Why I Almost Left Evangelicalism (article in Christianity Today online)

In the U.S., the label “evangelical” has been taking a beating, and some Christians who are theologically evangelical don’t feel comfortable identifying with it anymore. But it’s a good label historically–it just means “gospel” follower–and it’s still used by tens of millions of Christians around the world who have nothing to do with the ways the term has been used in the U.S.

Yet I sympathize with those who are uncomfortable with the label and once almost left evangelicalism myself, many years ago. This article talk about my experience:


Responding to Weeden’s critique of Bailey’s Middle Eastern background for oral tradition

Kenneth Bailey contended for a model of oral tradition behind the Gospels based on Middle Eastern practices of passing on tradition. James D. G. Dunn, N. T. Wright and others developed his basic model. Theodore Weeden, however, severely critiqued the model, noting some significant problems in Bailey’s data. Some scholars, such as Eric Eve at Oxford, have taken a nuanced view, acknowledging some of Bailey’s weaknesses but showing from other scholarly work that Bailey’s proposal resembles what studies of oral history also suggest.

In this new article in Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism, I respond to Weeden’s critique of Bailey. Although some of his observations are correct, Bailey’s model still has a great deal to offer, and Eve (and Dunn, Wright and others) have been right to point this out. (I should note: although most of my posts on this site are at a more popular level, this one is more academic.)


(Note for those later finding this post in my archives: after the print version of the journal comes out, perhaps in late summer or fall of 2018, their web version will come down.)

Where to get more of these cartoons

If you want a hard copy booklet of some of these seminary/theology cartoons, GlossaHouse has published about 100 of them in a booklet that can be ordered at $8.99 from:

(I’m not responsible for the title or the cover! 🙂 )

Most of the day I do serious work, but sometimes (usually once every few weeks) I just need to take a silly break. My author royalties for this book are all to be donated directly to Langham Partnership for equipping scholar-leaders in the Majority World. The publisher’s proceeds probably will need to go to break even on such a silly book!

God reaffirms his promise—Exodus 6:1-8

Moses complains that the Lord has not kept his promise (5:22-23; note last week’s post); the Lord responds that now Moses will see what the Lord will do to Pharaoh, forcing him to drive God’s people out of Egypt (6:1)! If Moses is already doubting God’s promise, this renewed promise may not sound very encouraging. (Promises! Promises! And now the promise that the Egyptians wouldn’t even want them there anymore.)

But the Lord reaffirms his promise to bring his people out of Egypt not only in 6:1 but also in 6:6-8. In the intervening verses, God explains why Moses can trust this promise. The Lord had not tricked Moses and the people, promising something and then hiding, as it appeared to Moses (5:22-23). He was the God of their ancestors, who appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob just as he had appeared to Moses (6:3). He had covenanted with those ancestors to give Canaan to their descendants (6:4), so he could be trusted to fulfill that promise now (6:8). The Lord had already spoken much about being the God of the patriarchs (3:6, 15-16; 4:5). But although Exodus already tells us that God had remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (2:24), this is the first time that the text tells us that Moses heard that essential detail.

Moreover, the Lord was doing something even greater now than he did in the time of their ancestors. He had revealed himself to the patriarchs as El Shaddai, but only now was he revealing himself by his personal name YHWH (6:3). Theologians are right when they point out that God’s self-revelation in Scripture is progressive. Some might want to complain about new revelation with the coming of Jesus and what we call the New Testament, but new revelations happened periodically through the history of God revealing himself to his people.

More problematic is what precisely this passage means by the Lord not revealing himself by this name to the patriarchs. After all, the Lord does use this name for himself earlier; particularly noteworthy, compare Gen 15:7, where God says to Abram, “I am YHWH, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it,” just as now God would bring them out of Egypt to possess the promised land (Exod 6:6-7). Likewise, compare Gen 28:13, where the Lord declares to Jacob, “I am YHWH, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac,” and again promises the land to his people. (Certainly the phrase, “I am YHWH,” does recur much more frequently after this point; see Exod 6:6, 7, 8, 29; 7:5, 17; 10:2; 12:12; 14:4, 18; 16:12; 20:2; 29:46; 31:13; and still more frequently in Leviticus, in 11:44-45 and regularly in 18—26.)

Scholars thus have long debated what Exodus 6 means by YHWH not using this name for himself with the patriarchs. From a narrative perspective (that is, understanding the narrative in its final form), at least two options in particular commend themselves. One is that the stories in Genesis where YHWH identifies himself by this name were updated in light of this new revelation; after all, almost no one argues that the stories were written down before Moses’s day. They use the language of the fuller revelation available to them, the way Christian preachers today might speak of Jesus in the Old Testament.

Another option is that in Moses’s day YHWH is now revealing what it means for him to be YHWH: as “I am” (ehyeh; Exod 3:14), YHWH is eternal, and so does, in his time, fulfill his promises made generations earlier.

Not only had YHWH made a promise to their ancestors, but now was the time that he was revisiting that covenant. He was acting not only because of his covenant with their ancestors, but because he had heard his people’s groaning (6:5). The Lord acts both because of his covenant faithfulness and because he is compassionate and gracious, moved by the needs of his people and their cries. Thus he is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and full of covenant love (chesed) and covenant faithfulness (emeth, 34:6).

The Lord had already told Moses that he had heard his people’s suffering (3:7), but in 6:5 he reiterates this point. Often (thankfully for us), God encourages us with reminders of his faithfulness, even before we get to see the fulfillment of all his promises. (Those of us who get discouraged can hear his reaffirmations as often as we choose, provided we have Bibles and hear its message in context.) The ultimate consummation of his promises await Jesus’s return, but we have enough testimony from the past, and often signs in the present, to keep us going.