FREE Koine Greek Reading of Genesis 1:1-5

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A FREE dramatic audio recording of Genesis 1:1-5 in Koine Greek has been posted over at the Conversational Koine Institute.  Check it out and even download it.  While you're there, have a look around the site and come learn to speak biblical Greek with us!


46 Reasons Why You Don't Want To Pastor A Church

As many of you know, I have been serving in some capacity in a church for over a decade now.  I love the church.  I'm an advocate of "church renewal," which we good Methodists talk a lot about.  Not only do I think church renewal is needed, I believe it can happen.  I think it begins with education, specifically a robust theological education.  So, as you read this, know that I love the church.  If you don't keep that in mind, you'll certainly misread me.

I have served in the children/youth pastor role, sr. pastor role, assistant pastor role, worship leader role and Bible study and Sunday school teacher role.  I've sat in board meetings and voted, I've led mission trips, I've planned events...I've worn many hats and assumed many roles in the church.  I love the church!  In spite of the many times I've been burnt, mistreated and criticized, I still love the church.  In spite of the fact that my wife was once mugged during a church service by a couple of street thugs, I still love the church.  I've written books for the church and I continue, with the Conversational Koine Institute, to teach ministers and pastors Koine Greek.  

I'll say it again, just to be clear, "I love the church."

I have been teaching the last three years (almost) at the same church as a Sunday school teacher.  I love doing it.  I love not being paid to do it.  I think that my class is probably the most unique class in any United Methodist church anywhere; they are a great group of people.  Did I tell you, "I love the church"?  I do!

But I, personally, didn't love being a pastor.  Sure, there were great times and times that I enjoyed.  But I didn't love it. And there were many reasons for that.  I left the pastorate over 5 years ago and honestly, I haven't looked back.  And honestly, I don't have any intentions of doing so.  But I teach (and probably always will teach) people who are either in or considering being pastors.  I love them too!  I care deeply about them.  I know firsthand many of the things they will struggle with or are struggling with.  I've been there; I can relate.  I want to help them and I also want to educate them, not just in educational types of subjects but also in regards to ministry- and pastor-related things.  I've had many friends, Bible college friends, leave the ministry.  And some of the reasons for that can be found on my list below.  

When I was in Bible college, all I wanted to do was be a pastor.  Once I got into it, however, I realized that there were many dynamics, variables and matters that I simply had no desire to be part of.  So, why am I saying all of this?  Well, this post was prompted, in part, by a blog post that Dr. David Murray of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary wrote titled "21 Reasons Why You Don't Want To Be A Seminary Professor."  I think he made some okay points but, in fact, I think he overstated his case quite a bit (especially with all of his definitive "you will" statements).  In conversation with a friend about this, I was asked if any of the things on this list were or were not experienced that led to me moving away from desiring to be a pastor.  So, I wrote this post.

Basically, what I did was take Dr. Murray's 21 reasons "not to be a seminary professor" and pretty much in a "word for word" manner (except I changed his "you will" to "you may"), simply added on to them.  Thus, in the list you'll find below, there first 21 "reasons" are his, except I've added the material after the periods of ellipsis ("...").  In short, I've taken his reasons "not to be a seminary professor" and used those same exact responses, all the while giving more explicit details, about why you might not want to be a pastor of a church. In addition, I've added 25 additional reasons (totaling 46).  I could've come up with more, for sure, but I decided to push the pause button there.  So... 

I want to preface this list again by reiterating, one last time, that I love the church.  I'm not bashing the church. All I'm attempting to do here is to give a list of reasons why folks who might be considering the pastorate, should question such considerations.  So, please, don't make me "lose my faith in you" because you want to distort or misread what I say here, as if I'm bashing the church or pastors/ministers in general.  That's simply not the case!  

