Thoughts in a Day: Some Reflections

It has been a full day (though many feel that way). It has also been a good day. I was just reflecting on some of the happenings of the day and the goodness of God through it all.

  • A video chat with a friend not seen nearly often enough who is ministering elsewhere in the world and just needing some encouragement, an ear to hear, and prayers shared.
  • Sitting with my daughter Abbi (who skipped a class at the high school) in chapel to hear a missionary testifying about their calling to share Jesus. And knowing that she is stirred (as I am) to share Jesus to the ends of the earth.
  • Running into a man who recognized me as the mission leader that brought a team of Americans to work in another country where he was an intern placed in my team. He shared the way that was a decisive time for him and how he has given the rest of his life to serving full-time in missions.
  • Intending to go to coffee only to discover a student waiting patiently for me at my office to discuss a Scripture that they are wrestling with and finding themselves overcome by this Word as we read, meditate, discuss, consider, and reflect on the text before us to hear what the Spirit is saying.
  • Making a new friend who also loves Muslim peoples and invited me to do some writing with him for others on this topic.
  • Interviewing a couple of ministerial students as they share their callings and journey toward vocational ministry where our Biblical and Theological Studies faculty speak prophetically over them and offer heart-felt prayers for them.
  • Discussing the traumas of specific people in a class on Jeremiah where words seemed to fail as we felt some manner of the weight of judgment, sorrows, and pain and the manner in which the LORD takes these up into himself in suffering alongside us and for us.
  • Participating in a faculty in-service meeting led by a great missionary leader who shared his own testimony of God’s calling for him to “stay” as a mobilizer of others and hearing my own journey in those words (even as we are both committed to “going”).
  • Hearing a student who was so moved by a sermon last year in chapel that they have been on a quest to become a voice for the voiceless and thus led a couple of hours of spirited discussion among faculty, staff, students and community members regarding our responsibilities to be just and live justly reflecting Jesus in all spheres of life.

I find my heart full and my thoughts tracing through this day. I’m grateful. And God is good.

Review: Introducing Theological Method by Mary M. Veeneman

This last Friday I gratefully received a review copy of Mary M. Veeneman’s book Introducing Theological Method: A Survey of Contemporary Theologians and Approaches (2017) from Baker Academic. I so enjoyed the volume that I nearly read it straight through from the moment it arrived at my doorstep. (I’m not sure what this says about me or about the quality of the writing, but I’m going with the quality of the writing rather than simply my drive to read 🙂 ).

Veeneman’s writing is both engaging and enlightening as she offers numerous approaches through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century of theological methods. She covers ressourcement and neo-orthodox theologies (Avery Dulles, Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg), theologies of correlation (Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan), postliberal theologies (George Lindbeck, Hans Frei), evangelical theologies (Millard Erickson, Stanley Grenz, Kevin Vanhoozer, Clark Pinnock), political theologies (Johann Baptist Metz, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone), feminist theologies (Elizabeth Johnson, Delores Williams), and closing with discussions of responses to religious pluralism and comparative theologies. While I have engaged many of these authors in my readings over the last number of years there were several whom I had not (notably Dulles, Metz, Cone, and Williams).

One aspect of this volume that belongs very near to my own work is that of the place of hermeneutics in theology or even the hermeneutics of theology. The values, senses, meanings, significance, signs, etc. of theological confession, development, and methodology belongs inextricably attached to one’s hermeneutic. It is likely my own interests in Biblical interpretation as such that also drives my interests in theological interpretation (not meaning just of Scripture, but of such things as the use of theological language, its context/s, and its meaning and function).

From my own readings of these authors (not likely as extensive as hers), Veeneman seems to have managed to been charitable in her descriptions of their methodological contributions without necessarily contradicting or negating them. This does not mean she has not offered critiques of the various methods and various authors engaged. Her work critically engages, but does so in a fashion to allow the reader of her work to do their own assessment toward considering ways to construct theologies within their own contexts. This makes the volume helpful for students of theology as way of introducing both significant theologians, theologies, and their methods of theological development.

This also serves as a call for myself to note the many ways which may still remain open for future theological developments as a conversation always in process. I particularly regard this as being the case given my own sense of desire to work as a constructive Pentecostal theologian who works for the benefit of the wider Church and indeed for the world (as Christ in, over and soon-coming to the world).

