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The Miracles of Jesus and Vespasian

This weekend, I was honored to be able to present a paper at the Southwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society which was held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the first formal conference paper I’ve presented and it was a tremendous experience.

The title for the paper was, Evaluating the Healing Miracles of Vespasian and Jesus – Garet Robinson.

Vespasian To summarize the point of the paper, too often we hear a criticism that the authors of the New Testament simply drew on contemporary myths and stories to frame their various presentations of Jesus’ life and ministry. Especially when it comes to Jesus’ miraculous works, other examples stand as common stories out of which the Gospel writers framed and enhanced the historical Jesus.

One of the contemporary counter-examples is Vespasian, who rose to power at the end the year of four emperors in CE 69 and established the Flavian dynasty in Rome. Vespasian, for his many conquests and dramatic rise to power, also had some healing miracles attributed to him in the mid-60s during his time in Alexandria. Of his popular biographers, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio all describe these healing miracles.

As part of the method to evaluate the different healing miracles of Jesus and Vespasian, for Jesus’ part I used the data available from the Gospel of Mark and the six healing miracles which the Jesus Seminar has agreed are the most historically attested. (That will draw the ire of some for sure, but as this is a critical inquiry for apologetic purposes the method is to use the most critical scholarship to establish and evaluate the miracles regardless of my personal position.) The six hearings considered are: Peter’s mother-in-law (GMk 1:29ff); the leper (GMk 1:40-45); the paralytic (GMk 2:1-12); the hemorrhaging woman (GMk 5:24b-34); the blind man of Bethsaida (GMk 8:22-26); Blind Bartimaeus (GMk 10:46-52.)

Essentially what this boils down to is, that Vespasian has healing miracles of at least two men before a crowd in Alexandria of varying ailments after consulting some medical professionals and being assured of the successfulness of his venture. As his biographers note, because of this feat Vespasian was able to enlist the support of the Roman legion and add to his credentials (divine sanction being a plus) in the quest to become emperor of Rome.

Jesus, on the other hand, heals individuals who either seek him out or are brought to his attention, mostly in private and in the region where he was conducting most of his ministry. In each of the episodes Jesus is the only agent healing and does so without assistance from anyone else. These miracles, except Blind Bartimaeus, are attested to by the other Synoptic authors.

There are points of similarity between Jesus and Vespasian’s healing miracles:

  • They are effective to heal the individuals completely at their completion.
  • The agent (Jesus or Vespasian) is able to heal on their own without any additional assistance from someone else.
  • In the biographical accounts of the agent, there is somewhat close proximity to their life of these miracles. The Synoptics are written, by the latest account within 50 years of Jesus’ life; Vespasian’s biographies are dated later but still within 40 years at the earliest and 150 years at the latest.
  • Some aspects of the healing, spitting on the eyes or touching the individual needing to be healed, are similar between Jesus and Vespasian.

However, some differences to exist between the two story lines:

  • For those being healed by Jesus, they are beyond medical assistance and have been suffering with these ailments for quite some time. Those in Vespasian’s stories are not entirely beyond medical aid, as recorded by his biographers, and seem to only have been suffering for some short time.
  • Jesus’ healing miracles occur in the region of Galilee where he is conducting his initial ministry. Vespasian’s healing miracles occur in Alexandria, a major city for certain, but one that is far removed from the final seat of power in Rome. If Jesus’ healing miracles had been false they would have been easily seen as frauds and he would have been discredited whereas for Vespasian, only the most eager critic would have both the means and time to travel far to Alexandria and check his story out.
  • Vespasian’s healings appear to be limited to this one account, with some variance in the attestation by his biographers. Jesus’ healing miracles are multiple attested and Christus_Bartimaeus_Johann_Heinrich_Stoever_Erbach_Rheingauuniformly carry the same features. However, Jesus’ healing miracles are more numerous, even in this critical recounting, and across a wider breadth of his ministry.
  • Finally, Jesus seems to welcome those seeking healing without question of their motives or chastisement. Vespasian, however, mocks those coming and, only after being assured of his successfulness in performing the miracle, does he step forward to complete the task.