46 Reasons Why You Don't Want To Pastor A Church
  1. You may lose the joy of seeing souls saved through your preaching...when you later see them fall away.
  2. You may lose the joy of helping people in the toughest life situations...because they don't help you in yours.
  3. You may lose the joy of feeding and edifying God’s people...because they never feed and edify you (or are even concerned with this).
  4. You may lose the joy of shepherding children through teenage years and into adulthood...because you realized that, at the same time, you neglected your own children.
  5. You may lose the joy of preaching evangelistic sermons...because you realize nobody really, truly wants to do evangelism.
  6. You may lose the joy of building long-term spiritual relationships...because people often move away.
  7. You may lose the joy of taking responsibility for your own flock...when they bash, criticize and badmouth you over Sunday lunch and to others during the week (and sometimes to your face)
  8. You may lose the joy of developing and working with a team of leaders...because you'll realize they're not really leaders in their homes, communities or the church.
  9. You may lose the joy of helping people make massive life decisions...that can backfire and come back to haunt you.
  10. You may lose the joy of seeking a fresh word from the Lord for His people...who don’t really listen to that word; it just goes in one ear and out the other.
  11. You may lose the joy of preaching to a people you know intimately...and who, because they know those deep things, may hold what they know about you against you or for blackmail.
  12. You may lose the joy of seeing long-term spiritual maturity...because people in the church often just do not want to become spiritually mature; it's just too much work.
  13. You may lose the joy of seeking and recovering lost sheep...because you'll eventually be the only one in the church with that burning desire; it's just too much work.
  14. You may lose the joy of seeing God miraculously provide for the church’s financial needs...because the wealthy in the church may take care of it and when they do, gain some political power.
  15. You may lose the joy of being loved by young, middle-aged, and old Christians...because only one of those groups can really relate to you at a time and vice versa.
  16. You may lose the joy of learning from the least educated and gifted of saints...and they may hold that over your head, warning you of the dangers of (your) education.
  17. You may lose the joy of identifying and growing people’s gifts...because they may use those gifts to try to manipulate you for their own gain.
  18. You may lose the joy and privilege of bearing the scars of pastoral ministry...because we all know earning and bearing scars from those in your flock is a joy.
  19. You may lose the joy of winning over enemies in your congregation...because they may make your life hell and try to divide the church if it comes down to it.
  20. You may lose the joy of helping Christians die...even though in the years after the funeral, the family may forget all of the ways you helped and served them.
  21. You may lose the blessing of God if you are pursuing a calling God did not give you...and your congregants may remind you, maybe even often, that this might not be your calling.
  22. You may lose the joy of developing theologically because the church doesn't want you to change your views.
  23. You may lose the joy of deep, intensive Bible study because so many other things may demand your time.
  24. You may lose the respect you once had for elders because you see how they really speak, think and carry themselves both in meetings and in life.
  25. You may lose the respect you once had for deacons because you see how they really speak, think and carry themselves both in meetings and in life.
  26. You may lose the respect you once had for the church when you see its dark, political underbelly.
  27. You may lose respect for other ministers when you uncover their real motives and experience their frequent power trips.
  28. You may lose the respect you once had for congregants when you see how they treat your spouse and children.
  29. You may lose the fire you once had because everybody in the church expects you to do the work.
  30. You may lose time watching your kids grow up because every night of the week something's going on at church and you're expected to participate.
  31. You may lose your sense of self-worth because you feel pressured into taking sides with people to keep your job.
  32. You may lose the joy of ministry you once had because now that money is involved it is a job, not a ministry.
  33. You may lose out on family time because you can never really go away for the weekends.
  34. You may lose your patience with the hypocrisy of congregants when they consistently judge themselves by their motives but judge you by your actions.
  35. You may lose respect for your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith when you see and hear how they treat others both inside and outside the church.
  36. You may lose the desire to teach because you may realize that people don't want to mature spiritually and really don't care about the Bible.
  37. You may lose hope in people when they "switch churches" because they were too immature to deal with an issue.
  38. You may lose close friendships when people move away.
  39. You may lose your sense of awe for the Gospel because church becomes about numbers and statistics rather than spiritual growth.
  40. You may lose respect for yourself when you cave to the demands of others.
  41. You may lose your sense of pride and allegiance in God's Kingdom when you see everyone mixing it with nationalism and patriotism.
  42. You may lose the love you had for people when, after you leave, nobody reaches out to you, keeps in touch with you or continues ministering to you and your family.
  43. You may lose your desire to preach when people stand up during your sermons and challenge you in front of everyone (yes, this happens!).
  44. You may lose your desire to see the youth ministries grow because you realize that this so-called ministry actually perpetuates spiritual and intellectual immaturity.
  45. You may lose the friends you once made because once you go to another church the so-called "friends" now want nothing to do with you and have no time for you.
  46. You may lose heart because you will be criticized for being lazy and only working 1 day per week...and working a non-laborious job at that.

Hmm... and this list doesn't even include mention of scandals really, like the one I experienced as a member of the high school youth group where the pastor's teen daughter had an affair with the youth pastor.  The youth pastor eventually left and divorced his wife, with whom he had two children, and married the girl.  Sadly, he's still a music minister and his wife is involved in such capacities from time to time too.  Yes, these sorts of things are real and disorienting and if you're going into the pastorate, you should not only be aware of them but ready for them.

