How to Tell If a Sermon is Good

Every week, millions of people around the world situate themselves in moderately uncomfortable seating and listen to someone talk at them for an extended period of time. I am, of course, referring to Christians who attend church services and listen to sermons. While Christian denominations differ on all manner of doctrine and practice, the proclamation of a message is accepted as standard practice by Christians worldwide.

Now, sermons vary quite a bit. They differ in title (sermon, message, homily, lesson), length (from 5 minutes to hours), style (read, Spirit-inspired, off-the-cuff, practiced), emphasis (as the central focus to a prelude to something else), and content (topical, exegetical, series, stand-alone, visionary, reactionary). Furthermore, as anyone who has attended church more than a handful of times can tell you, sermons also vary greatly in quality.

Some sermons are extremely boring, filled with clichés, poor teaching, and dragging on for what seems like an eternity. Other messages are highly engaging, composed of amusing anecdotes, motivational testimonies, and powerful calls to action. Some sermons are theologically rich, rooted in solid exegesis, overflowing with biblical wisdom, and founded on timeless truths. Other times, sermons are theologically destitute, bereft of meaningful insights, rarely referencing the scriptures, and lacking identifiably Christian content. Continue reading

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A Brief History of Communion: Origins

Christians of all sorts partake of some form of communion. Known by different names—the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, Mass—and taken at different frequencies—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly—this practice involving bread and wine stands as a testament to both Christian unity as well as divisions. What do contemporary Christians believe about the Lord’s Supper? To begin answering this question, we must first look at the history of communion, beginning today with what the early Church said about the practice and meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Continue reading

Book Review: The Pauline Effect (Strawbridge)

The Pauline EffectWhile the influence of Pauline writings on early Christianity remains widely recognized, few studies investigate the particulars of Paul’s theological and exegetical influence on ante-Nicene Christianity. Beginning this immense task of studying the specific reception histories of Pauline pericopes is Jennifer Strawbridge’s The Pauline Effect, winner of the 2014 SBL-De Gruyter Prize for Biblical Studies and Reception History. This volume examines how Paul and his letters—particularly the texts of 1 Corinthians 2.6-16, Ephesians 6.10-17, 1 Corinthians 15.50-58, and Colossians 1.15-20—shaped early Christian theology and practice. Among the contributions of this volume is the argument that early Christian use of Paul reveals definitive development of Christian formation as “progress from one level of wisdom to another” (4). Continue reading

The Acts of Paul and Pastoral Epistles

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Catacomb image of Paul and (possibly) Thecla

Catacomb image of Paul and (possibly) Thecla

In his article “I Permit No Woman to Teach Except for Thecla: The Curious Case of the Pastoral Epistles and the Acts of Paul Reconsidered” (Novum Testamentum 54 (2012): 176-203), Matthijs den Dulk offers a reanalysis of the relationship between the Acts of Paul (hereafter APl) and Pastoral Epistles (hereafter PE), arguing that a) the APl rely upon the PE (contra MacDonald); 2) the author of the APl viewed the image of Paul from 2 Timothy as useful; and 3) the author of the APl rejected the authority of 1 Timothy and its attendant conception of Paul. Building from existing studies of the relationship between the PE and APl, den Dulk advocates an analysis of the interplay of these texts on an individual rather than collective level. Through structural, linguistic, and feminist analysis, den Dulk then argues that the APl agrees with 2 Timothy on a number of substantial points and perspectives. Continue reading

Pagan Christianity?

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

4087087895_0b2ea539c0_o-e1413998434680You occasionally hear it from the talking heads or on the History Channel. Maybe you notice an article about it on your newsfeed. Or catch the random title while browsing Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. Pagan Christianity: What you do on Sundays is really from Ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome, or Royal Greece and certainly is not real Christian worship.

Maybe you listen for a few seconds, start to read that article, or read the back cover of that book. “Most of what present day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles.” [1] “How Mistakes and Changes Shaped the Bible We Read Today.” [2] Is walking down the aisle really derived from the Roman Imperial procession? Are Christian priests just pagan priests in disguise? Is there really any truth to these claims? Continue reading

The Ethics of 1 Corinthians 11

1CorinthiansSermonsSince its beginnings, the Christian tradition has been interested in the ethical and social concerns of its adherents and the wider world. In recent decades, questions concerning the role of women within the Church have fostered much discussion, academic and otherwise. Speaking broadly, conservative interpreters of the New Testament have affirmed an understanding of “Biblical submission” for women within the Church, while progressive scholars have sought to develop an understanding of New Testament texts that allows for a more inclusive view of the role of women within the modern Church. Scholars continue to write on the proper interpretation of New Testament passages bearing on the subject of gender, especially in the letters of Paul. Particularly interesting, Paul’s passage concerning head coverings in his First Letter to the Church at Corinth provides scholars with an example of a passage that prima facia presents a possible interpretation of Paul that appears rather traditional in his understanding of the role and place of women in the Church. Continue reading

On Approaching Difficult Bible Passages

Bible DifficultiesNothing can be more frustrating (or worrisome) as reading something in the Bible and a) not understanding what is going on or b) finding some sort of apparent contradiction in the text. Below are some suggestions on how to best to approach and make sense of these difficult passages.

1. Context is key. Before trying to make sense of a passage, it is imperative that you understand its context. This means never reading a single, solitary Bible verse, but always at least a paragraph. Reading in context also means that you should try to understand passages wider literary, theological, and historical contexts as well. Understanding why Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, the everyday situation of Christians living in first century Corinth, and what ancient Corinth looked like can go a long way in making sense of First Corinthians. Continue reading

Head Coverings in Corinth: Conclusions

This is the final post in our series on Head Coverings in Corinth.
Ancient Corinth

Ancient Corinth

In this series we have examined interpretations of First Corinthians 11.2-16 by three notable New Testament scholars, Richard B. Hays, Richard A. Horsley, and Dale B. Martin. To briefly summarize their respective interpretations and understandings of Paul’s views of the human body, we characterized Hays’ position as that of the socially gendered body, Horsley’s view as the ordered body, and Martin’s perspective as the polluted body. After reviewing each scholars contextual considerations for their perspective, their commentary and interpretation of First Corinthians 11.2-16, and the general shape of their understanding of the construction of the human body found in that passage, we turned to an extended consideration of the conception of the human body that can be drawn from this noteworthy passage in Paul’s first letter to Corinth. Here we argued that each perspective relies heavily upon social scientific reconstructions of the Corinthian context that directly impact conceptions of the human body. We noted that each scholar conceived of the Paul’s understanding of the body within the communal framework of the entire Corinthian Christian body. Additionally, we examined Hays, Horsley, Martin, Osiek and Pouya’s interpretations on the impact of Greco-Roman hierarchical norms on Paul’s conception of the human body. Finally, we explicated the various ways in which these scholars understood Paul’s emphasis on bodily difference in Corinth, arguing that the conception of bodily difference was the unifying feature of these three interpretations of First Corinthians.

Interpretations of Paul’s writings, especially those with potentially profound implications for understanding the human body and its relation to other bodies and persons, will undoubtedly continue for years to come. And while this study has only examined three perspectives on Paul’s conception of the human body taken from a short (though notable) passage of one of his letters, the unifying feature of these interpretations concerning Paul’s understanding of Corinthian Christian male and female bodies as different within the Greco-Roman social context, it may be that this unifying conception of body may very well point to a wider field of interpretive discussion and Pauline thought to be found in later studies of the body. As has been the case with the interpretation (and application) of First Corinthians 11.2-16, only time will tell. Continue reading