 

In the end, there is some similarity and some difference between Jesus and Vespasian’s healing miracles. Being able to consider them alongside each other is a helpful venture for apologetic and historical purposes.

As one of the observers to my session pointed out, it would be fascinating to consider if Jesus’ healing miracles stood as the example for the historical figures of antiquity (following Jesus’ life) to borrow from or mold their stories around. Usually we only hear about how the Gospel and NT writers drew from their surroundings and, as best I can surmise, we never hear about the reverse.

Hopefully, this is a step towards another discussion. The historical Jesus is an intriguing field of study and setting him alongside his contemporaries and near messianic rivals is worth our time and effort. It might be concerning for some, but in the end, with the proper methodology, I believe we reinforce the historical Jesus in such exercises.

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25
Dec 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Three Essential Staff Hires

One of the key challenges with any organization is finding and staffing the best talent. Churches are not unique among organizations even though they have different staffing needs. There are some essential positions that need to be filled and, for many churches, finding the right staff member for these positions can make or break a ministry area.

As I’ve been talking with other ministers and staffing professionals, we’ve noticed that there are three specific positions that are needed in churches. Maybe if we were to title this a bit more provocatively, we’d say they are the Three Fastest Growing Staff Positions.

In short, these three positions (possibly in order of need):

  1. Worship leader
  2. Children’s Minister
  3. Executive/Administrative Pastor

 

Now, what do we mean here? Well we’re first anticipating that the senior pastor position is filled. A church without a lead pastor (or at least lead communicator) needs to secure that position before anything else. The other three are essential to staffing a growing church.

Worship Leader – more than any other position on staff, the worship leader is of central importance. They are to be the lead worshippers, not superstars or rockstars, not showmen or entertainers. They have the unique calling to lead others into worship and set the tone for a worship service. The skill set required to accomplish that previous sentence is immense, and the calling from God must be just as immense. Yet for a quality, and qualified, worship leader, they are in short supply and great demand. As many of us have seen, the right worship leader can lead us into the holy places of God. The wrong worship leader (even if they have musical talent coming out the ears) can lead us into spiritual wilderness and rob of a church of its greatness. Finding a worship leader who understands they aren’t a rock star and can shoulder the burden of authentic leadership is difficult, but worth every moment of prayer, exploration, and interest.

Children’s Minister – there is nothing more precious in Jesus’ ministry than the children who sat before him and took in his teaching. As he noted in Matthew 19:14, child like faith typifies the earnestness with which we pursue to the Kingdom of God. Having a great children’s minister will help grow the faith of an entire church as the entire family is properly ministered to and reached with the Gospel. For many leaders in new churches, having a great children’s minister is more important than a student/youth pastor. For the one who is called and equipped to minister gently, firmly, and authentically to children and their parents, the pathway for ministry is great. Great children’s ministers understand that their ministry isn’t just to the littlest among us, but also to their parents. They have a platform for instruction unparalleled by almost any in the church, when they minister properly. Just like with worship leaders, children’s minister must be so cautious about their own lives and the lives of the adult volunteers they work with. Jesus words in Matthew 18:6 stand out as one principal text. Yet in the the right hands, a ministry to children grows a church from its youngest to its oldest members with deep roots of firmly planted families.

Executive Pastor – this also includes the administrative pastor role. So many senior pastors of churches have a deep passion for their people but lack the time, or perhaps skill set, to properly look after the daily ministry of a church. Having a quality executive pastor who understand their role is the same as the person who sits in the second chair of the orchestra can help a church and its staff grow and see seasons of faithfulness. Being a senior pastor necessitates involvement in the lives of attenders, members, and staffers. This kind of activity takes time and time devoted here draws away time from administrative and oversight tasks. The executive pastor position provides someone who can, when properly empowered and fully trusted, direct the staff, manage the facilities, align the strategy, and execute the vision at a level that permits the senior pastor to be true under-shepherd to the congregation. It is a challenging position because of the need for a great leader who is willing subordinate themselves publicly to the authority of a senior pastor and upholding the shared vision of the leadership team. This role also requires a refined skill set. Too often the executive pastor can draw their own limelight, but ultimately they must be willing to redirect everything to glorify God.