If the pastorate is for you, that's great.  If not, that's fine too.  As I said above, "I love the church.  I'm not bashing the church. All I'm attempting to do here is to give a list of reasons why folks who might be considering the pastorate, should question such considerations.  So, please, don't make me "lose my faith in you" because you want to distort or misread what I say here, as if I'm bashing the church or pastors/ministers in general.  That's simply not the case!"  I wish pastors didn't have to face any of these things but that's simply not the reality.


Colossians Remixed: A Review, Pt. 2

This week I made it into chapter 1 of Colossians Remixed and I must say, it was a bit more amenable to me than the preface.  Here, the authors do some of what they forecasted in the preface with regards to allowing the types of persons/students they engage to raise questions, particularly about Christianity and more specifically about the Bible.  The chapter is bracketed between the beginning and ending of a narrative about a fellow named William, a thorough-going postmodernist.  Although this book is a over a decade old and some have declared that we are currently in a Post-postmodern era (or metamodern, pseudo-modern, etc.), Walsh and Keesmaat offer an inviting overview and foray into the concept of postmodernism.  In fact, I was quite a bit surprised by the fact that they critiqued it as they did.

For example, they describe postmodernism’s “grand tale of progress” as a “myth that requires faith,” whose “story’s foundational assumptions themselves require faith” (30). They ask, “And on what basis, other than a perversely blind, self-interested faith, can we justify the assumption of global capitalism that is permissible to ruin one place or culture for the sake of another?” (30)  These comments stem from their views that “the progress of autonomous humanity” (30), is driven by capitalism more than anything else.  Yet, for Walsh and Keesmaat, capitalism, a social structure intimately linked to militarism, is both the base and catalyst for imperialism.  Put differently, perhaps more into layman’s terms:  A lust for money and (military) power makes up the DNA of empires.

In their view, America is an empire.  But the irony, at least for postmodernists, is that “While postmodernity wants to celebrate diversity and otherness, empires are all about hegemony and sameness” (31).  Yet, the American empire, they say, has no reason to fear because when one’s goal is autonomous humanity, that is, self-ruled existence, then one’s goal is to ask, knock and seek for things that please the self.  So, persons go searching for what they think will make them happy; they are searching for things, or “commodities” to use a bit of a fancier term.  Eventually, everything becomes a commodity, a thing to be had.  This includes religion.

The problem with postmodernism is that there are no guidelines for figuring out which commodities or things are best, true, moral and ethical.  There is no framework, there is no undergirding story, there is no metanarrative that guides one in decision-making.  Thus, in the face of resisting absolutes, persons become confused, or to use another fancy term, they become “fragmented.”  As they say, “The fragmented self does not need to buy into any metanarrative of progress or make her choices according to any coherent or rational system of values” (32).

Interestingly, Walsh and Keesmaat contend that the promotion of Christian absolutes is unbiblical and something that they find problematic and unhelpful, something that they themselves will argue against later in the book (34).  So, at one and the same time, the authors critique postmodernism but also side with it in their rejection of absolutes.  How can they do this?  They do this by claiming that places like America should be viewed as empires (that is, places where a lust for money and power are the driving forces).  Postmodernism itself actually props up such empires because it simply plays into the empire.  How?  Well, if money and power is what the empire seeks, postmodernists give that very thing to the empire when they treat everything like a commodity.  In short, they spend their time shopping and their money shopping and thus, they buy into and help stabilize the empire.

Thus, the question that Walsh and Keesmaat seem to be raising for postmodernists is this:  Which empire do you want to be part of?  By buying into the Western (American) socio-political empire, you ultimately become a pawn; you are not actually autonomous, that is simply a lie you are telling yourself, a lie the media is reiterating and a lie the government/empire aims to perpetuate.  But…

…Christianity is actually an anti-empire movement, it is a movement that challenges the very authorities and structures that you are suspicious about (but unwittingly participate in and sustain).  The unfortunate reality is that Christianity has been painted as the empire.  So, which empire do you want to be part of?  The one that you’ve been told by everyone else is an empire, or the one that actually is the empire and has, almost unbeknownst to you, lured you into it?  But Walsh and Keesmaat say that this isn’t really a matter of simply trading one absolute for another (34).  Their goal in moving forward, then, is to show that Colossians “is seriously misread if approached as an Absolute Text…” (34).

