I have been appointed a Fellow of Sinai and Synapses

I have been appointed a Fellow of Sinai and Synapses, a Jewish-based organization in New York City, founded to stimulate critical interaction between faith traditions and contemporary science. Sinai and Synapses is a sort of Jewish version of BioLogos, though BioLogos is an explicitly Christian organization, while Sinai and Synapses has an interfaith focus.

I met the founder and director of Sinai and Synapses, Rabbi Geoff Mitelman, at a BioLogos conference in Baltimore in 2019 (the picture below was taken at the National Aquarium, Baltimore).

The Fellowship is a two-year appointment (2021-2023), during which time I will attend meetings with other Fellows, possibly be interviewed for their “Down the Wormhole” podcast, and write blog posts and do public speaking on issues of science and faith.

This is the announcement about this year’s Fellows on the Sinai and Synapses Facebook page:

We are thrilled to announce the fifth cohort of Sinai and Synapses Fellows! We had some of the strongest applications ever in this round, and selected seventeen people from nine states, plus Washington, DC, the United Kingdom and Brazil. These brilliant, thoughtful and dedicated people will be learning together over the next two years, helping raise the discourse on religion and science in their communities and beyond. With the incredible work that our previous Fellows have already created, we can’t wait to see what happens with this group!

You can see the bios of the current group of Fellows here.

I am very much looking forward to interacting with the other Fellows (and alums of the Fellowship from previous years), We come from such different backgrounds and have such a range of diverse expertise and experiences that I am sure to be energized by the conversations.

I am also hoping that what I learn through participation in this Fellowship will be fruitful for a book I’ll be working on in a couple of years, entitled Life and Death in the Garden of Eden: A Theological Reading of Genesis 2-3 (contracted with Cascade Books).

A Trip to the Holy Land Is Coming (December 2022)

I visited the Holy Land for the first time in 2018. It was a transformative experience.

By the second day (at Caesarea Maritima [see picture below]), I was convinced I would be back.

The trip was sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (JCBS), and our teacher was Monte Luker (current Academic Dean of JCBS).

Even before the trip was over, Monte and I began discussing the possibility of co-leading a trip for Northeastern Seminary (where I am a faculty member). After returning to the USA, we began planning in earnest.

The itinerary was set by the end of 2019 and we had a PDF brochure with all the details finalized early in 2020, ready to do the trip after Christmas of that year.

But then COVID hit. So the trip had to be canceled.

New Trip to the Holy Land

Well, a new trip is in the works. It’s going to happen right after Christmas 2022.

Our dates will most likely be December 29, 2022 through January 11, 2023. Those dates are not set in stone yet (they may shift by a day or two), but it will be a fourteen-day trip (eleven days in Israel with three days for travel on both ends).

We will arrive in Tel Aviv (on the Mediterranean coast) and head north to Galilee to begin our tour through the Holy Land. We’ll visit sites like Caesarea Philippi (where Peter confessed that Jesus was Messiah), Jeroboam’s temple at Dan (where he built the golden calf statues), and work our way down south to Masada (with a free day at the En Gedi resort at the Dead Sea) and Beersheba in the Negev (where Abraham lived). We’ll spend our last days in Jerusalem before flying home.

Along the way, we will learn about the importance of the various archeological and pilgrimage sites, reflect on their relation to events in the Bible, and have time to think about the significance of what we are seeing and learning for our own lives.

You will also have the opportunity to take communion on the Mount of Beatitudes and to renew your baptismal vows at the Jordan River, where John baptized Jesus.

Approximate Cost of the Holy Land Trip

The exact cost of the trip is still being worked out, but is expected to be $4,500-$5,000 per person. This covers airfare from Rochester, NY, all transportation within Israel, entrance fees to all sites we visit, and all hotel stays and meals (except for lunch, which we purchase on the road).

Anyone traveling from a different city will have a slightly different cost. But it will be comparable.

All the logistics (including air travel) will be organized by Educational Opportunities, a group that has a great deal of experience in planning such trips.

Here is a short video from Educational Opportunities about visiting the Holy Land: https://vimeo.com/543713454?ref=fb-share&fbclid=IwAR2672EIrHK6QomJcZO5dI8Usxoue9mqKPLA-ZfVRoh03g7EaQj4FK2PMIQ

The Trip Leaders

Because Monte Luker was already booked for another Holy Land trip after Christmas 2022, our teacher from the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies will be Bobby Morris, a Lutheran pastor and adjunct professor in Hebrew and Old Testament, who has led numerous such trips. Bobby will be the official teacher for the trip and I will be the host and co-teacher.

Current Interest in the Trip

Once the itinerary is set, a PDF brochure will be produced and online registration will be available. It’s a first-come, first-served situation. The absolute maximum is fifty participants, including Bobby Morris and myself (since that is what the tour bus can hold). However, we will probably cap registration before that, since having fifty on a tour of a site in the Holy Land slows everything down considerably. (If the demand requires it, and it looks like it might, we will probably have another trip the following year.)

Registration will be open to Northeastern Seminary students, along with alums and friends of the Seminary and of Roberts Wesleyan College (we are interpreting “friends” quite broadly to include anyone with a connection of any sort to the two schools or to faculty or staff of the schools).

