and if you can, share it. Share this url with as many people possible. If you have a website or blog and can post it, please, do it for us. The cost for the adoption is about $30,000. We need all of the financial support and encouragement we can get in this process. If you have Facebook and can share it, please, do that. And if you are able to donate, there is a donate button below, just click it and make your donation. All proceeds will go towards our adoption (part of which goes toward building a brand new foster home in Ethiopia).

If you have any edifying thoughts or comments or even questions, feel free to share. Thanks, ahead of time.

You can help us bring our son home by clicking the donating button below and contributing to the financial aspects of our international adoption.

We will do our best to share more photos, news and video footage both here and at www.MichaelHalcomb.comprior to and upon our return from Ethiopia.


Pisteuomen Updated: New Features

To all of the readers here at Pisteuomen, thanks for bearing with me today as I made some significant updates to the site. It's probably safe to say that the most readily noticeable change is the "sliding menu" on the side of the page. When you scroll your mouse over that, you get a host of important links. Be sure to check those out!!!

One of the links that you will find on the side menu, has also been added to the right-hand column: Twitter. That's right, I finally set up a Twitter account today and I will begin Tweeting soon.

By far, the biggest change, though, has to do with the commenting here on Pisteuomen. Whereas commenting was limited to Blogger, OpenId & Anonymous before, now, if you have a Facebook, LinkedIn or Disqus account, you can also comment under those accounts!!! (Some kinks may need worked out but everything should be up and going now.)

Anyway, one of the things that I've tried to do since the inception of this site is to make it more user-friendly, so, I felt like it was time to do these things. Thanks again for bearing with me; I hope this makes your visits to Pisteuomen that much more enjoyable.


How To Get A Full-Ride / Scholarship For Ph.D Work

Ever since I announced a few months back here on Pisteuomen that I received a full-ride to do my PhD work, I've had a number of people send me emails, make comments on the site and leave messages on Facebook requesting that I write a post regarding these matters. Today, when I mentioned that another school contacted me with an offer, some more prompts were sent my way. So, in this post, I'm going to offer what I believe to be the 3 most important tips for getting a full scholarship to do PhD work. No doubt there are other significant factors but in my experience, these are what I deem to be the top 3.

1) Networking: The value and power of networking is probably the most important factor when applying not just for a full-ride but PhD programs in-general. And even while I think this aspect deserves pride of place among the top 3 factors, I must admit, I am not fond of it. In fact, I refer to it less as "networking" and more as "playing the game". Really, that's what it feels like much of the time: a big social networking game; see how many friend requests you can land and how many important hands you can shake!

Sometimes this can all seem so disingenuous, too; it can make the whole experience seem "not worth it" and "fake". When you go to conferences and actually meet the peoples' books you've been reading, there's a lurking sense in the back of your mind sometimes saying "Do these people perceive me as fake or as only trying to befriend them so that I can move forward?" That said, making contact with important people will get you far!!! If they like you, it's that much better!!! Some of the ways to connect with people are:

A) Take courses with professors that you admire and attempt to build a friendship / relationship with them. (Actually, this can help you remain honest throughout the networking process because the relationships are real!) When I was at Asbury Theological Seminary, I took as many courses as I could with Dr. Ben Witherington, III. At the time, I did this because I admired him as a teacher. Somewhere throughout the process, I realized that I wanted to pursue a PhD and having grown close to him, he offered to be a reference for me. Dr. W. even provided me with a very nice copy of the letter he sent; I still have it to this day as a piece of encouragement!

So, taking courses with professors is a great way to begin forming relationships. I'm sure it didn't hurt that when I applied to Asbury Theological Seminary's PhD program I had a glowing review from Dr. Witherington to offer (he's on staff there!!!). I had done some independent study with Dr. W. which I now realize was also a great way to connect with him one-on-one. Just as well, I had taken a number of courses with Dr. David Bauer, who is the Dean of the PhD program. I ran into him at SBL by happenstance, we talked and he encouraged me to send in an application. That was another positive connection!