What one will not find in this volume is a list of “how-tos” for developing any particular theological method. Instead, the survey of the various approaches allows for a considerably diverse picture of the landscape of contemporary theological methodologies each with different foci and contexts. The diversity of voices represented might provide some small sampling toward a wider consideration of ways of doing theology for its readers even if missing many voices as well that simply have not written or are less well known.

Finishing this volume, I found myself already adding several of the recommended books to my own Amazon wishlists. I would personally consider using this volume should I teach my independent study course on “Readings in Theology” again in the future as a way of introduction to the contemporary theological landscape toward our own attempts at theologizing.

Book Recommendations for a Pastor in Training

The following is an email reply I sent to one of my students regarding recommendations for books as he prepares for a couple of years from now to enter full-time ministry. I thought others might benefit from this as well.

Shawn,
Take note of syllabi. They often include such works we have found beneficial. While we will include other works there are some listed there that would aid you (depending upon the subject matter and your interest and calling).

Commentaries. I would encourage you to purchase and read several commentaries for each sermon series you do in ministry. There are resources to help in sifting commentaries that may be most beneficial and we’re all willing to make such recommendations as needed.

Preaching. I’d encourage you to just work through one or two (at least) books a year on some aspect of preaching. Find a friend to discuss these with and consider even buying a copy for them. Also, don’t forget to consider how you are applying what you read. 🙂

Theology. Find books on various aspects of theology to read and reflect on. Read classics and older works like Church Fathers who were both pastors and theologians: Tertullian, Augustine, the Cappadocian fathers, Ephrem the Syrian, etc. And read historical theologians like Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, etc…all of whom also had pastoral care in mind. And read contemporaries who do likewise like Eugene Peterson, N. T. Wright, etc.

There are numerous other things you shouldn’t ignore that I’m not listing like missions biographies and theologies, theological/bible dictionaries, high literature (like the classics), popular literature (I’m thinking whether fiction or non-fiction), pastoral care, classic devotional works (like Thomas a Kempis), etc. Read widely. Read well.

Acquire resources that will serve you for the long term rather than consuming only whatever seems fad-ish. And all of these are really things to particularly engage over a lifetime rather than simply to purchase now (you can’t afford it in money or time, but in the long run you will slowly gain what you should). I’d encourage you to engage any given professor you are taking classes from about any specific works they might recommend on that topic beyond the required readings. 🙂
Blessings on the journey.
Rick

A Rereading of Woman in the Garden: With Fretheim

I’ve been reading a collection of Terence Fretheim’s essays over the last month that have been fantastic in offering his many insights into theology and Scripture. Fretheim is one of those OT scholars who can write in a way that is both accessible and constructively provocative. One of the essays, “Creator, Creature, and Co-Creation in Genesis 1-2” offers the following four points regarding a reading of Genesis 1-2 and certain “androcentric” (man centered) readings:

  1. For the woman to be created from the rib of the ‘adam entails no subordination, any more that the ‘adam‘s being created from the ground implies his subordination.

  2. For the woman to be called helper (‘ezer) carries no implications regarding the status of the one who helps; indeed, God is more often called the helper of human beings (Psalm 121). The suggestion that Eve’s helping in this text as to do with motherhood is insufficient. Helping for Eve cannot be collapsed into procreation, not least because the immediate outcome specified in vv. 24-25 does not focus on this concern.

  3. For the woman to be named by the ‘adam does not entail the authority of man over woman, any more than Hagar’s naming of God entails such authority in [Genesis] 16:13. Naming has to do with an act of discernment regarding the nature of relationships, as in the naming of the animals by ‘adam. Moreover, if the ‘adam is already ruler over the woman in chapter 2, then the sentence of 3:16 represents no judgment.

