Was the Early Church of Acts a Communism?

Reading along for some background data concerning the organization and polity of the earliest Christian communities (there are none earlier than Acts) and I came across a wonderful point from Carsten Colpe:

Christian CommunismThis social structure is not a form of “communism” if one means it the communal possession of the means of production, for the private property of the Nazaraeans, from which a profit is realized and distributed, is maintained (in distinction to the Essenes). Also, this social structure is not a form of “egalitarianism,” since everyone received according to need. Finally, this social structure is not a form of “collectivism,” since there was neither communal production nor central administration of communally produced income. If one must use a modern sociological term, one may speak here of a “consumer cooperative” – yet with the absolute restriction that participation was voluntary (5:4) and the relationship between supply and demand was not regulated by contract. It is also possible that the example of important benefactors – only the Cypriot Barnabas and the local Ananias (4:36; 5:1-2) are mentioned by name – has established standards, by which the individual again and again, yet differently from case to case, is oriented towards the members’ mutual obligation to support each other financially.Carston Colpe from “The Oldest Jewish-Christian Community” pg 91 in Christian Beginnings: Word an Community from Jesus to Post-Apostolic Times edited by Jürgen Becker.

I rather agree with his point, and to the secondary point that present day political monikers (-isms) are difficult to ascribe to antiquity with high levels of congruity. Anyways, since there are a bunch of folks getting way too worried about Pope Francis’ “socialism” we should also note that the earliest communities were not inherently capitalistic either. The entire nature of the economy at this point was so mightily different than what we experience it is hard to characterize in present day terminology.

However, we can say that the early communities were voluntary associations of messianic believers who collaborated to promote hospitality among each other and care for the poor and indigent outside their ranks.

This isn’t communism or socialism.

Jan 2014



PhD Languages: Thoughts on Finishing

The bane of many a PhD in humanities (and perhaps other categories) existence is often not the endless research and papers to write for seminars, those are indeed difficult, but it is the requirement of two research languages that is attached to their degree. While many PhD candidates are fine intellectuals there is something about a foreign language that is indeed difficult.

If you’ve been around a PhD candidate for very long you’ll inevitably hear laments about their program requirements. Generally, most humanities PhDs (of which biblical studies, theology, and history are part of this larger category) require each candidate to demonstrate sufficient reading ability for two research languages that is appropriate for their degree. Often, for theological students, these languages can be taken from French, German, and Latin. Given the amount of primary and secondary source literature in the fields of theological studies, being able to engage with these works will round out one’s studies. (I’ve written previously on this here.)

My own experience has been no different.

Since January I set out to learn and pass reading exams for two research languages for the PhD candidacy. My two languages were German and French. Having already done some preliminary studies (about twenty fifteen years ago…yes that’s it) in high school, and after forgetting most of it, I began with German.

However, for both my method was similar. I set out how long I had to finish my language with an exam and the developed a study plan.

1. Chose an appropriate primary textbook and secondary support material. For German, I already had Modern Theological German: A Reader and Dictionary by Helmut Ziefle. I supplemented this with German Quickly by April Wilson. For French, since I primarily did my study through an online program, I was assigned Reading French for the Arts and Sciences by Edward Stack. To this I added Reading French: A Guide for Students of Religion and Theology by K Janet Ritch.

2. After laying out my calendar (and noting times when my ministry responsibilities would call for more time than studying) I noted when I would work on a chapter in the primary texts and corresponding assignments.

3. Since one of the best lessons I was taught by my Greek professor in seminary was that “a language is caught not taught” I made sure that every day something was done in the particular language. As a result I also began translating specific biblical passages that would help in getting a sense of the nature and vocabulary of the language. So every day, depending on the language, I would make sure to translate something from an assignment and Scripture.

4. During my translations and exercises I used the dictionary that I had purchased for use during the exam. This helped with getting to know the dictionary.

5. For the assignments, and this is just the way I learn, I wrote out, by hand, the entire lesson and went back over it several times, reciting aloud what the author had written. This helped in getting the sense of what was being required.

6. As I neared the exam date I began sitting down and translating fresh passages (usually from one of the readers I was using, not Scripture) to see how I was doing in assimilating the language.

7. Once I had some initial lessons under my belt, I began going to German and French newspaper sites to read stories with as little help from my dictionaries as possible. For German I used Der Spiegel and for French Le Monde. This helped with learning basic vocabulary.

Learn the languages so you can read this guy...again, and again, and again...

