Wipf and Stock at SBLAAR Craft Beer Reception

As we continue to gear up for our major fall conferences in San Diego, we’re pretty excited about Wipf and Stock’s partnership in the 2014 SBLAAR Craft Beer Reception, the brainchild of John Dunne and Christopher Brewer, sponsored by Fortress Press, with additional parters in Eerdmans, Liturgical Press, Zondervan, T & T Clark, and Somersault Group. Wipf and Stock joined as a partner to the event after this promotional video was made, so we’re not mentioned by name:

But rest assured, Wipf and Stock will be there with bells on, doing our best to represent Eugene’s phenomenal craft brewing industry. While I’m confident that our beers are better than yours—what’s a beer gathering without a little smack talk!?—I’m looking forward to getting a taste of the microbrewery explosion that is quickly turning our time into a golden age of beer, all across the land. I hope someone is planning to bring some of San Diego’s finest!

Saturday Morning Run at AAR/SBL

Calling all runners attending AAR/SBL 2014 in San Diego. You are invited to meet at the San Diego Convention Center’s famous stairs on Saturday, November 22 at 7am for a group run along the San Diego harbor.

Come early and warm up with a few trips up and down the steps.

Come early and warm up with a few trips up and down the steps.

The planned route will begin at the stairs, take us around one half of the convention center, through Embarcadero Marina Park South, by the Marina, through Embarcadero Marina Park North, through Seaport Village, past Ruocco Park and Dead Man’s Point, by the USS Midway, turning around on the Broadway Pier, and retracing our steps back to the stairs at the convention center.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at [Oct 16] 10.55

For those of you wanting something shorter, heading back to the stairs after we run through Embarcadero Marina Park South will give you about a 2 mile run, and heading back after Embarcadero Marina Park North will give you about 4 miles. Of course, you can head back at any point along the way.

The invitation is open to runners of all levels and speeds. The more the merrier. Post-run coffee is on me! Get in touch if you have any questions: chris[at]wipfandstock[dot]com.


Highlighting Books in San Diego

This year at AAR/SBL Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications will have a handful of books featured in sessions and other gatherings. Let me call your attention to a few of those.

Christian Theological Research Fellowship
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Tribute to Dallas Willard
Gary Black, Azusa Pacific University, Presiding
Saturday – 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
[NB: Gary Black is the author of The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith]


Jan Johnson, Simi Valley, CA
Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary
Mickey Maudlin, HarperCollins
Joe Maciariello, Claremont Graduate University
Keith Matthews, Azusa Pacific University
Gary Moon, Dallas Willard Center & Westmont College
Steve Porter, Biola University


Jane Willard, Dallas Willard Ministries
Becky Heatley, Dallas Willard Ministries

Latino/a and Latin American Biblical Interpretation
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 501 A (Level 5 (Cobalt)) – Hilton Bayfront (HB)

Theme: Review of Osvaldo Vena’s book, Jesus, Disciple of the Kingdom: Mark’s Christology for a Community in Crisis (Pickwick)

Gilberto Ruiz, Loyola University New Orleans, Presiding
Ched Myers, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, Panelist (15 min)
Abraham Smith, Perkins School of Theology Southern Methodist University, Panelist (15 min)
Manuel Villalobos, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
Mary Beavis, University of Saskatchewan, Panelist (15 min)
Break (5 min)
Osvaldo Vena, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Respondent (30 min)
Discussion (45 min)


Christian Theology and the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:15 PM
Room: Room 5 B (Upper level) – San Diego Convention Center (CC)

Theme: Review of Michael Gorman, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement (Cascade)

Stephen Fowl, Loyola University Maryland, Presiding
Stephen Fowl, Loyola University Maryland, Panelist (20 min)
Cherith Fee Nordling, Northern Seminary, Panelist (20 min)
Marianne Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena), Panelist (20 min)
John Wright, Point Loma Nazarene University, Panelist (20 min)
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Respondent (20 min)
Break (5 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at [Oct 16] 8.38 1

Gunkel Translation

One of the most signficant biblical scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was Hermann Gunkel. He was someone who did his doctoral work in New Testament, and then, when he couldn’t get an academic position in New Testament, became a foundational figure of modern Old Testament studies. Some of his major works have finally been translated into English: Genesis, Creation and Chaos, Introduction to Psalms. His major Psalms commentary remains untranslated.
In 2001 I re-edited and brought out a group of his essays titled Water for a Thirsty Land: Israelite Literature and Religion as part of the series Fortress Classics in Biblical Studies. And in 2009 I translated his Israel and Babylon: The Babylonian Influence of Israelite Religion (Cascade Books). I have now translated his Elijah, Yahweh, and Baal.
This volume has an unusual history. A couple of years ago I began translating it, and then I set it aside because of other duties. But this year our publisher, Jon Stock, who also owns Windows Booksellers, bought a typescript copy of a translation of the work from a library. It was clearly done about 1930, but it was anonymous. I was thrilled to get it, but then I realized it was only a draft. It had missing paragraphs, none of the footnotes were included, and the whole thing was in need of heavy editing; parts of it needed total retranslating. So soon this lovely little volume will see the light of day in English.