In all three of these growing staff positions, there are needed skills and even more needed calling. When a young seminarian asks about potential leadership avenues in a church, these are generally the three categories of staff positions I mention if they are uninterested in being a senior, or lead, pastor.

Though just hiring a great staff member won’t grow a church beyond that congregation’s trust in the leadership of the Holy Spirit, it can be a signal of the movement of the Spirit in their midst.

For each of these three positions, there is a growing number of churches looking for individuals who will fulfill these roles. Having great staff members who can impact those in our communities and churches provides a continued basis for growing and thriving churches. These three positions are key staffing positions also reflect the changing nature of ministry in the new century.

So, what staff positions are you looking at hiring? What are key positions in your church that go unfilled but are vitally needed?

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Weekly Wrap Up

Here are some links from around the World Wide Web that will bring you joy and frivolity.

Dole-Kemp ’96 Campaign Website – Well the Presidential Campaign Website from the Republican ticket is still up. Now I don’t talk about politics on this site, instead this is more of a journey down memory lane. It’s the digital equivalent of finding a musty old book.

Trevin Wax Interviews Peter Leithart – Here’s a wonderful interview of the author of  Defending Constantine on his new bookBetween Babel and Beast: America and Empire in Biblical PerspectiveIt seems the thesis of the text is evaluating contemporary America alongside biblical examples. Might be an interesting (and clearly non-political) read.

Finding Great Illustrations – ProPreacher.com gives some great insight about going about discovering some great illustrations that will enhance your preaching.

Teaching Theology in a Local Church Setting – The whole is not a seminary, but there’s no reason the local church can’t offer some great theologically based classes. Chuck Lawless gives some suggestions on “how to.”

Here’s a great little piece on encountering Flannery O’Connor – Anytime we can introduce people to the genius of Flannery O’Connor we should take a moment to do so. Here’s your opportunity.

A Former Scientologist Reviews “After Earth” – Well, the title seems to say it all.

Larry Hurtado on the NT’s Literary Environment – A terrific little post on how external literary forms and themes might have influenced the construction of the NT.

Darrell Bock and the Historical Adam – Dr Bock provides some links and a podcast discussion on the current trending topic of the historical Adam.

Millennials are Great Employees, if you Connect with Them – A post from the Harvard Business Review on how employers and connect and leverage their millennial workers. Imagine if we took this information and applied it to our churches.

Finally, the venerable Dr Jim West was posted his Biblical Studies Carnival in Exile which is rife with humor and a plethora of great links. Go there and tell him you want some cotton candy while you read.

And if you get a chance check the other Biblical Studies Carnival from Jeff Carter…who seems to be a far more legitimate version of this fanciful blogfest.

Grace and peace to you all!

01
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Measuring Up

One of the challenges of living in an increasingly post-Christian culture that is fragmented and dispersed as we are, is that how we engage with church and activities is changing. Even up into the late 1980s, maybe the early 1990s, we could reasonably expect regular, consistent attendance at events and programs. Indeed, the average church built their year around a programatic structure where we could move people from event to event to event to event and expect that this would be a decent marker of how well a church was doing in its ministry. 

With the explosion of fragmented and dispersed people, who are often faithful believers, that is driven by a shift in technology, media, and social involvement this programatic model is suffering a much needed death. The challenge for church leaders is understanding that there are two kinds of measures that go into assessing how well, or not, a church is accomplishing its goals and ministry.

Vertical Measures – are largely how many church leaders track, analyze, and assess their ministries. This approach asks the question: how many people showed up to (insert activity.) It is fundamentally a church of last century approach to ministry assessment. It has, as an underlying assumption, that church folk are moved and motivated to personal growth by attending events and regular involvement in ministry. Vertical measures track numbers and draw conclusions based on those numbers. (How many of us have a designated counter on Sunday morning.) They are also how most senior leaders have been taught, in both seminary and vocational life, how to assess programs and ministries.

