Well, the annual meetings are history. I’m glad, too. I don’t do much traveling since I can’t say I enjoy it much. But it’s nice to connect with scholar-friends I see only once a year and to hear (for the most part) some interesting papers. Now for some random thoughts and recollections.
ETS (Evangelical Theological Society)
1. N.T. Wright was sort of a focal point this year at ETS, due to the conference emphasis (“Justification”). Wright spoke during a plenary session, and pretty much took his critics head on (the lecture was punctuated with a number of “I’ve been accused of this, but here’s what I think” statements). That was good. I haven’t been too excited about the whole clash, since for me Wright has merely been openly giving his take on a very difficult issue: what is the relationshipp between faith and works. If you don’t think that’s difficult, you cannot count yourself as a Bible student or even a close reader of the text. Wright of course is taking the problem back to the Jewish context contemporary with Paul and the apostles. For me, the real line which need not be crossed is the idea that our works *earn* us the grace of God in some way. I don’t see Wright affirming human merit as part of justification and salvation. My view (not original with me) is that “works are essential for salvation but they are not the meritorious cause in any way.” It’s a combining of Paul and James: “For by grace are you saved through faith without works is dead.” They are both writing in the NT, so both need to be taken seriously. This might be a useful thread for those who are still wondering what the debate is, but I don’t want to get absorbed into Wright and his opponents.
2. I was struck by how many papers there were (I’d bet double digits) at ETS that were critical of a penal substitution view of the atonement. This is the view of the atonement most lay people have (ask yourself why Jesus came and died — most would say “to die for my sin and provide salvation”). For sure that is *one* important reason, but there are problems with saying that this is the only important reason. The atonement is actually more nuanced than this — and then there is the problem of people being acceptable to God / being forgiven in the OT (a) without blood and (b) before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Another prickly issue that many people have never really examined. As are result, this might make a good discussion as well.
3. The papers in the section I organize and maintain (“Israelite Religions”) went well. We averaged in the mid 30s for attendance. I gave one entitled “What is an elohim?” that I will post a link to in my next post on the Naked Bible (for reasons that will become apparent). The rest of the session featured a paper on the gods of the nations in OT theology, bloodless atonement in the OT, and a critique of Simo Parpola’s idea that Assyrian religion could be viewed as monotheistic.
4. Outside my own section I enjoyed Randall Buth’s session on Greek immersion (as a learning technique) and the extremely positive response to Steve Runge’s new Discourse Grammar of the Greek NT. If you are a student of NT Greek, this is the next thing that will rock the Greek grammar world. Steve is a colleague of mine at Logos, but that isn’t the reason for my words. Steve’s session at ETS was nothing less than a shock wave for the people who care about this sort of thing. The grammar has already been in use at a couple of schools, and Dan Wallace wrote the forward. Get the grammar and get in on the discussion on the ground floor.
SBL (Society of Biblical Literature)
I didn’t go to many sessions at SBL due to meetings and booth time. The one on educational technology wasn’t interesting this year since I was acquainted with all the technologies they discussed. I did attend the entire section on Jewish monotheism, primarily because I had promised one of the speakers (Daniel McClellan of Trinity Western University) that I would come to hear his paper, and because Larry Hurtado was presenting. (Larry is a very big name in New Testament studies – put his name into Amazon and you’ll discover why). Larry and I have corresponded a bit over the last few years. He has read my dissertation twice since it directly relates to the issue of Jesus as God / high Christology. He quoted my work 5-6 times in his paper (all very favorably) and told the packed room that it was an “impressive” piece of work. It was gratifying not only to have someone of Larry’s stature paying attention, but to also say what he said in a room full of people who care about this stuff. I also found in the Q&A that others had read my article on divine plurality and monotheism (which answered all the questions that were asked in Q&A – I heard nothing new there).
I’m taking this experience as a kick in the pants (and some of Larry’s emails qualify as well!) to start working on the dissertation again with an end toward getting it published. Larry wasn’t the only one who asked me why it isn’t published. I just haven’t had the time (and I’m one of those people who can account for every half hour of every day). But the real reason for the time constraint is that most of what I do is aimed at the lay person (at work and on my own). I’m a strong believer that scholars should serve the public interest. This blog is an example. But some of that needs to change. It would take me at least two years of putting an hour or so a day into it to get it to what I want it to be. I’m nearing the completion of two book manuscripts (both aimed at the lay person), so those take priority in the immediate future. Not sure how a dissertation revision will be possible, but I feel a real urgency to start devoting more time to scholarly writing, which will mean less time for other things. I managed to crank out 4 articles this year (two aimed at non-specialists), but the balance needs to shift in my mind. It may alter what I do online with MEMRA. I just have to put some thought into it. One thing I won’t stop is blogging, though frequency may change. Just rambling now! (But you get the drift).