Praying for the damned

I was fairly recently in a church service in which the priest prayed for the soul of the deceased. The good evangelical next to me was somewhat surprised, as he could see no point in doing such a thing. Once someone has died their fate is fixed forever, he said—praying for them will make no difference.


I am currently reading Ilaria Ramelli’s magnificent book The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013). It is the most thorough study of universalism in the early church ever undertaken (900 pages of it!).

Anyway, one of the things that struck me in the early part of the book was the recurring theme of the righteous praying for the damned with the result that the latter were rescued from hell.

First, the Apocalypse of Peter, probably from Alexandria in Egypt about 135 AD. In this text, which some early church leaders considered divinely inspired, sinners endure a period of suffering in the afterlife but will ultimately attain bliss thanks to the intercessions of the righteous. They will undergo “a beautiful baptism in salvation.”

I will grant to my . . . elect all those whom they ask me to remove from punishment. And I shall grant them a beautiful baptism in salvation in the Acherusian Lake . . . a sharing of justification with my saints . . . . (Rainer fragment)

Chapter 14 has Christ declare to Peter that “You will have no more mercy on sinners than I do, for I was crucified because of them.” Because of his mercy he will give them “life, glory, and kingdom without end.” (However, lest sinners use this possibility of post-damnation salvation as an excuse to sin, they should not be told about it. This theme of not broadcasting the final salvific end of all to sinners is a theme found in Origen and other early texts.)

Second, we have the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah (probably second or third century). Here the righteous contemplate the damned in their sufferings while the damned contemplate the bliss of the righteous . . . and then they “will take part in Grace. On that day the righteous will be granted that for which they have prayed.” What the righteous have prayed for and what they receive is that those in eschatological punishment should “take part in Grace.”

Third, Epistula Apostolorum, probably from Syria around the first half of the second century. Here the disciples are worried about the punishment of sinners in the age to come. Jesus commends them for their prayers for such sinners, and assured them that “I shall listen to the prayer of the just, which they utter for sinners.”

Fourth, the widely-used  Oracula Sibyllina, Book 2 (around 150 AD), says:

And God, immortal and omnipotent, will grant another gift to these pious persons: when they ask him, he will grant them to save human beings from the fierce fire, and from the gnashing of teeth of the age to come, and will do so after pulling them out of the unquenchable flame and removing them, destining them, for the sake of his own elect, to the other life, that of the age to come, for immortals, in the Elysian Fields, where there are the long waves of the Acherusian Lake, imperishable, which has a deep bed. (2.330–38)

Fifth, the Odes of Solomon (second century AD) seems to speak of Christ breaking down the gates of hell and as rescuing all people from its clutches. Christ says,

I went on to all the prisoners, to liberate them, in order not to leave anyone enchained, or enchaining others. . . . I sowed my own fruits in their hearts, and I transformed them into myself: they received my blessing had had life. They have been gathered in me and are saved, because they have become my limbs, and I am their head” (17.8–14. Cf. ch. 42).

Sixth, in the Gospel of Nicodemus—a fourth century text that contains layers of material from much earlier—Christ has all the dead that had been bound in hell released from their prisons. He snatched all the dead from sin and Satan and death: “No dead is left with us: all those whom you [Satan] had gained with the tree of knowledge, you have now lost with the tree of the Cross.”

Seventh, the Apocalypse of Paul (perhaps third century) envisages the postmortem repentance of sinners followed by a baptism in the Acherusian Lake (ch. 22). In ch. 24 those who cannot enter the New Jerusalem because of their haughtiness are finally allowed to enter, thanks to intercession.

As an aside, a whole bunch of texts speak of how God will eventually “have mercy on all” (e.g., the Life of Adam and Eve, Latin recension) or will “liberate everyone from the enslavement to Beliar” (the devil) (Testament of Zebulon 9.8)

Eighth, in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the heroine and apostle (Thecla) prayed for a dead and lost woman called Falconilla. Her prayers were answered and the damned Falconilla was transferred to the place of rest of the righteous (3.28–29).

Ninth, the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis (c. 200 AD). Here the dead brother of Perpetua appears to her in a vision in a miserable condition. He had died at the age of seven and had not been baptized. His sister prays for him and he receives postmortem baptism and salvation.

That early Christians did not consider the fate of the dead to be sealed and unchangeable is further indicated also by the fact that offerings for the dead were made (as attested by Tertullian and Cyprian).

The above merely picks out a few items from a small part of Ramelli’s massive study. What she demonstrates across the book as a whole is that the roots of universalism go back far earlier than is usually realized—it was not some “out of the blue” invention of Origen—and that universalism was far more widely spread across the early church than is usually realized.

My interest in this blog post is simply to suggest that many early Christians would not have shared our qualms about praying for the salvation of those in hell. Perhaps it is a practice that ought to be reintroduced.

