New Article in Journal of Media and Religion

I’m pleased to announce the publication of an essay, coauthored with Jon Radwan of Seton Hall University, in the Journal of Media and Religion: “YouTubing Eudaimoniae? Pachamama, Inspiration, and Manipulation in Platonic and Biblical Rhetorics.”

Here is the abstract:

Rhetorical functions of media are outlined in the Platonic and Biblical traditions and applied to 2019ʹs “Pachamama YouTube iconoclepsis (“image-stealing”) controversy. Where post-Enlightenment theory brackets or dismisses spiritual communication, pre-modern frames offer clear heuristics and vocabulary for interpreting mediated religious protest. In reaction to a culture of sophistic manipulation, Plato envisioned ideals approached via cooperative dialectic. Psychogogy, leading souls, requires artists and orators adapting true, beautiful, and good ideals for people in their care. Plato uses a pharmacological metaphor to show how art and public discourse can harm and diminish, or heal and restore, spiritual wellbeing, and social eudaimonia. In contrast to Plato, the Biblical tradition cedes invention to God, whose message is shared with passion and urgency to guide people away from evil toward flourishing. The culmination of prophetic communication is the Incarnation: Jesus gives humanity direct contact with divine truth and light, and upon His resurrection the Holy Spirit inspires missionary outreach. Today YouTube activists engage power dynamics within sacred space and imagery to attempt Church reforms.

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Sermon: Sage Gibson on Mark 5:25-34

This is the audio (30:08, 26.9 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on April 3, 2022, by one of my students, Sage Gibson. The main text is Mark 5:25-34.

Sage completed a course on the Book of Isaiah with me in Fall 2021. We continued to work together on an article based an idea in a paper she wrote for that course. The article is under review with a journal; we decided to preach sermons based on our studies for the article, which is about the use of Isaiah 63-66 in Mark 5.

I’m enormously proud of Sage for all the work she did for her paper, our article, and her sermon! She gave me permission to share the audio in my podcast feed. My sermons are available here and here.

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Sermon: “I Stretched Out My Hands All Day Long” (Isaiah 65–66)

This is the audio (43:17, 99.1 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on March 27, 2022. The main text is Isaiah 65:1–9, 12–15; and 66:1–6.

Have you ever had an experience with a toddler that you knelt down, held out your arms, and waited for the child to run to you to be hugged—and instead the child runs past you to someone else? (This can also happen with dogs!) No one really takes this personally when it happens, because—children are children! But if, let’s say, you’re an uncle or an aunt, and a child ignores you like this, multiple times in a row—maybe you feel a bit hurt. Well, God felt this way with Israel. He didn’t just want them to conform to some rule or standard; he wanted to be close to them. He made himself available to them, he held out his arms all day long to them (65:2) but most ignored him….

In the Gospels, we see that Jesus’s arms were open wide, to those who would answer his call and take hold of him in faith. At the cross, with his arms stretched out all day long, in excruciating pain, he looked out at a rebellious and disobedient people—Jews and Gentiles—and took upon himself the punishment for their sins, the sins of anyone who would repent.

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Sermon: “Hide the Fugitives!” (Isaiah 15:8–16:5)

This is the video (22:16, 145 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on March 13, 2022. The main text is Isaiah 15:8–16:5. The sermon follows on my report of a trip to Western Ukraine, to bring supplies to fellow Christians from Zaporizhzhia, and to bring back refugees to Lithuania. An excerpt:

The church is Jesus’s household, his kingdom on earth. We should absolutely be a place of refuge for refugees and those fleeing for their lives—just as the Davidic kings of ancient Judah could be a safe place for Moabites and others from all over the world.

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Sermon: “Oh, That You Would Rend the Heavens!” (Isaiah 63:7-64:12)

The Potter and Clay - Living through him

This is the video (45:43, 573 MB) of a sermon preached at Kaunas Free Christian Church, on February 13, 2022. The main text is Isaiah 63:7–64:12.

The prayer in Isaiah 63–64 is a great example because the faithful prophet knows what his people need: they need God to change their hearts, and they need God to be near to them. It is passionate, and thoughtful, and based on God’s promises to his people. It’s also beautiful for us to think about how God answered this prayer: including in ways that his people did not expect.

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Seminar: “Images of Healing, Healing Images”

Fragment of a terracotta statue of a god. U. 16993; BM 122934. (Ur)
Walker & Dick 1999, “The Mesopotamian mis pî Ritual”

This is the audio (34:04, 31.2 MB) of a [virtual] talk I gave on January 28, 2022, entitled, “Images of Healing, Healing Images.” It was my honor to address a group of professors, physicians, researchers, and graduate students at the Yale Program for Medicine, Spirituality and Religion (YPMSR), at the invitation of Prof. Ben Doolittle: a physician, a professor, a researcher, and a pastor in a local church.

Here is the abstract:

This presentation explores the concept of the “image of God” found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and its value for understanding the task of the healing and caregiving professions. Against the backdrop of other ancient Near Eastern conceptions of cultic images—their fashioning, care and feeding, and function to mediate the deities’ presence—the Bible describes only human beings as adequate images to mediate the presence of YHWH, Israel’s deity, into the world. Treating human beings with care and dignity, and participating in their healing, is an act that allows both patient and caregiver to mediate the presence of God to one another and into the world.

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Article on Ezekiel 20

I’m pleased to announce the publication of an essay in the journal Biblische Zeitschrift: “‘Anger Exhausted’ for the Sake of YHWH’s Name in Ezekiel 20: Did YHWH Really Relent from Wrath Poured Out on Israel?”

