New Creation Has Begun—The Haverim Lectures at the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies

I am about to head off to Dayton, OH to give the Haverim Lectures at the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies (Haverim is Hebrew for friends).

I’ll be giving three lectures on Saturday, March 18, 2017 on the topic of eschatology, with the overall title: New Creation Has Begun: How This Big Idea Changes Everything.

My three lectures will address:

  • The sacred calling of being human as the image of God
  • The overall plot of the biblical story
  • The Bible’s vision of the consummation of all things

They will be based on my book A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014) and will focus on how the biblical vision of the origin and destiny of creation can inspire and empower us for living today.

You can access more information about the lectures here.

The Center for Judaic-Christian Studies plans to make recordings of the lectures available for those interested.

A Wonderful First Week in Australia

About a month ago I posted about my upcoming sabbatical visit to Australia.

I’ve now completed two weeks Down Under, in Adelaide (South Australia). I’ve just arrived in Canberra (the national capital), where I’ll spend another two weeks.

In this post I’ll report on the activities of my first week in Adelaide; in my next post I’ll cover the second  week.

I left the USA on Thursday, September 15 and arrived in Adelaide (via Sydney) nearly forty hours later on Saturday, September 17 (Friday just disappeared in the time zone change).

It took me a good three or four days before I felt recovered from travel. I guess you could say I was jet lagged; but I think it was simply the lack of sleep (four hours sleep in a day and a half just wasn’t enough).

Travel on Qantas Airlines

And yet the trip itself (apart from the lack of sleep) was quite wonderful. I had never traveled on Qantas before (Australia’s national airline), but this is now my favorite airline.

Not only is Qantas the largest airline in the world (in terms of number of planes, flights, and destinations), but they had the best service I’ve encountered in years (especially in comparison to the American airline companies I’m used to).

There was a hot meal on every flight, not only on the long haul (fifteen hours) between the US and Australia (there were actually two meals on that flight); there was a hot meal offered even on the flights within the US and within Australia (when’s the last time a US airline served a hot meal on a domestic flight, included in the price of the ticket?). In fact, the meal on both the US leg and the trans-Pacific leg came with a free serving of wine or beer.

We even had a printed menu with our choices.


I was picked up at the Adelaide airport by the Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey, the principal of St Barnabas College, who was my host for the two weeks. Not only was he a wonderful person, and smart to boot (with a PhD in Hebrew linguistics), it turns out that we both did our PhDs at the Free University of Amsterdam; in fact we defended our dissertations just a year apart. It’s a small world!

My First Few Days in Adelaide

Having arrived in Adelaide on a Saturday afternoon, I got a decent night’s sleep and then went to church (Holy Innocents Anglican Church) with Matthew and his family the next morning. There I heard a thoughtful message by the Rev’d Steve Daughtry about the use of money in the kingdom of God, based on the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13).

That evening I was interviewed on 1079 Life FM by the Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold about my upcoming activities in Adelaide and my various bookshe had certainly done his homework. But then Lynn Arnold has been the Premier of South Australia (1992-93) and headed up World Vision Australia from 1997 to 2007; he is currently an Anglican priest stationed at St. Peter’s Cathedral and teaches Public Theology and Church History at St Barnabas College.

The next day (Monday) I got a tour of St. Barnabas College, including an office I could use, and I got set up with internet access, a printer, and so forth. That afternoon there was a reception with staff and friends of St. Barnabas, followed by dinner in a nearby restaurant (I had kangaroo for the first time).

St. Barnabas College (founded in 1880) is a member of the School of Theology of Charles Sturt University. The College recently relocated its physical campus to the same building as the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide, as a re-affirmation of its commitment to the church.

The very week I arrived St Barnabas College had just unveiled a new logo, new signage, and a brand new website, as part of a process of re-branding. So folks were pretty busy the first few days I was there.