Learn the languages so you can read this guy…again, and again, and again…

By the time I got to my exam, for German it was in March and for French it was August, I was comfortable with the language and able to work through the exams. While I make no illusions that I can produce highly readable translations right now, I do rejoice in passing my two exams.

One of the larger challenges for English speaking students is getting the sense of an inflected language and how they are different from English. Since I had much of the basics for German already in place, it simply became about re-familiarizing myself with the basics and then building on that foundation. French was more difficult since I had no ideas about the language.

So, for PhD candidates worried about the languages, perhaps this above rubric for learning and preparing will help.

My own experience might not be helpful, but it worked for me. I still recommend that PhD candidates be required to show reading knowledge of one research language halfway through their seminars. While my program did not require this, the languages are required prior to dissertation work, it is beneficial and for the students.

I’m still working on my languages since several primary source texts for my dissertation are in either French or German.

So how do you learn languages? What are some ways you’ve found to confidently grow in reading another language? What are some pitfalls to this approach?

Sep 2013



Why the Languages are Important for a PhD

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been devoting myself to learning theological French in order to satisfy my second research language requirement prior to my comprehensive examinations.

There is often a push and pull in a PhD program about any number of the requirements. As I’ve seen in my evaluations of different programs before actually entering one, the requirements are often the same across the board. Particularly for those of us pursuing PhDs in a humanities subject (such as theology, history, etc) one of the requirements are two research languages. On my degree completion plan, I have the option of any of two of three research languages: German, French, and Latin.

Not too long ago there was a bit of a dust up about whether or not PhDs in New Testament needed to know Greek for their final examinations. It resulted in a good conversation around the blogosphere. Why a PhD in New Testament should be able to graduate without reading knowledge of Greek is a mystery to me. A PhD, more than any other degree in the university curriculum, should demonstrate mastery of a field of research. So, along those lines, I have no problem stating:

Research languages (i.e. foreign) are important and should continue to be required for those pursuing PhDs in humanities subjects.

Part of proper scholarship is the engagement with a broad array of thinkers and scholars. To best do this, being able to get outside of the box that one’s primary language creates allows access to some who will stretch a student/scholar’s abilities and thought processes. Even today, when we have more access to translated scholarship, there still remains a substantial body of literature outside the English language that should be engaged. Online translating tools, such as Google Translate, remain unreliable and often give incorrect translations of texts as they lack the ability to distinguish nuance.

In my own studies, in historical ecclesiology, I’ve encountered a number of works that meet this classification. For my dissertation, one of the key works that I am using is by a German scholar of the late 1800s, Rudolph Sohm. In writing Kirchenrecht, Sohm argues that the earliest churches had no ecclesiastical constitution but were ruled by a charisma (understood differently than the charismatics of today) which provided leadership for those who were seen as gifted by God. This is an essential point for my work on the role of local church autonomy in the early churches. However, Sohm’s work has never been translated into English. (A challenge I might take up…after my dissertation.)

Other examples abound.

Having competency in two research languages allows one to engage in this kind of broader research and fill out the views that would be other otherwise unavailable to the student.

Along these lines it is important to note this: a PhD isn’t a gimme degree.

Too many students believe that just because they pay tuition and submit assignment they deserve a degree. Our entire higher education system has become a secondary entitlement program where students demand degrees and passable grades for shoddy work.

Because a PhD is a rigorous degree it should also have requirements that are equally rigorous.

To be honest, over the past month I’ve been staying up until about 2 AM most mornings working on my French so I might pass a competency exam. This isn’t fun, but it is absolutely worth it. There are certainly other things I could be doing, but because I’m enrolled in a PhD program I have purposely set aside these things to pursue a higher calling. Languages are difficult and add an important step of rigor to a PhD.

PhDs are important degrees for those who desire the highest levels of intellectual engagement and academic accomplishment. If you cannot learn two research languages that might be a good indication that you aren’t cut out for a PhD. This likely will sound like a kind of elitist, and it certainly is. We should have no illusions that a PhD is as simple to achieve as an undergraduate degree. The language requirements of a PhD are an effective vetting mechanism to ensure that the highest qualified students (note, this is intellectual qualification not monetary) are obtaining these degrees.

Finally, the language requirements of a PhD provide an important tool for a lifetime of scholarship that awaits. Though I am not entirely convinced that Latin, German, and French should be the only research languages, this harkens of colonialism, a student should have the ability to add in an appropriate language. By having two research languages in their research tool chest, academics are prepared to provide quality research and engagement with works that have yet to be written.