Here is the abstract:

It is typically argued that in Ezek 20:5–26 YHWH thrice proposes or purposes to “pour out his wrath” on Israel, but then instead “acts on account of his name” – relenting from or deferring judgment. This paper argues instead, based on grammatical structure and intertextuality with the Pentateuch, that in at least one of these instances (and possibly two), Ezek 20 describes YHWH actually “pouring out wrath” and “exhausting anger” on some Israelites. This reading offers a new dimension for understanding intergenerational responsibility in Ezekiel.

Benjamin D. Giffone, “‘Anger Exhausted’ for the Sake of YHWH’s Name in Ezekiel 20: Did YHWH Really Relent from Wrath Poured Out on Israel?” Biblische Zeitschrift 66.1 (2022): 1–15. DOI: 10.30965/25890468-06601001.

The article is currently behind the paywall (as are most academic articles). If you do not have access through your institution and want to read it, please message me privately, and I will send you an e-offprint.

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Epiphany Sermon: “Nations Shall Come to Your Light” (Isaiah 60:1-14)

This is the audio (42:20, 30.5 MB) of a sermon preached at our Lithuania home church, Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on January 2, 2022. It was the Second Sunday in Christmas, but since I was not scheduled to preach the next couple of weeks, I took the opportunity to preach a (pre-)Epiphany sermon! The main text is Isaiah 60:1-14, but I also make reference to Matthew 2:1-12.

Throughout the Old Testament, there is an important theme: people from outside Israel, God’s people, recognizing the greatness of Israel’s God—often seeing it even more clearly than Israel does! For example, Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, gives glory to YHWH after he saves Israel from slavery in Egypt. Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, throws all of her trust on YHWH God when the Israelites come to attack her city, Jericho. Ruth has more faith than her mother-in-law, Naomi, in the faithfulness of YHWH God to his people. This was YHWH God’s purpose all along in calling Israel to be his people: that his glory would be shown in their midst, and the nations would see and be attracted to it. Very often, Israel failed to live up to God’s glory—as we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. None of us is worthy to carry forth God’s glory into the world. In Isaiah 60, despite all that Israel, Judah and Jerusalem had done to bring shame on God’s name: God still displayed his glory through them. In Matthew 2: despite all that the Jews, and all that humanity, had done to dishonor God: God still chose to be born a Jewish baby, a human baby, and to show his glory in the world through Jesus Christ.

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Guest Post: Is COVID Bringing the Church to a Screeching Halt?

Our governments are against in-person Church attendance because congregating undermines their attempts to contain and subdue the pandemic that has thrown our world into such chaos. The Church needs not to be brave enough to defy the authorities merely for the sake of rebelling against human authorities. Neither should the Church be asleep when battles of cosmic nature are raging. Each congregation and believer need to seek out God’s will. When we know God’s will, we should be willing to lose our lives for the realization of that will; if we must heed the command to honor authorities and obey them, fine. However, we can still meet in our homes. In these small group settings, every member is indeed known, discipled, and held accountable to walk according to the calling they have received from God. Relationships flourish in small groups. Each person gets ample opportunity to exercise their gifts to build up the body in small groups. If we cannot meet in our thousands like we are used to, maybe God is drawing us back to what has worked in the past: house churches. The Bible warns that persecution will break out.

Note: This is part of a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

One of the joys of teaching is seeing one’s students go out into the world and have a significant impact in their home countries and beyond.

May 2018

I’m honored to present a guest contribution by my student, Stanford Phiri. Stanford is a native of Zimbabwe, and studied for a BA in Theology at LCC International University (2018). I was privileged to teach Stanford several OT courses, and to supervise his BA thesis (on how the NT authors present Jesus as a new/better Moses). Stanford was also in my evening men’s Bible study.

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Advent Sermon: “He Will Stand and Shepherd His Flock” (Micah 4:9-5:6)

This is the video (42.57, 303 MB) of a sermon preached at our Lithuania home church, Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on December 19, 2021, Fourth Sunday of Advent. The main text is Micah 4:9-5:6.

In verse 6, we find another clue that the scope of this prophecy is beyond just the eighth century, bigger than Israel and Judah and Assyria. Verse 6 refers to Assyria as “the land of Nimrod.” This figure “Nimrod” is one of the mighty men from ancient times, who was a hunter. He is mentioned only in Genesis 10, where he is first introduced, 1 Chronicles 1—and here in Micah 5:6. Most importantly, he was the founder of the capital cities of the ancient civilizations of Babylon and Assyria, these two kingdoms that come to represent human violence and rebellion against the true God, YHWH. Nimrod founded the city of Babel, which built the tower to reach to the heavens! Since ancient times, Jewish and Christian interpreters have understood Nimrod as a founder of these civilizations who led them in the way of arrogance, violence, tyranny, and evil.

The fact that Micah mentions “the land of Nimrod” is not just trying to be more specific—“Oh, you mean that Assyria, the one founded by Nimrod.” It’s reminding us of the rebellion and evil that Nimrod spread throughout the world. But this king from Bethlehem who would bring peace and lead Israel, will not just defend his people from outside attacks, although that is part of it. In the first part of verse 6, we see that he will lead the people to the gates of Assyria, the land of Nimrod, the heart of the land where evil dwells. In other words, he is going to lead an attack, to take the fight to the evil land—and he will win!

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