Lenten Series at First Church of Christ, Clinton, CT

I had the distinct honor and privilege of being both the opening and closing speaker for a series of talks reflecting on the Bible at the First Church of Christ in Clinton, CT during this Lent Season.  This is a Church with a great deal of history attached to it, going back to 1662 as part of one of the earliest settlements of Connecticut, they can boast that their campus was at one point the original campus of Yale University and that they have hosted such notable figures as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and Benjamin Franklin!  While I seriously doubt my name will ever have the coinage of that trio, it was quite an honor to be asked to come speak in a place with such heritage and to be asked to come back for a second presentation! Both talks were well received and followed by some excellent questions and discussions from a very good natured congregation.  It was a really fun experience from my perspective!
The first talk was a summary of the New Testament in forty-five minutes or less.  I joked about the impossibility of that task, especially if we tried to do it book-by-book.  Instead of taking that route, I think the more beneficial organization scheme was to focus on a framework for understanding the New Testament.  To do that, we looked at four concentric movements or waves as the early Church faced different conflicts in its fledgling development.  The four movements I indentified were these:
  1. Christianity in Conflict With Its Jewish Roots- How to understand itself as a Messianic Movement when Jesus claims to be Messiah were largely rejected by Israel?  Books dealing with this include, I think, James, Hebrews, and Matthew.
  2. Christianity in Conflict with Itself: the question of Gentile inclusion- How to negotiate the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Church?  Books considered part of this movement include Luke-Acts, and the Epistles of Paul.
  3. Christianity in Conflict with its Roman Context- How to respond to Roman persecution?  Books written in response to this issue include, I think, the two letters of Peter, Mark, and Revelation.
  4. Christianity in Conflict with Itself: the question of emerging Gnosticism- How to deal with the influence of Greco-Roman thought on the new faith?  Books showing the influence of these issues include John’s gospel and letters and possibly the book of Jude (which might also fit in category 3).
A really important point I wanted to make was that the New Testament is far more weighted toward the first two of these questions than the last two.  The relationship of Christianity and its Greco-Roman context, both politically and culturally, will occupy theology from the second century to the present day.  What I take that to mean is that while the New Testament provides a starting point for dealing with those issues, it should maybe not be viewed as the ending point for those discussions, especially given the drastic changes that occur in Christianity after Constantine when Christianity becomes an accepted part of Greco-Roman society and thought and not the underdog struggling to gain an identity.  More on that might occupy another blog post soon, as I think this is a big issue.
The second talk concerned issues related to Bible translation.  I have to admit that I struggled a bit at first to figure out how to not make that an incredibly boring lecture- certainly we don’t want to just compare facts about Bible translations or talk about the history of translations for forty-five minutes!  With some last minute advice from a friend far wiser than I it came together, though.  We began with a little historical context, noting that Bible translation is a very central part of what it means to be Protestant in the Western Church.  Then some talk about issues that affect translation, namely the available texts to base a translation on (which ones to use?), the philosophy of translation to be taken (how much of an interpretation will the translation be?), and the bias of the translators (will it intentionally reflect a school of thought or are we trying to make an “ecumenical” translation?).  Major points that I wanted to make included that there are indeed differences in the base manuscripts and those differences include readings and canonical questions, that all translations are to some extent interpretive (there is no one-to-one correspondence of one language to another), and that all individuals read with a particular bias.  After covering some of these issues we looked briefly at a fact sheet on a few popular translations and then compared their renderings of Psalm 23.  Then there was a really lively and entertaining discussion!
This was a really fun and exciting opportunity, and something I hope to get to do more of soon!  
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