Daily Gleanings (16 July 2019)

In another “not just for dudes” episode, Brett McKay interviews Albert-László Barabási about his book The Formula (Little, Brown, & Co., 2018).

Barabási’s background in network science brings an interesting, research-driven perspective to the discussion. There are a number of ready analogues in the interview to study and work in academia. Since Barabási is himself an academic, some of these are directly spelled out and may make helpful food for further reflection.


Michael Hyatt gives 12 straightforward productivity suggestions to try to help you get clear on and do your best with what matters most. Among them are to batch like activities, “determine to never answer [your phone] except in cases of emergencies or planned calls,” and to think carefully about “how many yeses and noes you give in a day and what they cost you.”

For all 12 recommendations and additional discussion, see Michael’s original post.

Daily Gleanings: Open Access References (15 July 2019)

The Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (LGPN) is attempting to

collect and publish all ancient Greek personal names, drawing on the full range of written sources from the 8th century B.C. down to the late Roman Empire.

These are being made available in an online database.

HT: AWOL


The Bibliotheca Polyglotta Graeca et Latina (BPGL) is working to

document[] the multilingual diffusion of the Greek literature of antiquity, showing how the concepts of Greek and Roman thinking historically has influenced thinking in a global context, first in a Latin medium, then Syriac and Arabic, as well as German and French, and then to some extent the whole world.

HT: AWOL

The Problem with Doctrines as Freestanding Assertions

Doctrine needs to be an answer to a question that arises and presses for an answer. Where it fails to do so, it begins to address freestanding problems and loses connection with its own life context.1

The Trouble with Doctrine as Freestanding Assertion

Belief is “inextricably embodied in patterns of habit, commitment, and action, which constitute endorsement, ‘backing,’ or ‘surroundings’” for that belief.2

So, the trouble with doctrine as address to freestanding problems is that the doctrine disconnects from this larger life context.3

And in fact, losing connection with this life context runs the perilous risk of falsifying precisely this same belief.

In his Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives an excellent example of how this danger may play out.4

An Example: Pecca fortiter

From his own tradition, Bonhoeffer cites Martin Luther’s dictum Pecca fortiter, sed forties fide et gaude in Christo. That is, “Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly still” (55). According to Bonhoeffer, in interpreting this maxim, “everything depends on applying the distinction between the data and the answer to the sum” (56).

Pecca fortiter as a Freestanding Maxim

As Bonhoeffer points out, the difficulties with this statement become obvious if we leave off Luther’s “backing” or “surroundings” for it and take it as a “premiss” or a freestanding maxim.

Doing so makes the statement mean something like

You are a sinner … and there is nothing you can do about it. Whether you are a monk or a man of the world, a religious man or a bad one, you can never escape the toils of the world or from sin. So put a bold face on it, and all the more because you can rely on the opus operatum of [or, “work performed by”] grace. (55–56)

Loosed from its moorings in Luther’s thought and piety pecca fortiter, therefore, “conjur[es] up the spectre of cheap grace” (56).

Thus Bonhoeffer comments,

Taken as a premiss, pecca fortiter acquires the character of an ethical principle, a principle of grace to which the principle of pecca fortiter must correspond. (56)

As a freestanding maxim, pecca fortiter advocates “cheap grace” because it makes itself out as an ethical statement. It does not respond to a question that has arisen. Instead it projects from itself the question “What should a follower of Jesus do?”

But, Bonhoeffer observes, this “means justification of sin, and it turns Luther’s formula into its very opposite” (56).

Pecca fortiter as a Response to a Question

On the other hand, pecca fortiter can be a response to a question that has already arisen and that demands an answer. It can and “is meant to be taken, not as the premiss, but as the conclusion, the answer to the sum, the coping-stone, his very last word on the subject” (56).

Pecca fortiter is not a premise but a conclusion. And as such, it is “backed,” “surrounded,” and contextualized by the life context that gives rise to pecca fortiter and demands it as an answer.

What is this life context? And how does it lead pecca fortiter away from being an ethical principle?

“For Luther,” Bonhoeffer comments,

“sin boldly” could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless …. Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner … and become a sinner … every day, but be bold about it. But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? (56–57)

Bonhoeffer asserts that this can happen only when pecca fortiter is backed up and surrounded by this commitment at the exhausted end of grace- and joy-filled striving in discipleship. Only then is pecca fortiter a statement not of license but of comfort, joy, and renewed summons in that same task.

Conclusion

Such dynamics are, of course, not unique to early 20th-century German Lutheranism. Our collective memory of why, how, and in what contexts particular doctrines matter can all too quickly become sadly amnesic.

But at the same time, simply being aware of the potential for problems along these lines can help us start looking for better ways to connect doctrines to their proper life contexts.

What “freestanding assertions” do you find as you look around your own tradition? How have these doctrines or principles gotten disconnected from their proper life contexts?

What challenges have arisen because of this disconnection? What opportunities do you see for remedying the disconnection?

