It’s Been a Crazy Semester for Papers, Talks, and Blogging

This has been an extremely busy semester.

I’ve been working hard on preparing various talks and lectures, and also a number of essays for publication (not to mention teaching four courses). So I’ve fallen behind in my original goal (made nearly two years ago, when I began this blog) to post something new about once per week.

I’m afraid this will be the case until the end of the semester, when I hope to complete most of this writing.

So, in the meantime, I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve been doing, and also post some of the pieces I’ve been working on.

Holistic Eschatology

Near the end of summer I wrote a short meditation on holistic eschatology for an online newsletter for United Methodist theological students, called The Catalyst. Then in September I expanded this piece into a longer talk for the Asian-American IVCF group at Cornell University (co-sponsored with Chesterton House). Both pieces were called “To Love What God Loves: Understanding the Cosmic Scope of Redemption.”

Imago Dei and Evolution

In October I gave a lecture at Regent College (Vancouver, BC) on humanity as imago Dei in a symposium on what it means to be human in light of hominin evolution (this was part of a series of four events on evolution in relation to the imago Dei and the fall for Evangelicals and Catholics, held in different regions of Canada, organized by Paul Allen of Concordia University, Montreal). My lecture (which had three respondents) will be revised for publication (probably next year) in a volume of essays edited by Allen. An audio of the lecture is being made available by Regent College.

Creation and Fall in Genesis 2-3

Roberts Wesleyan College (where I’ve been teaching since 2002; at the seminary since 2011) is having their 150th anniversary next year, and will be producing an anthology of essays in honor of B. T. Roberts, the founder of the College. My contribution to this volume is a close reading of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2-3 for what it teaches us about God’s original intent for work and male-female relationships, including how these ideals are distorted by sin. I presented a short version of this paper in October at the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association conference at Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto. The published volume should be available by Fall 2016.

Evolution and the Fall

I’ve also been working on another essay on Genesis 3, exploring how the account of the fall might be related to what we know about human evolution and the origin of evil. I gave an lecture on this topic at Roberts Wesleyan College in October 2014 and then again at a conference organized by the Colossian Forum in Chicago in March of this year. This essay will be published in 2016 by Eerdmans in an anthology entitled Re-Imagining the Intersection of Evolution and the Fall, edited by James K. A. Smith and William Cavanaugh.

This past week I presented four papers at conferences that were being held in association with the large American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meetings in Atlanta.

Eschatology Session at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS)

I presented an invited paper for a special session on my eschatology book at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 19). My paper, entitled “A New Heaven and a New Earth: For God So Loved the World,” was followed by an appreciative but critical response to the book by Greg Beale of Westminster Theological Seminary, and then by an immensely practical paper by Victor Cortez of Food for the Hungry, on “Landing the Biblical Theological Plane” of eschatology, in which he vividly showed what difference a holistic vision of the future makes for transforming people’s lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. The papers were followed by a panel discussion on the topic.

Paper on Psalm 51 for the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR)

I then presented a paper on Psalm 51 as a critique of David’s inadequate repentance, in one of the research groups of the IBR at their annual meeting (November 20). This was a precis of a longer essay I wrote for a volume sponsored by IBR called Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-Historical Perspectives, ed. Robbie Castleman, Darian Lockett, and Stephen Presley (to be published by Pickwick Publications in 2016). A draft of the essay is available on the IBR website.

Paper on Bob Marley for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)

The following day (November 21) I was scheduled to give a paper on the reggae band Third World for the Islands, Islanders, and Scriptures program unit of the SBL. But due to elder care family issues, I wasn’t able to get this done. The organizers therefore allowed me to present a short version of a previous paper I had written on Bob Marley and the Wailers (complete with music clips).

Paper on Genesis 22 for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)

The next day (November 22), in the Genesis program unit of the SBL, I presented a paper on the Aqedah (the “binding” of Isaac) in Genesis 22. I explored a reading of the text that did not automatically take Abraham’s silent attempt to sacrifice his son as exemplary, given the normative example of lament or protest prayer in the Bible. This paper was part of my initial work on reading Genesis 22 and the book of Job in light of biblical lament prayer, which will be the topic of my research for a new book during my upcoming sabbatical (in 2016-17).

Given all the above, I haven’t got a lot of blogging done recently. Hopefully, this post will somewhat make up for that.

Future Posts

Once I finish editing the final two of the above essays, I hope to be able to turn more wholeheartedly to blogging in the new year. In fact, I’ve just been appointed a Theological Fellow for BioLogos, so you can expect a variety of posts on the Bible and evolution (among other topics) during 2016.



The Eschaton Has Arrived—Actually Just the Book

Today I received a copy of my newly published book A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. My publisher (Baker Academic) informed me it arrived at their offices on Friday (Halloween) and they immediately sent me a copy.

I know I should be used to this by now (since this isn’t my first book), but I tend to write about one book per decade (I’m a bit slower than Tom Wright or Jamie Smith), so it’s not often I get to see one of my books fresh off the press. Actually, I seem to be picking up publication speed, since the gap between my first and second books was eleven years, then ten years between the second and third, and now nine years between the third and fourth—though I wasn’t actually working on each book for the entire in-between time.

Originally, A New Heaven and a New Earth was supposed to have been published a couple of years earlier (2012). I received the invitation from Baker to write the book back in fall 2007 and did a bit of research in summer 2008. Then I spent much of my sabbatical in spring and summer 2009 working on the project and got some of the chapters written. I had originally planned a short seven-chapter book, with the idea of doing more work in summer 2010 and completing it it in 2011, but a computer crash when I was nearly done (in August 2011) set me back just as the teaching semester was about to begin. So I put off completing it till the following summer.