Cornel West’s Indictment of Barack Obama

I was among those who voted excitedly for Barack Obama in 2008 (and then again in 2012, though without as much excitement). In part, this was due to relief of having George W. Bush out of office. But beyond that, I had hopes Obama might be a new FDR. Of course, my expectations were too high, and in that unfair to Obama. And the fecklessness and ineffectiveness of Obama’s presidency is owed in no small part to an obstructionist Congress that set out to sabotage Obama’s work as soon as he was elected. Still, President Obama has disappointed all on his own. His presidency has continued governmental coziness with Wall Street. His drone bombings have included indiscriminate deaths of civilians, and have extended the open-ended  war on terror. Government secrecy and surveillance has intensified under his watch.

Now emerging as one of President Obama’s severest critics is the theologian and social critic Cornel West. West’s just-released book, Prophetic Fire (Beacon), focuses mainly on figures in what he calls the Black Prophetic tradition, such as Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ella Baker. But in the process of discussing these figures, West has scathing words for Obama’s presidency. Such as:

The profound failings of President Obama can be seen in his Wall Street government, his indifference to the new Jim Crow (or prison-industrial complex) and his expansion of imperial criminality in terms of the vast increase of the number of drones since the Bush years. In other words, the Obama presidency has been primarily a Wall Street presidency, drone presidency, mass surveillance presidency unwilling to concretely target the new Jim Crow, massive unemployment, and other forms of poor and Black social misery.

West elaborates:

The bailout of Wall Street by the Obama administration, rather than the bailout of homeowners, hurt millions of working people. The refusal of the Obama administration to place a priority on jobs with a living wage reinforced massive unemployment, and the sheer invisibility of poor people’s plight in public policy has produced more social despair among weak and vulnerable citizens. The unprecedented historical symbolism of the first Black president has misled many if not most Black people to downplay his substantial neoliberal policies and elevate his (and his family’s) brilliant and charismatic presence. . . . To sell one’s soul for a mess of Obama pottage is to trash the priceless Black prophetic tradition. Is it not hypocritical to raise one’s voice when the pharaoh is white but have no critical word to say when the pharaoh is Black? If the boot is on our neck, does it make any difference what color the foot is in the boot?

West is surely the most visible African American public figure to speak critically of President Obama. It may, at first blush, be surprising for an Black American to indict our first Black president. But to expect Black Americans to speak monolithically as one is but another way of disciplining and repressing actual Black voices. West’s bold critique has its place. By and large, it rings true.



MLK on Ecclesial Power

There is much handwringing in American Christianity about what feels like the church’s growing loss of status and power in our culture. Everyone knows that membership roles are shrinking among the mainline denominations, and there is quite a bit of concern—I would even say panic—among conservative Catholics and evangelicals about the increasingly aggressive behavior of the reigning secular liberal elite. Concerned contemporary Christians seem to look back at mid-20th century American Christianity as a high water mark for power and influence in American culture.

Instructive, then, to re-encounter these famous words from Martin Luther King Jr., penned originally in the margins of a newspaper article and then on various scraps of paper, coming together as what we now know as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (h/t to Diana Butler Bass for quoting portions of this letter recently on her Facebook page):

I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen….

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. . . Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

In MLK’s estimation, mid 20th century American Christianity, pervasive and prominent and respectable as it was, was actually a vitiated, utterly weak, and ineffectual body of people. A strong and powerful church, on the other hand, could be a rag-tag minority on the fringe of empire. Its strength lay not in its numbers but in its conviction.

I think about this upside-down sort of power often when I consider the so-called culture wars. Near as I can tell, no party to such wars is interested in reclaiming the joy of suffering for the sake of the gospel. That’s a good way to tell, I think, that such wars have very little to do with the faith that made Christianity possible in the first place.

Publishing a book ain’t easy!

Yesterday Peter Enns wrote a helpful post about “writing gooder and even more gooder books.” The post was about what he did to find a literary agent. The takeaway, however, was the list of books he recommended. The post is worth reading. But I wonder how many folks ought to be searching for a literary agent. Very few of the books we publish come our way via an agent. This may be because of the sorts of books we publish and the nature of our publishing model. I still wonder whether there are larger forces at work in the book publishing world. I’m reminded of the post by Berrett-Koehler publisher Steve Piersant, now a few years old. Piersant lists and expands on 10 awful truths about book publishing. The list without expansion is as follows:

  1. The number of books being published every year has exploded.
  2. Book industry sales are declining, despite the explosion of books published.
  3. Despite skyrocketing e-book sales, overall book sales are still shrinking.
  4. Average book sales are shockingly small, and falling fast.
  5. A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.
  6. It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books.
  7. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities.
  8. Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers.
  9. No other industry has so many new product introductions.
  10. The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil.

You can see the list with expansion, as well as a list of 10 wonderful truths about book publishing, here.

The truth about advertising—funny and “on the ball”


Poor North American kids