Header image by the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute


  1. Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Eerdmans, 2007), 38–39. 
  2. Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 20; see also 28–29. 
  3. Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 3–18, 38–39. 
  4. Here, I’m quoting and citing from the 1963 edition by Macmillan

Daily Gleanings (12 July 2019)

In the Review of Biblical Literature, Jeanette Mathews discusses Heath Thomas’s Habakkuk commentary in the Two Horizons series (Eerdmans, 2018). Mathews comments,

While the volume does offer an excellent commentary on the book of Habakkuk, it offers quite a bit more, resulting in a reasonably large volume dedicated to one small (three-chapter) biblical book. (1)

This book has many strengths. It covers the material in a well-informed and scholarly manner, drawing on major works on the book of Habakkuk, the Minor Prophets, biblical theology, and lament literature. Topics are well explained, and the language is readily available for lay readers. (2)

Mathews notes also “two points of concern” (3). The first has to do with a lack of transparency she perceives in the headings adopted in the text and reflected in the table of contents (3). The second “probably says more about sensitivity resulting from my own area of scholarship, biblical performance criticism” (3) and especially takes issue with Thomas’s description that Habbakuk “cannot act. He cannot move. He can only cry out to God” (188, qtd. on 3).

Even with these concerns, Mathews concludes enthusiastically,

I hope it will be evident from this review that I found Thomas’s book on Habakkuk insightful and thought-provoking, and I found myself in lively engagement with it. I would recommend it to others! (4)

For additional discussion, see Mathews’s full review in RBL.


Rocketbook distills some important productivity advice into a helpful infographic:

4 Tips to Hit Peak Productivity

Daily Gleanings: Finds from AWOL (11 July 2019)

Oğuz Soysal and Başak Yıldız Gülşen’s Unpublished Bo-Fragments in Transliteration II (Bo 6151–Bo 9535) is freely available via open access from the University of Chicago. The description comments in part,

The monograph offers a large number of unpublished text fragments in photo and transliteration and gives succinct philological notes to these fragments. The fragments are part of a large collection that had been found during the early Turkish-German campaigns at the Hittite capital Hattusa before the Second World War.

Oğuz Soysal, a Hittitologist, and Başak Yıldız Gülşen, a curator of the Ankara Museum, provide photographs and transliterations of each piece.… Photos offer the users of his book all the information needed on the sign forms of the fragments, and the transliterations show how the authors have interpreted those signs. Wherever necessary, the authors give philological notes to explain certain forms or to present relevant text variants. Each fragment, if possible, is accompanied by information on its assignment to a Hittite text or text genre, the date of the composition, the fragmentʼs measurements, and previous bibliography.

HT: AWOL


Per the Digital Classicist Wiki,

Scholarship in classics frequently involves dealing with unusual alphabets, scripts, and letterforms. The Unicode standard is designed to encode the characters of the world’s writing systems (living and ancient), but it does not attempt to encode glyphs, which have been ceded to fonts and type design.

The wiki provides a helpful list of “pages dealing with fonts and specialized typographic needs of classicists.”

For more about Unicode, see “Typing Biblical Languages in Unicode.”

HT: AWOL

Daily Gleanings: Paul in RBL (10 July 2019)

In the Review of Biblical Literature, Bryan Dyer discusses Gregory Jenks’s Paul and His Mortality: Imitating Christ in the Face of Death (Eisenbrauns, 2015). Dyer summarizes,

Jenks wades through the Pauline writings and the apostle’s contextual background to address the question of how Paul thought about his own mortality. While Greco-Roman and Jewish thought certainly influenced the apostle,
it was the death and resurrection of Jesus, according to Jenks, that significantly impacted Paul’s own view of death. Countless books have been written on Paul’s understanding of Jesus’s death. Jenks asks a different question: How did Paul think about his own death? (1)

Dyer offers several critiques of Jenks’s argument (4–5) but also remarks, “these critiques aside, Jenks has offered
an engaging study of Paul’s view of mortality that should encourage others to dig even more deeply into this important theological issue.”

For the additional comments, see Dyer’s full review in RBL.


In the Review of Biblical Literature, Dean Furlong reviews Douglas Campbell’s Paul: An Apostle’s Journey (Eerdmans, 2018). Furlong reports that the book

has been warmly received in many quarters and praised for the accessibility of its scholarship. Indeed, it is a succinct work that skillfully bridges the gap between academia and the lay reader with its warm, conversational style. It is also a difficult book to categorize.… it is not a typical account of Paul’s life and theology. It seems more a series of mini-introductions to each of Paul’s letters, each of which attempts to provide some (usually helpful or provocative) sociologically informed context and to summarize Paul’s thinking while carrying its own devotional flare. Discussions of Pauline thought touch such themes as friendship building, communal relations, social capital, restorative justice, servant leadership, and God’s unconditional love. It seems clear that Campbell is attempting to distill the findings of many notable Pauline interpreters into this compact book, and this works, if one accepts that these findings best reflect Paul’s own theology; otherwise, the end result might not be quite as satisfying. (1)

For additional discussion, see Furlong’s full review in RBL.

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