Admittedly, the authors do not talk much about Colossians in this chapter.  So, it remains to be seen where their engagement with Colossians will go.  Little was said in this chapter that I take much issue with.  I think their analysis of postmodernism was fair.  I find their equation with America quite interesting, especially as they are both Canadians.  Although I do not consider myself a patriot or patriotic, neither am I sure that I would classify America as an empire; America has not established world dominion or a global rule and America, for all of its foibles, still touts and (to some degree) practices democracy.  Further, America’s citizens are for all intensive purposes “free” and not under a strained and severe dictatorship.  I could go on about this but I do think it is something of a misnomer.  Yes, America’s drive is often for money and power and the stories it creates to accrue, maintain and advance these things are seductive and prominent.  Yet, to boil it down to these things is, I think, a bit simplistic.  Again, I say that as one who is often very critical of this country and who resists its metanarrative(s) and myths.

So, we’ll see where this book takes us in the next chapter; hopefully, it will take us to Colossians.


Colossians Remixed: A Review, Pt. 1

A number of years ago I came across a book by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat titled Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. At the time, I didn't pick it up or give it much thought. Recently, however, I was invited to be part of a very small reading/discussion group that plans to read through this work. So, now I have the volume and am reading it and I plan to blog my way through it as far as time allows. I will strive do this in a way that comports with the schedule of our group's meetings, that is, once a week toward the end of every week. This morning we had our first meeting and we just spent a little bit of time discussing the preface, thus, that's where I begin my review.

The preface of this book, which spans only five pages, raised a number of questions for me. Walsh and Keesmaat, who are spouses, begin by exploring the idea of a "remix," which is a word used in the main title. They consider "remixing" to be, at its best, a "revoicing" (7) of an original song in a new context. Applied to Colossians, the idea is that they will help "revoice" Colossians so that it might be heard in new ways for today's readers. The idea of "remixing," I think, is a creative one but the whole notion of revoicing the text actually raises some questions and concerns for me: 1) Does the text really need to be given a new voice? 2) Might a recovery of the original voicing of Colossians be a more worthwhile endeavor? 3) Related to the previous question, at some points it does seem that Walsh and Keesmaat will actually aim to recover the original voice of Colossians, which raises the question of why there needs to be a revoicing at all? For example, they contend that Colossians was "an explosive and subversive tract in the context of the Roman empire" and that "Paul's letter...engenders a similarly alternative way of life in our midst" (7). To the novice reader there are scholarly buzzwords that may go unnoticed here, which are quite important to be aware of. For example, "subversive," "Roman empire" and "alternative way of life" all carry important connotations.

The notion that Paul was subverting the Roman empire with this letter is obviously a clue that we are dealing with a post-colonial hermeneutic. The problem with many such readings, however, is that those who use them tend to find at every corner and under every rock in the New Testament, some relation to imperial subversion. Most of the time these inferences are quite implicit and some exegetical gymnastics must be done to try to draw out such meanings. I'm not sure if Walsh and Keesmaat will take this route but a quick glance at the table of contents seems that this may well be the case. Just as well, the language of "alternative way of life," which is equated with "alternative lifestyle" in today's culture, is often more than a generalization of anti-government but more specifically a reference to the acceptance, embracing and promoting of the gay agenda and lifestyle. It is hard to think that the authors use such language accidentally. Thus, one expects this phrase to function as a "preview of coming" attractions for the rest of the work. We'll see.

In the preface the authors refer to their this work as an "anti-commentary" (7), a descriptor they use to try to distinguish this book about Colossians from other (i.e. traditional commentaries) works on Colossians. Yet, there is more to this term than might initially meet the eye. It seems to me that the "anti-commentary" remark functions also as a means of critique, especially of the academy and academics. They, after all, aren't writing for "religious people like pastors and professors" (8). In short, they attempt to distance themselves and in doing so, seem to treat today's religious institutions and academic institutions as empires that need to be subverted. The irony is that, as they are both products of religious establishments and academic institutions, they are striving to find a way to bill their own work as a critique of these entities; out of the gate they portray themselves as empire subverters. This is their worldview; this is the framework they operate out of. In fact, they go on to say that their own "Christian household" is the "testing ground" for anything they say in this book (9). So, they make it abundantly clear from the beginning that they are on Paul's side and that, like him, they are empire subverters. Perhaps the irony at this point is that many have actually criticized Paul of being pro-Roman empire. After all, isn't Christianity, especially Christianity in the West, much indebted to Paul? Hasn't Protestant Christianity relied on Paul? Isn't Christianity, then, an empire of its own to be subverted? Do Walsh and Keesmaat acknowledge this or does it go unrealized? I suppose I'll have to keep reading to figure that out but I do think that it would be interesting to find them siding with Paul so much, when it is Paul who, in large part, has been a foundation stone for the so-called empire of modern Western Christianity. Again, we'll see.