Perhaps, in summation, the language requirements for a PhD are important for these three reasons:

  • The ability to engage in a broad discipline of research and scholarship
  • A reasonable vetting step for the most rigorous of academic degrees
  • Developing tools for a lifetime of scholarship


So what do you think? How have you engaged with research languages? Are there other reasons for requiring languages for a PhD?

Aug 2013



Seminary: What is it Good For?

Millennials are challenging many facets of our social expectations. It should not be surprising that as they approach traditional educational avenues they will seek out different goals and applications of their degrees. Of course, approaching continuing education with a non-traditional goal is not limited to Millennials.

Recently, a survey of seminary students by the Association of Theological Schools reveals that only 41% of seminary graduates (of their accredited institutions) plan on pursuing pastoral ministry upon graduation. This is down from 51% in 2001 and obviously far below the 90% recorded in the 1950s.

This is more data about the changing face of ministry training. Seminary is becoming increasingly seen as ancillary for vocational ministry but also a reasonable alternative for individuals who want a deep theological training as they pursue a vocation outside of a traditional ministry role. There are two sides to this coin, but it is noteworthy to point out that for many seminarians the MDiv isn’t the requisite degree for pastoral ministry. Other degrees (MACE, MRE, MAT, etc) provide just as qualified a theological education and, for many evangelical churches, they simply are looking for candidates with a Master’s degree from an appropriate seminary. Now, the study should give us pause. One of the things to celebrate is that, perhaps, this data reflects a growing missional movement among seminarians who want to receive world class theological education and then go apply it in secular marketplaces. This is a kind of tent-making industry view that allows them to advance the Gospel where traditional ministers cannot reach. If this is the case this is a good thing.

One challenge though is that a clergy which lacks appropriate theological bona fides (I’m not saying an MDiv automatically provides this) can create churches that lack theological depth and inquiry. I doubt there are few serious ministers who would say we need more shallow, consumeristic, cosmetic Christian churches in America. To be a pastor, or church leader, requires that one be well rounded theologically (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim 3:2, 6.) While seminary provides a platform to advance in our theological growth, I’m not entirely certain it is solely the place for this and nor am I convinced our seminaries (by and large) are developing ministry-ready pastors.


However, I’m going to give some push back on these numbers as reflecting the actual ministry environment for seminary studies across the United States and even globally. Since the ATS survey is limited to only its member institutions it does not take into account non-ATS schools which are accredited by another agency (TRACS, SACS, etc) or are unaccredited. Many ATS schools are affiliated with mainline denominations which are seeing lower numbers of members desiring to enter the ranks of their clergy. The true growth of pastoral minded seminarians is likely outside ATS schools and inside these other schools. I would venture to guess if we were able to tack all of these seminaries we would find the numbers of students planning on entering pastoral ministry would jump, maybe as high as 60%.

Perhaps more clarification will come. We can certainly look forward to that, and in the meantime celebrate the possibility that there is a move afoot to take theologically trained leaders into the marketplace to grow the Kingdom of God in significant ways.

What do you think? How is seminary education changing? How are students changing seminary education?

Jun 2013



PhD Apps and Resources

In approaching the final months of my PhD program in historical theology, I have been contemplating the various apps and resources I use for my research and writing. Over the past several years I’ve been able, through my seminars, to try out some different tools and see which fit. The list below contains the tools I’ve found best fit the approach that works. Certainly there are others out there, but this seems to work the best for my needs.

Programs (both computer and iOs)

Word – Microsoft is the bane of many folks’ existence and it receives a lot of criticism. However, it is the best word processor and paper writing tool out there. With the integration of the Endnote toolbar, I’ve found that the process of writing seminar papers is quite easy. Granted, I took the time to learn the ins and outs of the program through some online and in class tutorials. How we arrange and set styles, how you can remove gigantic spaces between footers, and how to create page breaks that reflect appropriate pagination requirements are just a few things that are easily resolvable when you know the program.

Evernote – This program has revolutionized my entire research and thinking process. I currently keep the program on two computers and my iPad so I can work on notes in various places (office, study, library, Starbucks, etc.) By creating distinct folders, sub-folders, and carefully managing files I’ve gone from pages and pages of handwritten notes (and painful handcramps) to a completely paperless system. With the additional of Evernote Clipper (which I desperately wish could be used on my iOs devices) my ability to grab articles, webpages, research data, and other relevant materials quickly for later review and classification has exploded. This is the best tool in my entire box.

