ETS, SBL and California: The Surprises image

ETS, SBL and California: The Surprises

Whenever I travel in the US, I'm surprised by things. Here's what caught me out this time (counting on fingers):

1. After seeing the Giant Sequoias on Tuesday and then Douglas Moo on Wednesday, I can confirm that they are roughly the same size.

2. When Californians go to the zoo, instead of looking at the actual animals, they have photos taken of themselves next to large plastic statues of the animals.

3. More people in the US church scene have heard of, or come across, Newfrontiers than I thought. My perception was that we were all-but-invisible, but apparently not. (That may influence the banner under which churches and spheres choose to fly when operating internationally. But then again, it may not.)

4. Denis Lamoreux (the “no historical Adam” guy in the four way panel on Adam) looks just like Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. Uncanny.

5. It was extraordinary how many different people I encountered in one week, whether in person or on the page, who told me to read Augustine. Wesley Hill, Doug Campbell, Steve Holmes, Jamie Smith, John Ortberg: the list goes on. It was a total Augustine love-fest.

6. Californians do not eat Indian, apparently, and on the occasions when they do, they make a mess of it. (They do, on the other hand, have infinitely better Mexican food than we do, and a thoroughly outstanding range of craft beers and IPAs.)

7. Acts 29 is much more varied on the charismatic-continuationist spectrum than I had realised. I had assumed being charismatic came with the territory, a la Driscoll, but agreement to disagree is written into their doctrinal distinctives, and there is a fair bit of diversity in practice.

8. Thirty-six year olds have to present ID to get a drink at a bar in San Diego. It was amusing watching pastors and theologians decide whether it was ethical for them to buy me one instead. (They eventually did; thanks, Preston.)

9. The complementarians I met - including Denny Burk, who edits the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood - had never heard a complementarian argument for women preaching in church. I had a very enjoyable time rectifying that over dinner, with him and Jim Hamilton.

10. Fifth Avenue San Diego is significantly cooler than Fifth Avenue New York, even though you’ve never heard of it. The entire Gaslamp Quarter is superb.

11. The “Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination” seminar which kicked off SBL was just as white, and even more male-dominated in attendance, than ETS. The stereotype is that the evangelical conference is full of white men, in contrast to the bustling diversity of the less evangelical gathering, but within Pauline studies this did not appear to be the case (if a simple snapshot of the room is anything to go by). This made me wonder whether the lack of diversity has as much to do with theological interest - as in, men like Paul - as anything else. It would be interesting to think about why.

12. Beverly Gaventa thinks that “not all Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:6) does not mean “not all Jews are part of God’s people”, but “not all who are part of God’s people are Jews.” Gosh.

13. Walter Brueggemann is remarkably like John the Baptist: a poetic, gravelly, shouty, prophetic, cadence-graced fireball who reads academic papers as if he was preaching to Ahab himself. Amazing.

14. Nob Hill, San Francisco, as well as being amusingly named, is steeper than you could possibly imagine an urban hill could be. How the cable cars get up and down it is a mystery; I made the mistake of climbing it.

15. The SBL badge system doesn’t recognise double first names, which is a problem at a biblical studies conference. “Nicholas Wright” was an amusing example.

16. Every single episode of Friends contains the word “friends” at least once. That’s got nothing to do with California, but I’m just throwing it out there.

17. In American English (apologies for the oxymoron), the surname “Strachan” rhymes with “crayon” rather than “bracken.” Odd.

18. There seems to be substantial disagreement in the guild of Pauline studies over whether Paul, if he had had a son, would have circumcised him. Tom Wright and Don Carson say no; Doug Campbell and Larry Hurtado say yes; and virtually all the younger scholars I spoke to had an opinion on it, but again, with no consensus. Personally, though it could look like an angels-on-a-pinhead discussion, I think it’s actually a good hypothetical to tease out Paul’s relationship to the Torah - which is why disagreements on it are quite interesting, and revealing.

19. Adverts for healthcare products in America are surreal. In a thirty second spot, twenty seconds or so are given over to telling you about all the awful things that could happen to you if you take the drug they’re advertising, which (it seems to me) is rather counterproductive.

20. I have run out of fingers.

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