Suffering, marginalization, and the abuse of power are now the stock in trade not only of literary theorists but also of many theologians, of whom the Liberationists of the sixties and seventies are but the most obvious examples. Indeed, the influence of such academic emphases now finds its place frequently in the classrooms of Protestant theologians of more orthodox and traditional bent.
The advances of various creationist groups and of the intelligent design movement indicate that Christians are still considerably interested in the creation-versus-evolution controversy. Yet we would be mistaken to think that the advance is on the creationist side only.
In 2006 on Christianity Today’s leadership blog, Pastor Brian McLaren urged evangelical leaders to find a “Pastoral Response” to their parishioners on the issue of homosexuality. In short, he argued that the Bible is not clear on the moral status of homosexuality and that the ancient ethic of the Christian church offends moderns too much to be useful. He calls, therefore, upon evangelicals to stop talking about the issue.
We cannot overstate how important knowing the context is for understanding the significance of any communication, whether that is a simple word, sentence, paragraph, larger text, sign, photograph, or cultural cue. This is axiomatic for interpreting an ancient document like the Bible. Yet it is not so easy since context can mean many things.
When I came to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as a young student in the 1960s, two things struck me. First, under the portrait of one of the founding fathers, the biblical scholar Robert Dick Wilson, was a simple epithet: “I have not shirked the difficult questions.” Wilson was one of the most accomplished biblical scholars of his day.
I want to thank Themelios for the unusual opportunity to interact with two reviewers of my book Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology. An author does not often have the opportunity, not only to join discussion with two reviewers, but also to express and document further some concepts that he may not have expressed as fully as possible in the original work.
Most of us, I suspect, develop fairly standard ways, one might even say repetitive ways, to appeal to the motivations of our hearers when we preach the gospel. Recently, however, I have wondered if I have erred in this respect—not so much in what I say as in what I never or almost never say. What follows is in some ways a mea culpa, plus some indication of why I think the topic should be important for all of us.