Lament in Scripture and Life

The highlight of my first week in Adelaide was the two-day Workshop (September 22-23) on “Lament in Scripture and Life” held at St. Barnabas, which was attended by eleven biblical scholars (nine in Old Testament and two in New Testament); apart from me, everyone was from Australia or environs (one traveled from New Zealand).

All eleven of us wrote and submitted papers in advance on some aspect of lament. My paper was on Genesis 22, part of my research for the book on Abraham and Job that I’m working on during my sabbatical.

These papers weren’t actually presented at the workshop; instead we all read each others’ papers in advance. Each person had an opportunity to summarize their paper (5 minutes), followed by a 10-15 minute response that had been prepared by someone else, followed by feedback and discussion by everyone else for another 40-45 minutes.

The authors and topics of the papers were as follows:

  • Elizabeth Boase, “Engaging Westermann and the Assumptive World”
  • Jione Havea, “By the waters of Pasifika: Wailing at Noah’s altar (Genesis 8)”
  • Michael Trainor, “‘Did you know that little girls could be nailed to the cross?’: The Lament of the Gospel”
  • Timothy J. Harris, “Appropriation and Juxtaposition: Experiential Readings of the Lord’s Prayer in Contexts of Lament”
  • Mark G. Brett, “Psalm 94 and the Hermeneutics of Protest”
  • Matthew Anstey, “The Narratological Necessity of Lament”
  • Peter Lockwood, “Jephthah’s Enemies and His Daughter: Narcissism, Violence and Lament (Judges 11)”
  • J. Richard Middleton, “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22″
  • Jeanette Mathews, “Prayers of Lament as Performance”
  • Monica Melanthon, “Slumdog Despair: Taking Dalit Laments to Church”
  • David Cohen, “At the Edge of the Precipice: Psalm 89 as Liturgical Memory”

We had two wonderful days of intense and serious discussion, and the feedback we each received will greatly improve our papers as we revise them for publication. We are planning for a volume of essays possibly called Lament Rekindled.

Then, after our (serious) scholarly endeavors, we had fun posing for photos (I don’t remember what the joke was, but it must have been good).

A Trip to the Barossa

Although most of the participants in the Lament seminar had to leave soon after to catch flights home, four of us were around the next day for a trip to the Barossa, a beautiful wine region of South Australia near Adelaide. The only trouble was that it began to rain that morning, so it cut down on the sightseeing component. Nevertheless, I saw kangaroos in the wild, as we were driving by. And the wine tasting proceeded as planned.

All week I had been learning distinctive Aussie lingo, including:

  • no worries, mate [= you’re welcome; in Jamaica we would say “no problem, mon”]
  • footy [= football]
  • uni [= university]
  • breaky [= breakfast]
  • a flat white [= coffee with milk]

I learned one more on the Barossa trip: “cellar door,” which is a reference to the wine tasting room associated with a winery (the term has a sort of Hobbit feel, though some of the cellar doors we visited were quite spacious).

We visited four cellar doors in all on the trip, two before lunch and two after. It stopped raining briefly when we came out of Peter Lehman Wines (the third stop), which allowed us to have a group photo taken outside.

And the sun actually shone brightly (though briefly) just before we headed for home. But it was pouring when we got back to Adelaide.

This weather was a portent of what was to come.

I’ll soon post a report of Week Two in Australia.

Learning to Ask Good Questions

I absolutely love when students ask questions in class.

Questions outside of class are great too, whether they come by email or through one-on-one conversation over a cup of coffee. I’ve often come to clarity about some of my own ideas in trying to answer a student’s out-of-class question about some complex issue.

But questions in class have a special importance. I learned as an undergraduate student that once you start asking questions in class something important happens.

Two things, actually.

First, the quality of your own learning goes way up.

You become more engaged with the material being taught and you develop a better grasp of it. I think the way human psychology works is that when you say something out loud you become more personally invested in the topic. And when you articulate your inchoate thoughts (even in the form of a question) it helps you gain a degree of clarity you hadn’t yet achieved.