This led Baker to advertize it as being published in 2013, which was jumping the gun, since I had not submitted a manuscript even by the end of summer 2012.

By then I had concluded there was more that I wanted to say, so I added a few more chapters. At that point I also realized that some chapters were becoming overly long, so I divided them into two (some long chapters really had two separate chapters hiding there). In the end, the book became thirteen chapters (or twelve chapters plus an appendix, as the publisher has organized it).

I submitted the completed manuscript to Baker at the start of October 2013. Due to the recession many publishers (Baker included) had cut staff, and they told me that they had more books in the pipeline than they could get to the shelves as quickly as they would like. So I knew it would be a while before mine would be published. They indicated it would be about a year (the book did have to go through required rounds of editing, from the publisher, back to me, and around again a couple of times).

Various websites selling the book have indicated differing publication dates, either late November or early December. But during the past summer Baker informed me that the book would be ready by November 1—and they were actually a day early!

I don’t know exactly when the book will be available in stores (online or brick-and-mortar), but I’ve been told it will be ready for a conference on Faith and Work that I’m speaking at this coming weekend (November 7-8). And it will also be on sale at the annual meetings of various academic societies in San Diego in the third week of November (the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Academy of Religion).

So the eschaton hasn’t arrived; but the book certainly has.

Walter Brueggemann on A New Heaven and a New Earth

The writings of Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann have had a profound impact on my thinking over the years.

Back when I was a theology graduate student, I read Brueggemann’s The  Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg, 1984). This book introduced me to the importance of human experience embedded in the Psalter, especially the value of lament psalms in processing pain and helping us move towards newness of life. The Message of the Psalms was life-altering and spoke directly to where I was in my faith journey. Brueggemann’s insights into lament, both in this book and in his famous article on the “costly loss of lament,” greatly influenced my own argument about the inadequacy of classical theodicy in “Why the ‘Greater Good’ Isn’t a Defense.”

Then I read The Prophetic Imagination (Fortress, 1978; 2nd ed. 2000), which crystallized the contrast between the impulse to autonomy and control in Pharaoh’s Egypt and the Israelite monarchy, on the one hand, and the challenge to this autonomy in the exodus and in the Yahwistic faith in the prophets, on the other. This book, published a few years before the Psalms book, articulated the move in the prophetic literature from embracing pain (here Brueggemann focused on Jeremiah) to being energized by hope (here he focused on Deutero-Isaiah). It was The Prophetic Imagination, more than any other resource, that opened my eyes to the sociopolitical implications of the gospel. Brueggemann was helpful in providing a paradigm for interpreting both the Old Testament and the New; his chapters on the cross and resurrection of Jesus in terms of the prophetic pattern of the Old Testament were illuminating.

However, I began to see certain limitations in Brueggemann’s analysis of patterns in the Bible. His take on Scripture was very helpful in addressing suffering and injustice and in prodding us towards a redemptive vision. But his suspicious interpretation of creation texts in the Old Testament did not match my experience of these texts as liberating and empowering. In fact, Israel’s Praise (Fortress, 1988), his second book on the Psalms (he has since written more), was even more suspicious of creation texts, interpreting them, along with the enthronement psalms, as nothing more than royal legitimation for the status quo. It was my high respect for Brueggemann, combined with my perception of a different reading of creation in the Old Testament, that led me to publish a critical review of the topic, titled “Is Creation Theology Inherently Conservative? A Dialogue with Walter Brueggemann” (1994).

Prior to publication, I presented this paper at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in 1992. Since the conference organizers had put my paper right after a panel discussion that Brueggemann participated in, he was there to hear my paper. It also turned out that the person who was to present after me had pulled out of the conference, so there was a gap of half-an-hour. The conference chair asked Brueggemann if he would say a few words in response, since we had some time. I actually have no recollection what Brueggemann specifically said, since I was sick as a dog. I had laryngitis the night before and wasn’t even sure I would be able to deliver the paper. As it was, I had to speak in almost a whisper (I told the audience that I came to them in the weakness of the flesh).

All I remember is that Brueggemann was very gracious; he was basically affirming and appreciative. And then when my paper was published, he wrote a very positive response, locating my paper among various recent approaches to Old Testament creation theology. I found out later that even before my SBL presentation Brueggemann had already begun to come to a more positive view of the topic of creation, evident in his oral presentations (I later listened to some recordings). Some of his more positive views found their way into his Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (Fortress, 1993), and later into his magnum opus, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Fortress, 1997).

I’ve had many contacts with Walter Brueggemann over the years, from responding to a paper he gave at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto (in 1997) to hearing him give papers at SBL and attending many of his speaking engagements in Rochester.

He wrote a great blub for the back cover of Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith for a Postmodern Age (IVP, 1995), which I co-authored with Brian Walsh, and he even sent me a nice card congratulating me when I got a full-time teaching appointment at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1996. Later, he wrote a very positive endorsement of my book The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005).

More recently, Brueggemann has written an endorsement for A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014):

“Richard Middleton plunges boldly into a most-treasured misreading of the Bible. He shows the way in which ‘other-worldly’ hope of ‘going to heaven’ is a total misread of gospel faith. In a demanding, sure-footed way he walks the reader through a rich deposit of biblical texts to make clear that the gospel concerns the transformation of the earth and not escape from it. Middleton summons us to repentance for such a mistaken understanding that has had disastrous practical implications. This is a repentance that he himself avows. When his book catches on, it will have an immense impact on the way in which we think and act about our common future in the gospel, a common future with important socio-economic, political derivatives. The reader will be rewarded by Middleton’s boldness.”

Actually, it is I who have been rewarded by Brueggemann’s boldness—I’ve been rewarded again and again.