About ten years, I agreed to lead a Sunday School class at church using a tape series by some guy named Kenneth Bailey. To prepare for the class I got the video tapes, put the first one in the VCR, and started to watch. It was a talking head seated at desk in front of a bookshelf. As Bailey began his matter of fact presentation I remember thinking to myself, “Great. Who is going to come back and watch the rest after this first ‘scintillating’ presentation.” But as I sat there and watched I was stunned. This guy opened up insights about well worn passages of scripture that have totally transformed my whole understanding of the scripture and the gospel.
Starting next week, (probably on Tuesday or Wednesday) I want to expose you to the work of Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey. Here is a bio from a book published in 2003.
Kenneth E. Bailey is an author and lecturer in Middle Eastern New Testament Studies. An ordained Presbyterian academic, he also serves as Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. In addition to a doctorate in New Testament, he holds graduate degrees in Arabic language and literature as well as systematic theology. He spent forty years living and teaching New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. He is the author of many books in English and in Arabic, including Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes and Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15.
I will be focusing on his analysis of Luke 15. Luke 15 is where Jesus tells three parables that Bailey believes are actually to taken as a unit. The parables are of the “The Lost Sheep,” “The Lost Coin” and “The Prodigal Son.
I will be drawing on two of his books in particular. First is Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke. This is a 1983 compilation of two previous books, the first published in 1976 and the other in 1980. The second book, published in 2003, is Jacob and the Prodigal. How Jesus Retold the Israel’s Story. I will first take an in depth look at the story of the Prodigal Son. Then, I will pull back and look at the three stories of Luke 15 as unit as Bailey does in the second book. (Bailey's The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants and Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15 may make their way in to this discussion.)
As I have read other books, I find Bailey in the footnotes. N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God and Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son are just a couple of examples. I believe that Bailey brings insights that should resonate strongly with anyone wrestling with being a Christian in a postmodern context. I won’t do his work justice so I strongly recommend you read his books, especially Jacob and the Prodigal. If nothing else, I hope to whet your appetite for his theological feast.