Horizontal Measures – seek to track how many people are moving along in their journey of spiritual maturity. This approach asks the question: how many people are being changed/transformed in their spiritual lives? In utilizing this approach, church leaders attempt to understand how people are drawn from being passive observers (imagine the people in the stands of a baseball game) and grown into active contributors (the players on the field.) This is a difficult assessment to get our arms around, particularly since our measure tools are designed to track this growth. When leaders move to utilizing this measure as a primary tool for assessing ministry performance the metrics change and conversations are shaped differently.

Horizontal Measures

For churches that are seeking to grow their ministries (not necessarily numerical growth) the horizontal measures, appropriately tracked, might lead to increased vertical measures. Here the focus is on making disciples, making maturing Christians. With the fragmented and dispersed people who fill our pews and chairs from week to week, their weekly/regular attendance isn’t a metric of their spiritual maturity. Frankly, many spiritually mature church goers know where and how to get resources for their own growth that are unconnected with the specific church where they serve.

How church and ministry leaders develop tools and metric to measure horizontal growth becomes the key matter. Perhaps some questions lead will bring about some focus: how many more of our people are interested in missions work (local, international)? how are we doing starting a new ministry to an external need? where do we turn for new group leaders? how are doing filling vital volunteer positions? how are our people doing in moving from an inward focus to an outward service? how are we doing moving people from sitting and soaking to being involved in serving and giving?

Horizontal measures help develop people and draw them along a spectrum of spiritual maturity. Of course we can still use vertical measures, but to exclusively rely on them misunderstands appropriate ministry goals. A good balance between the two measures will bring about a healthier ministry culture and more informed leaders as we consider our next opportunities for expanded ministry.

 So what do you think? What are some ideal measures of horizontal growth?

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Why Pro Ecclesia

If there is one truth that I’ve encountered in my time in ministry, both studying it and being actively involved, it is that there are few topics which bring more passion than discussions about the Church and our churches.

People are passionate about church matters in a way that is unlike other things in this world. If you begin talking with someone who is involved in a local church about what their experiences are and what they believe about that church you are often in for an deep conversation. That isn’t a bad thing. Most everyone who is involved in a local church has ideas and thoughts about their experiences, what the focus should be, how things are going, and even what isn’t happening. Especially when you talk with ministers or leaders in local churches, these expectations and thoughts bring out tremendously passionate conversations.

This is probably why there is a whole segment of books and magazines exclusively devoted to church development. Some of these resources are quite good, some of them are mediocre, and others are rather bad. Yet each one seeks to work out its own niche within the larger church conversation.

As I’ve been serving in churches on staff I’ve heard and been involved in many conversations about church that often refer back to some of these resources. One of the challenges of the resources that are out there, and many other avenues of insight, is that they contribute to a cacophony of voices about our churches and it often ends up being background noise.

Over the past several years I’ve been actively studying different issues in theology as part of a PhD. Too often when I consider an issue about some nature of the theology of the church I read the academic side, which is well thought out and expertly researched, and see there is a disconnect with the practical side of church work. Through my work I’ve noticed there is a considerable gap between the academic world and the practical world. Frankly, neither side cares much what the other thinks of them.

So this is where I  hope to make a contribution. My primary focus for ministry is how we unpack and apply life changing ministry within the context of the local church. Ultimately, everything we talk about and do in academic circles rises and falls on its application within the local church. There is a gap in the conversation which this blog will, hopefully, seek to bridge.

I’ll be working out some of my basic assumptions concerning the nature of church ministry over the next several weeks but the focus of this blog will be in several areas:

  • How and why of the Church
  • Church growth and development
  • Church strategy
  • Church doctrines
  • Historical discussions
  • Resource evaluations
  • Apologetic discussions
  • pretty much whatever else fits this

 

My goal here is simple: to provide a middle ground between the theoretical and practical while encouraging and challenging churches of all size to accomplish the Great Commission in our world. 

 

Also, starting a new blog is certainly nothing worth getting too excited about. Though this blog has been on my mind and heart for some time, I hadn’t felt the timing was appropriate begin. Now seems a bit more appropriate. Please check my thoughts on how I’ll proceed and also some boundaries I’m establishing about this site.

Hopefully this will be a God honoring, Christ exalting, Spirit led effort that will encourage the Church and build stronger churches. So, what’s next?

06
May 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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