B) In fact, attending as many conferences as possible pertaining to your field / area of study is a great way to network and form relationships. If you attend seminars / lectures where persons that you want to study with are presenting, you can often times touch base with them. I've found that seeking people out this way was invaluable in the PhD application process. For every school that I applied to, I attempted to find a person at SBL who taught there, so that I could introduce myself. C) After that, I immediately followed-up with a personalized email. In the first email, I wrote no more than 2 paragraphs detailing who I was, what I appreciated about them & their institution and what my research interests were. At the end, I always asked if they'd be open to conversing a bit about such matters and ALWAYS, they were. This leads me to the next point.

2) Email: Before you send in your applications, you should email every department or professor that you want to work with and attempt to discourse with them about their interests & how they align with yours. In fact, I found that it always flatters professors when you can quote titles of books they've written or passages from them. Even more, to suggest that their research has laid the groundwork for yours seems to be a good thing to do. In these emails, you need to get to the point of describing your research interests. I had a couple of friends help me craft & critique these emails as I began (thanks Raf & Herbie!) and that was an invaluable part of the process because it kept me from looking like a moron! Before you send your emails, make sure you proof & edit them; have someone else do it too.

(At last count) I sent out nearly 150 emails to different schools / departments when it was all said & done. All of these emails were written with great care. Here is one of the initial emails that I sent to Dr. Bauer at Asbury:

"Dr. Bauer,

Hello, this is Michael Halcomb. I hope this email finds you and your son well and having a happy holiday season. It was great speaking with you at SBL last week and I must say, my heart rejoices that your adoption process went so well. As an adopting parent, I love hearing stories like yours. I can only hope our adoption fares so well! Regarding the brief discussion we had about the possibility of returning to ATS for PhD work, I want you to know that I am incredibly excited about it. I love Asbury and would be overjoyed to come back. In fact, my current research interests really took shape at ATS while studying with Drs Rynkiewich, Witherington and yourself.

In terms of academics, pursuing a PhD in New Testament is my goal. My research interests are threefold: 1) [example] 2) [example] 3) [example]. In my view, the above endeavors are not only unique but they tap into areas that remain virtually untouched by biblical scholars. Having presented three conference papers (and hopefully three more in the next year) on these matters, I am convinced that deeper research into these areas would be highly beneficial to the field of NT studies and could possibly charter new paths for study and conversation. I would love to talk more with you about this subject if you are willing and/or feel it necessary. If so, please let me know that it is okay to contact you, or, feel free to get in touch with me via any of the means below. Dr. Bauer, I value your input and am excited about the potential of studying at ATS."

Thus, making "connections" by whatever means available to you is a MUST! And I would remind you that when you are making connections, be genuine and honest. People can often see through it when your motives are false and selfish. I genuinely care about Dr. Bauer and have a number of common life interests outside of study with him. I love hearing about how things are going with him. Your attitude should probably be somewhat similar (when possible). Just as well, make sure that your connections are also professional and concise. This leads into my 3rd point.

3. Academics & Purpose Statement: During the course of my B.S. I did not want to or even plan to do any grad work. However, it turned out that I went on to a MDiv. During my MDiv, I couldn't wait to be done with school and never planned to go any further. However, I did a MABS. It was near the end of my MABS that I decided I wanted to pursue PhD work. Now, I still have the regret of not paying more attention in my undergrad studies. I also regret the fact that I did not forsee myself going this far from the very beginning (if I had, I would have surely paid more attention early on). It's no secret that you have to make good grades to get into PhD programs. My MDiv and MABS degrees both ended with 3.6+ GPAs (I was working full-time and doing full-time school during these degrees) which I still wish were better. My advice is if there is any inkling within you to teach later, then make good grades and win many awards early on and through the rest of the process. Study hard! Attempt to blaze new paths in the field your going for; be an innovator!