Dropbox – Navigating PDFs and documents between my laptop and iPad is made simple with this cloud based system. I have the central filing system separated in folders for: church matters, personal items, PhD research, and a couple of other shared folders. Then each major folder has appropriate sub-folders. For my PhD research I have created a sub-folder for each seminar and then transfered them to a portable harddrive when I’m finished with the seminar. (The best moment is moving a folder into the “completed seminars” folder.) Dropbox is essential for my work as it is integrated with some apps below.

Endnote – Perhaps the greatest difference in research over the past fifteen years has been the development and sophistication of the documentation programs. I’ve used Endnote since my master’s degree. Though I’ve tried other programs, for my purposes Endnote is the best. With its latest update I’m deeply impressed the integration of many facets of the program. The Endnote Web feature is also very helpful. As aforementioned, the integration with Word allows me to drop in properly formatted citations and footnotes into papers as I go through the “Cite While You Write” system. This has saved me about 2 to 4 hours of formatting per paper. I can’t stress how important this kind of documentation and citation program is. There are other options, check them out here.

Apps (primarily iOs)

I use my iPad extensively for my research and work. Frankly, it is the workhorse of my life. Here are some apps I use in my research.

iAnnotate PDF – I have moved almost exclusively to non-paper research. Where there is paper (other than lengthy texts) I scan and create PDFs. Through iAnnotate I can mark up, highlight, notate and export these PDFs to my Endnote program for storage and immediate reference. iAnnotate has been great and as it interfaces with Dropbox, I can easily download, work on, and then upload PDFs to the cloud.

Notes Plus – This is how I take notes in seminar and often while I do some research in the library or my study. It allows for handwritten notes on my iPad using my JotNot Plus stylus. When I’ve received PDFs of presentations I can import those and mark them up. As a side note, I also use this app for taking notes during couples counseling sessions.

– The research language requirement is important for a PhD. However, sometimes I need to get the idea of a scholar who is writing in Latin, Italian, French, German, etc without taking up the labor intensive time of carefully translating. So I use this app to get that idea and see if I need to return and carefully translate. This makes my research a bit easier, but it isn’t a clean translation and needs to be carefully understood.

Kindle – When I can, I use Amazon’s Kindle for eBooks. It is a great app and a great system. Though I don’t (and probably won’t) own a Kindle device, this app allows me to grab eBooks from Amazon, mark them up, take notes, search, and carry thousands of them with me and they only weigh 2 lbs. Its just as good as the iBooks app in my opinion.

Google Play Books – Google Books has done a lot to bring out of print texts that are still important to the table of contemporary scholarship. So their app is helpful, though not without limitations. I use this app often and have about forty out of print books which are germane to my research loaded.

 Accordance – Though I also have the Mac version, for my research in historical theology (particularly patristics) the iPad app has allowed me to carry, search, note, and reference over 1,000 texts all on my iPad. The Mac version has a better search tool, but the iPad has sufficed in about 75% of the time. Also, during a couple of seminars I have been able to utilize the biblical texts side to bring up and discuss relevant matters to the seminar.

Logos Bible – I don’t own Logos’ computer based system. However, I do have about 600 volumes on my iPad which are indexed, searchable, cross-referenced, and always available. This is a good program and it has aided my studies.

FeeddlerRSS – Staying current on the best scholarship is essential during a PhD, or at any time really. One of the great things about our current situation is that we have some world-class scholars who blog regularly and discuss important matters. Through Feedler, I can stay up to date, read my feeds and interact as I need. Google is doing away with their Reader service in July, which is an utter tragedy, so I guess I’ll have to move over to another platform. However, this has allowed me to star blogs, tweet them, and interact at a level unlike anything else.

So, that is my basic run down. I don’t use a bunch of fancy programs or apps for outlining (though I’m considering it) and I use a lot of services like through my browsers. I tried Mendeley and just never really made a good connection with the program. So that’s why I’ve stuck with Endnote. About six months ago I made the switch from PC to Mac when I purchased a MacBook Air. I had been using a Mac Mini for ministry stuff and that made the transition easier. However, when it came to papers I couldn’t use Pages for them because of the limitations of the program. Office for Mac brought all the significant Microsoft Office programs to my Mac and has made all the difference in the world. Anyways, this is submitted to aid anyone.

What programs do you currently use for research? How is it easier today than twenty years ago? What am I missing?

May 2013