My biggest concern with the preface, however, is with the authors' comments on page 8 where they repeatedly refer to the "questions that we (Walsh and Keesmaat) bring to the text." They say just after this, "Ours is a cultural, political, social and ecological reading of this text because these are the kinds of questions that our friends and students ask" (8). Now, I'm all for authors laying their cards on the table and contextualizing themselves, I think there is merit in that. However, these types of comments raise major red flags for me. In my view, the work of being a good reader and interpreter of the Bible comes not by bringing one's questions to the text and attempting to mine the text for answers (we call this eisegesis - reading into the text what we want to read into it) but rather going to the text and discovering, wrestling with and attempting to answer the questions that the text raises. You see, there is a major difference between those two things! Going to the text in order to ask very specific questions of it almost always means that one's reading of the text will end up being slanted; it will almost always end up being bent to fit one's agenda. Given the comments by the authors, I worry that in reading this text I will find it to be light on good exegesis and heavy on slanting Paul's words to fit modern agendas. And this, I think, is dangerous. In fact, it is in my view a form of colonialism in and of itself. It can be no different than using the text the way that slave owners did to support slavery in early America. The only difference is that it is working in the other direction. That, however, is not meritorious in and of itself because in the end, it almost always does damage to the text, its interpreters and the church...maybe even society and society's impression of the church.

There is another thing that worries me about this book given the remarks of the preface. In their effort to "seek to hear Colossians anew in our cultural context" (8), the author's say, "Might the Pentagon or IBM or the International Monetary Fund be contemporary parallels to the rulers and authorities that put Jesus on the cross?" This question is very revealing and makes me question the hermeneutical/interpretive foundations of the authors. I wonder if their approach is what I might call "The New Dispensationalism" or maybe "The New Literalism." Why? Well, one of the biggest problems with the Dispensationalist approach to Scripture is that it goes to biblical texts and looks for parallels between what's on the page and today's world (this, as I noted already, is the problem with making the starting point one's own presuppositions, ideologies, questions, etc.). Thus, Dispensationalists find in Scripture references to helicopters and army tanks and governments implanting chips, etc; they draw wild parallels. When Walsh and Keesmaat draw such parallels, it is, in some ways, similar. However, because "empire studies" are the "in-thing" right now, their suggestions don't seem as far-fetched or crazy. I wonder if, in a decade or two from now, such works and their questions will be looked at with the same suspicions that many Dispensationalist readings are today? The search for parallels and one-to-one correspondences, this type of literalism, is typically quite dangerous and damaging to the text. (As you can tell, preventing damage to the text is a chief concern of mine.)

So, when the authors get around to saying that "we would not propose a way of life that we ourselves were not living out" (9), at this point, I'm a little reluctant to be following both their proposals and their ways of living; I'm just not sure at this point that they are the folks I want to be my guides in such matters. Yet, I'm willing to engage their work and give them an ear but I do have concerns. It seems that in the introduction there is quite a bit about N.T. Wright, a friend and mentor to the authors. I think that an acknowledgement of one's influences is a good thing. Yet, it almost seems that there's a little too much about Wright and that this is used to give validity to the book; he receives probably a page and a half of five pages. Wright himself does recommend the text on the back cover and for many, this likely carries a bit of weight. Wright, of course, is a prominent figure in biblical studies and has become something a household name for academics in the field. It is interesting to me, again, that the authors can be so invested in subverting the academic empire and at the same time, borrowing its prestige to lend credence to their work. Again, there's a tension here that just makes me as a reader uncomfortable.

Despite the closing remarks that the authors both long to be part of the empire of Jesus, which "liberates" rather than "enslaves" (11), one has to wonder how self-aware the claims of such folks are when they've been a part of and climbed the ladder(s) of the so-called empire(s) they are critiquing all along? I think that's where negotiating the whole anti-imperial hermeneutic gets quite tricky. It is usually those who've been raised in the so-called empires they are supposedly critiquing that benefit from said empires by selling books, giving public (and oftentimes paid) lectures, etc. How does this balancing act work?

I want to say, as I close this portion of my review, that I realize that this review is probably seen as somewhat negative. I don't like writing negative reviews. But these are all genuine questions and concerns that Walsh's and Keesmaat's preface raise for me. And perhaps the questions and concerns would be welcomed by them. After all, would it be right or just to live in an empire-like context where such a (re)voicing was silenced or muted? So, while I have my concerns and cautions moving ahead with this book and while I think I can anticipate some directions in which they are headed, I will say, as an author myself, that writing a book is no small feat and that these two were able to do so while maintaining a strong devotion to their children is something I do, in fact, find admirable. Kudos to them on that front. I look forward to the possibility of reading and discussing the book in the weeks ahead.