But something also happens to the class as a whole.

The learning of the other students goes up. The interactive aspect of a class (the back-and-forth between student and teacher) helps other students pay more attention. And it stimulates their thinking. Just one person asking good questions can get others talking, and then the effect snowballs.

The Value of Questions for Shy People

But it’s certainly hard to get started, especially if you’re a shy person.

I was shy from childhood right through my late twenties. So I know that it requires a certain amount of effort to start speaking up in class. As an undergraduate student, I used to have to spend time thinking about the assigned readings in advance of class and I would jot down comments—and especially questions—to bring to class.

The good thing about questions for a shy person is that you don’t have to worry about being right or wrong. You aren’t trying to show off your knowledge by giving answers. You’re trying to expand your knowledge by seeking answers.

I didn’t begin asking questions in class until my junior undergraduate year—yes, I really was that shy! Although I didn’t always get the answers I sought, my professors graciously hosted my questions. And the process of raising questions (and having them welcomed in class) turned me into a much more active learner.

After a while I started thinking of questions even while the professor was speaking, and I would raise my hand, and off we’d go.

I remember one episode in graduate school when my back-and-forth with a philosophy professor lasted for a full ten minutes (I kept asking about the basis of a particular idea—see below—and then about the basis of that one, and so on. The back-and-forth only ended when the professor lapsed into silence for what seemed like an eternity (but was perhaps only a few seconds). Finally, he admitted: “I have no idea. I really don’t know.”

But that wasn’t a problem, either for him or for me. It was simply an honest moment. And I even gained the professor’s respect for probing so deeply.

Three Kinds of Questions to Stimulate Learning

Looking back at my intellectual development, I’ve found there are three main kinds of questions that I’ve learned to ask, which have contributed most to my learning. These sorts of questions are the basis of developing critical habits of thought.

They set me in good stead for interacting not just with the classes I took, but also with any points of view I’ve encountered in my interactions with others, whether orally or in writing. So I ask these questions also of the books and articles I read.

But since I learnt the importance of these questions when I was a student, I’ll phrase them in terms of a classroom context.

Where Does That Come From? 

First, there are questions about the basis of an idea.

You’re in class, listening to the professor say something and a nagging question comes to mind:

  • “Why would we think that?”
  • “How do we know that is true?”
  • “Is there some ground for that idea?”

So, put up your hand and ask the question. (This was the sort of question that reduced my philosophy professor to silence.)

How Does That Relate?

Then there are questions about the relationship of different ideas.

You wonder about something the professor says in class that doesn’t seem to jibe with something you read in the assigned text or with something you thought the professor said in a previous class (or simply with something you know—or think you know—is true).

So you ask (respectfully):

  • “How would you reconcile what you said last week about this topic (or some other topic) with what you’re saying in class today?”
  • “If what you say is true, how does that fit with what today’s reading says on the same subject?”
  • “I’ve always thought thus-and-so, but now I’m wondering if it’s compatible with what you just said. Do you think there is any tension there?”

The point isn’t to try and trip up your teacher (though you might well do that). Rather, you learn the meaning of one idea by having its relation to other ideas clarified.

So What?

Finally, there are questions about the implications of an idea.

No matter how interesting an idea sounds, the rubber hits the road when you address the consequences of what is being taught. These consequences might have to do with how you think about something, but they might be relevant to practical action in the world. So you verbalize your question:

  • “What follows from this idea?”
  • “If that is true, what are the implications for X?”
  • “What would this mean for how we think about topic Y?”
  • “Does this mean we need to change our behavior?”

These kinds of questions engage your higher critical functioning, and after a while they become second nature to you.

Of course, not all questions have definitive answers. But in learning to ask good questions, your learning in all your courses goes up. And you get more out of conversations with others. And your reading comprehension improves drastically.

Have you had any positive or negative experiences asking questions in class?

Are there other questions that you’ve found helpful to ask?