By the same token, publish as much as you can. Many journals will give young scholars first chances, so, take them. Network with journal editors at conferences, email them and ask for opportunities, have sample reviews ready, start a blog and post some articles or reviews for practice, in short, write and publish as often as you get the chance. In addition to networking, providing a good purpose statement (which I will say more about in a moment) and getting good grades & awards in grad school, one of the things that helped me out a lot was having a pretty good publishing record (a handful of conference papers & nearly two dozen book reviews).

As I just mentioned, one of the more important academic decisions you can make is to write a stellar Purpose Statement (I cannot share mine here because the research info. is confidential; I could find no way to "generalize" the Statement while keeping it intact and allowing for it to make any sense)! This is a part of every PhD application and should be taken just as seriously as Networking! Usually, there is a word or page limit to your Statement (stay within those bounds!!!). Your statement should be astute, informed, conversant & reader-friendly. In it, state your your research interests, how you arrived at them, who influenced you, why you want to study with a particular person, why you want to study at a particular institution, and how you think you can benefit the school's reputation and how it can benefit you. I cannot say enough about just how important this step is. With that being the case, if there are any of you out there going through this process and need help, I am willing (as time allows) to help you when I can.

So, to recap, the 3 most important aspects of getting a full-ride to study are, in my opinion: 1) Networking, 2) Emailing [getting in direct contact with important persons], 3) Academics & Purpose Statement. I'm sure there are others who have gone through the experience and have wisdom to share and maybe this post will spawn a bunch of posts, who knows. If you have any questions or thoughts, please, feel free to share them here.


Towards A Theology of Prayer, Pt. 4: Why I Dont' Pray For "THINGS"

It's rare that I venture outside of Mark's story when it comes to the Gospel narratives but during a recent Life Group discussion, we were discussing a Lukan text (I felt like a foreigner reading Lk.). The text in view was one of the most famous sections in all of Scripture, Lk. 11.1-13. These verses, which share Matthean parallels (Mt. 6.9-13 & 7.7-11), have surely been dumbed down by many. In fact, to a great number of people, "The Lord's Prayer" in this section boils down to nothing but a ritualistic, week-in-week-out mantra. I think Jerome Neyrey is one scholar who does a good job in some of his work of reminding interpreters that these verses should be read in their socio-cultural contexts. While I don't agree with everything Neyrey says, his point is very well taken that reading these passages in their social contexts is extremely important.

For example, these words which are often relegated to a creed developed from "rote memorization" have more meaning to them than just "saying them aloud" week after week. I think for example of how Jesus' words "Thy Kingdom come..." were both socially and politically subversive! For Jesus to talk about another Kingdom, one which wasn't run by Caesar or Rome, was a sort of punch in the gut to them. To "hallow" anyone's name but Caesar's or to be asked to be delivered from the evil's created by a corrupt society was in a way, equivalent to Jesus putting His own head on the bounty.

Now, in Luke's story, this prayer seems to be coupled with a parable. In fact, the prayer makes a lot of sense in light of the story that is placed just after it. Before we go on, though, let me remind you real quickly of my definition of prayer: "Prayer is: Attending to the presence of God both around us and in us." Picking back up, the story is about a man who is awoken in the middle of the night by a neighbor looking for bread. The neighbor just had a visitor show up at his home but had nothing to offer the visitor, so, shamelessly, he heads out into the night, knocks on his neighbor's door and begins asking for bread (on behalf of his visitor). In the story, the man whose door is being knocked on, grows frustrated. He doesn't want to get out of bed, he doesn't want to unlatch the door and he doesn't want to wake his family.

But Jesus says in this parable that the man with bread, because he didn't want to be shamed by the man who was asking, actually got up and provided the bread. Jesus then says: "Which of your fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

The last line of this paragraph has strengthened my view of prayer tremendously. In particular, it is one reason why I try to avoid praying and asking for "things". Yes, the text says "ask, seek and knock" but...what does it say to "ask, seek and knock" for? Well, according to Luke, we are encouraged to "ask, seek and knock" for the GIFT of the Holy Spirit. And this is SO important. Why? Because Christians in the West today are so used to being encouraged to pray for THINGS! But, this is not what the text says. In fact, it says the exact opposite. Jesus quips: Why would you want to pray for these measly things when you can pray for the Holy Spirit? In other words, no thing or things you could ask for even compare to the Holy Spirit, so, it's pretty much pointless to ask for them.