Sixty-five people have already indicated some degree of interest in the trip.

Whether or not you have previously contacted me about the Holy Land trip, I am asking anyone interested to email me to confirm (or let me know of) your interest. That way, you will receive updates on the trip, including the PDF brochure when it is ready, notification about when registration begins (probably February or March 2022), and the online registration link (plus lots more information about what to expect on the trip).

If you don’t have my email address, just use the contact function on this website.

Topics on Location (BIB 735)

There will be an option for Seminary students to take a 3-credit Northeastern Seminary course in conjunction with the trip. Anyone interested in taking this course should contact me and I will fill you in on the details.

Holistic Eschatology and the Courage to Pray

The two primary topics I’ve been interviewed on for podcasts over the last few years are 1) humans made in God’s image (based on my book The Liberating Image) and 2) holistic eschatology (based on my book A New Heaven and a New Earth). These topics address creation and eschaton, that is, the origin of God’s good world and the consummation of that world as God brings it to its intended destiny.

An Earthy Spirituality

What both books have in common is a focus on God’s purposes for human flourishing in the context of earthly life. God deemed the world “very good” in the beginning (God doesn’t make junk) and God desires to redeem this world the corruption and distortions of sin (God doesn’t junk what he makes).

This holistic focus seems to have touched a nerve with many Christians, who are tired of the church’s traditional limitation of spirituality to the interior life and an ethereal heaven hereafter.

This doesn’t mean that we should play off concern for this world against spirituality. Rather, what we need in an earthy spirituality, where we live in God’s presence in the midst of the complexities of life in the real world, rather than seeking escape from this world.

Holistic Eschatology and an Open Future

This earthy spirituality was the topic of a podcast interview that I did for the God Is Open website. The website title alludes to what has come to be called Open Theism, the view that the future is genuinely open and not predetermined by God, “because God is alive, eternally free, and inexhaustibly creative.”

Here is my interview on holistic eschatology posted on the God is Open website.

The interview can also be found on YouTube.

The Courage to Pray

Because Open Theism is interested in the reality of prayer, by which we are able to impact God to act differently in a genuinely open future, the God Is Open website posted the audio of a sermon that I preached in 2017 on Moses’s intercession on behalf of Israel in Exodus 32 (“The Courage to Pray—Learning from the Boldness of Moses in Exodus 32”).

Exodus 32 recounts Israel’s idolatry of the Golden Calf and God’s decision to destroy them in judgment. But when Moses interceded for the people, God changed his mind and forgive them.

I preached this sermon in my home church, Community of the Savior, which uses the Revised Common Lectionary. I wove together aspects of the four lectionary Scriptures:

I began the sermon with a reference to the speechless person in Matthew 22 and ended up contrasting this with Moses’s bold prayer to God. I ended with Philippians 4:6. Along the way, I reflected on our own assumptions about God that often get in the way of honest prayer.

You can listen to the sermon on the “God Is Open” website

Or you can listen to the sermon on the Community of the Savior website.

If you want to read the sermon, you can download a PDF here.

The Boldness of Moses and Abraham’s Silence

The topic of Moses interceding for Israel at the Golden Calf episode is the starting point for a chapter called “God’s Loyal Opposition” in my new book, Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021).

Here is the Table of Contents:

Introduction: Does Abraham’s Silence Matter?
Part 1: Models of Vigorous Prayer in the Bible
1. Voices from the Ragged Edge
2. God’s Loyal Opposition
Part 2: Making Sense of the Book of Job
3. The Question of Appropriate Speech
4. Does God Come to Bury Job or to Praise Him?
Part 3: Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straitjacket of Tradition
5. Is It Permissible to Criticize Abraham or God?
6. Reading Rhetorical Signals in the Aqedah and Job
7. Did Abraham Pass the Test?
Conclusion: The Gritty Spirituality of Lament

I recently wrote a short blog post in which I contrasted Moses and Abraham, as part of a series on the argument of the book.

Society of Biblical Literature Session on Moses and God in Conflict

I will be giving a paper on Moses’s intercession at the Golden Calf incident at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio on November 22, 2021. I was invited to give this paper last year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic it was postponed to this year. There will be four papers in a session on “Characterization of YHWH and Moses in Conflict (Crisis) in the Pentateuch,” which is jointly sponsored by two SBL program units: the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures and the National Association of Professors of Hebrew.

Here is the abstract of my paper, entitled “How and Why Does God Change? Exploring the Logic of the Divine Shift after the Golden Calf.

Practical Implications of Biblical Themes

Topics like the image of God, holistic eschatology, and boldness in prayer are vitally important for Christian living with honesty and hope in this fractured and broken world. In everything I’ve written on these (and other) subjects, I’ve tried to tease out various practical implications for life.

For those interested in following up on the implications of Open Theism for issues of Christian living (including prayer), see The Openness of God A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), chapter 5: “Practical Implications.” The book (which was voted one of Christianity Today’s 1995 Books of the Year) has five authors, each of whom wrote a separate chapter. Chapter 5 was written by David Basinger, my colleague at Roberts Wesleyan College.