And this all makes a lot of sense to me! A few years back, a major shift in my theology of prayer took place (read some of my thoughts on that HERE, HERE and HERE). A big Aha! Moment for me was the realization that "asking, seeking and knocking" in prayer was not even about me but rather God. My thinking now is: When I "ask, seek and knock" in prayer, I'm asking about God's desires and wants, seeking God's desires and wants & knocking on the door to ask about and seek His desires and wants! Prayer is not about me. Prayer is not about you. Prayer is not about any of us and never has been! To USE prayer that way is to abuse it.

So, when I allowed Luke's theology to interact with what I had previously interalized up to that point, I felt incredibly affirmed and excited. It is great to know that when I "ask, seek and knock" after God's wants and desires (NOT MINE!!!), that one of His wants and desires is for me to have the Holy Spirit. Amazing! As I said HERE: "When we realize that prayer isn’t about us but rather about attending to God’s presence, asking Him His wants and desires, we also realize that prayer isn’t a means to an end."

I want to offer one last thought here: Many people are uncomfortable with such a view of prayer but the upside of this view is that it sees prayer as something both for and about God, not us. It is what I would call a "theocentric" view of prayer. For me personally, I tend to emphasize my gratefulness to God not for material things I have but for what He has done in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Thus, I don't do a lot of thanking God for something when I get it by saying "Thank You Lord". But, even greater than that, what I often do is express my gratefulness to God for what He has done in Christ and through the Spirit, by using what resources I do have, to His glory. You see, this is a totally different way of looking at and thinking about prayer!!! And while it may challenge the views of many, I am quite convinced that it is an incredibly healthy theology of prayer and that God is glorified by me much more this way than the other!!!


Street Preaching or...Servant Evangelism?

This weekend, the family and I went to the beach for a day and decided to also stick around for the fireworks show later that evening. Our day was very eventful and enjoyable but that all changed from about 5pm-9pm. In that window of time, a group of street-preaching men and sign-holding women, decided that they would take over the grassy knoll that we and other people were sitting on. Not only were they polluting the air with their noise, they passed out hundreds or thousands of tracts that ended up littering the sidewalk for a good quarter mile! Even more, you could hear all of the complaints and grumbles and frustrations of people as they walked by. A couple of guys even asked me, "How can you even sit around here?" It was both a fair and good question.

But this whole event led me to think about Christianity and how some people today make it totally irrelevant and how others come to find it totally tasteless. Admittedly, I used to have the mindset that street-preaching was a necessity. I used to think Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron had come up with a great approach. But now, I think otherwise. I think the whole open-air, soapbox, street-preaching thing verges on absurdity and only makes Christians and Christianity seem that much more "supsicious" and "out-of-touch with reality.

If you can't get a good feel from the pictures here about how this "street preaching" session went yesterday, let me give you a few examples of things that happened with me personally. For one, I spoke to one of the preachers / tract-givers and told him that all of his tracts were ending up in the trash can 10ft. away or on the ground causing litter. His response was: "That's a good testimony. Because, well, you know what: On the great day of judgment when those who threw those down see God face-to-face, they will have no excuse; that stands as a testimony against them. When they see God, He'll flash that scene before their very eyes and they will have no excuse, no, they'll be condemned."

When the guy said this, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. But to make matters worse, these guys were not just impinging on everyone's weekend fun, they were causing confusion when it comes to the message of the Gospel. Here's what I mean: On the one hand, they saying things like "Jesus loves you", "God loves you", etc. But on the other hand and at the same time, they were yelling, screaming, Bible-waving and fist-pounding. The point is: The body language totally contradicted portions of their message. It's like a husband beating a wife and telling her that's his way of showing his love for her.

When the guy said this, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. But to make matters worse, these guys were not just impinging on everyone's weekend fun, they were causing confusion when it comes to the message of the Gospel. Here's what I mean: On the one hand, they saying things like "Jesus loves you", "God loves you", etc. But on the other hand and at the same time, they were yelling, screaming, Bible-waving and fist-pounding. The point is: The body language totally contradicted portions of their message. It's like a husband beating a wife and telling her that's his way of showing his love for her.

Now, in the time that I saw these people preaching, I pretty much only saw people who were already of the same mindset as them, stop to chat. Everybody else was laughing, snickering, rolling their eyes or trying to come up with some way to ask them to leave. A guy sitting next to me said something to them like: "Man, everyone just came to have a good time tonight and you're just interrupting it and frustrating everyone." Once again, the tract-giver's reply was: "That's a good testimony." It's like their goal was to just get on everyone's nerves.

At one point, I saw a young man walk by with a sign on his back that said "Fear Tactics Save No One". I couldn't agree more! This fellow was clearly not a Christian and he was definitely annoyed. Every year he attends this fireworks show and every year, he has to deal with these loud, obnoxious street-preachers. I went over and talked with him just for a moment and he was curious as to who I was. I gave him my contact information, told him a little about my background and we just talked for a few minutes. As a Christian, I was able to carry on a normal conversation with this guy and even talk about my faith to him, without coming across as annoying or anti-intellectual. Needless to say, it seems to me that "simple conversation" can go a lot further than relentlessly screaming in people's ears.

And that leads me to another point: These street-preachers were attempting to strip the Gospel of its depth and mystery by making it all sound so simple. I mean, these people were KJV-onlyists, so, you can probably understand the type that I'm referring to here. But the proble I have with all of this is that in the process of uninvitedly encroching on people's territory, they also simplified things so much that in the end, there's nothing left to ponder and wonder about. For me, that's definitely a "testimony against" the biblical text and Christian lifestyle.

You know, I could say a ton more about this but the truth is, these loud-mouth men would have done better for Christ and the Good News had they found more relevant ways to make Jesus known. I mean, for goodness' sake, they all formed a semi-circle at the end and sang a hymn (and placed all the ladies behind them where nobody could see them). This really got people laughing and snickering. After this, the formed a full-circle, took a knee (like I used to do at the end of football practice) and began praying. And guess what, after they prayed, they all stood up, shook each other's hands, gave some high-fives (just like after football practice) and got in their buses and drove off (just like after football games). Honestly, I can think of nothing more arrogant and irrelevant. I mean, the high-fives and laughing and whatnot, it all made this seem like a game or contest, which, I believe, is the mindset most of these pople have anyway (hence the phrase: "Let's win some for Jesus"). Newsflash street-preachers: The Gospel is not a game!

This all got me wondering, How did Jesus do it? How did Jesus get the crowds to come and stick around? Well, one thing I know is that people were often coming to Him that were interested; He wasn't taking over their territory and bugging them. I also know that He was healing people, providing for people and piquing people's interests as opposed to turning them off. In other words, Jesus was all about serving those who desired to be in His presence. Even more, Jesus (and Paul, too) contextualized the Good News. He didn't come to the people acting totally arrogant and irrelevant.

So, it leads me to make the point that to a great degree, street preaching needs to stop! A new paradigm of servant evangelism needs to take precedence. Showing acts of kindness and offering a relevant word about God's nature and character is needed more than screaming words and contradictory body language. The congregation I'm currently part of tapped into this over the weekend too, when, in just a few hours, they gave out hundreds and hundreds of cold bottles of water to parade-goers. Sometimes they even prayed for sick and wounded people and were thanked. The acts of kindness opened doors to share Jesus' love, even in a non-threatening, non-arrogant, tasteful way. And in my opinion, this is the way forward!