  4. Finally, contrary to some recent opinion, one ought not consider ‘adam as an “earth creature” without sexual identity before the creation of woman, so that the creation of man and woman is simultaneous. Without an explicit linguistic marker that the meaning of the word ‘adam changes from “earth creature” to “the man,” it will be read the same throughout this section…. In any case, being created first or last has nothing to do with priority or subordination. (Chan, Michael J. and Brent A. Strawn, eds., What Kind of God?: Collected Essays of Terence E. Fretheim [Siphrut 14; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015], p.202)

Here Freitheim reminds readers that male centered readings of the creation account/s in Genesis 1-2 do not in fact support the subordination of women as part of the “creational order,” but that any subordinating which occurs is the result of fallen-ness.

A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets: A Pentecostal Perspective — PhD Thesis

I recently learned (thanks Daniel Isgrigg) that my PhD thesis “A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets: A Pentecostal Perspective” is available free online through my doctoral alma mater: Bangor University, Wales. For those interested it can be read in whole HERE. An edited version of this work is due to be published within the year (under the same title) by CPT Press.

The following is the abstract:

This thesis works toward a constructive Pentecostal theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets. Chapter one provides a history of interpretation (from 1896 to present) of major works engaging the Former Prophets with regard to the Spirit. Chapter two offers a Pentecostal hermeneutic of the Former Prophets. Chapter three provides a history of effects (or Wirkungsgeschichte) approach by hearing the Spirit texts of the Former Prophets alongside of early North American Pentecostals (specifically the journals from 1906-1920) in order to offer a better orientation to how Pentecostal communities have interpreted these texts in their formative years. Chapters four through seven apply the hermeneutic of chapter two to the groupings of texts of the Spirit in the Former Prophets. As such, the chapters that follow are larger literary units which include multiple references to the Spirit of Yahweh/God, but are grouped together as narratological units. Chapter four addresses the judges who explicitly experience the liberating Spirit of Yahweh. Chapter five addresses Saul and David’s musical and prophetic experiences of the Spirit of Yahweh/God both for good and ill. Chapter six addresses the ambiguities of the Spirit in the context of the prophet Micaiah. Chapter seven addresses the passing of the Spirit of true prophetic sonship from Elijah to Elisha. Chapter eight then attempts a constructive Pentecostal theology of the Spirit in light of the study of the Spirit in the Former Prophets laid out in the preceding exegetical chapters and the Wirkungsgeschichte of chapter three. Finally, the concluding chapter briefly summarizes the contributions of this study and entertains multiple potential directions for future study brought to light through this study.

Re-Examining Pentecostal Readings of Female Characters in the Bible – SPS Symposium

I received the following great news yesterday that a symposium on “Re-Examining Pentecostal Readings of Female Characters in the Bible” has been approved for the 2019 Society for Pentecostal Studies annual meeting. Here are the details of the symposium:

I am incredibly grateful to be a participant and am looking forward to presenting with these amazing scholars on such an important topic.

Challenging Gendered Leadership in the Old Testament: A Webinar at Co-Laborate

HERE is a webinar I was invited to speak for at “Co-Laborate: Men & Women Together: Pentecostal Theology & Praxis” with host Dr. Debbie Fulthorp on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. I spoke on the topic “Challenging Gendered Leadership in the Old Testament”.

The three primary ideas/images regarding the role and function of women in leadership in the OT that I selected to share about are:

  • Mother
  • Prophet
  • Wisdom

I present a few texts from the OT in reference to each idea/image and offer these as related to my own hermeneutic of discerning the trajectory of Scripture rather than simply extracting principles. I regard such images in the OT as indicative of what the Spirit has always been at work doing to empower for life and redemption.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the webinar and any of the texts and subjects discussed (provided it is done with civility and love).

Sanctified Defilements: Cleansing Blood

This Sunday I will be preaching from Mark 5:21-43 concerning the raising of Jairus’ dead 12 year old daughter and the healing of the unclean woman with 12 years of bleeding. Such stories are all the more striking in light of the OT and Jewish traditions regarding purity. To touch the dead (as Jesus does with the girl) and to be touched by the unclean (as Jesus is by the woman) should defile Jesus. However, these stories don’t describe such (taking for granted the obvious nature of such). Instead, they point to the restoration, cleansing, and healing that is conveyed.

While Jesus would indeed be defiled by touching the girl and being touched by the woman, the radical nature of these stories points in the opposite direction: the cleansing and wholeness being imparted from Jesus to the girl and woman. In fact, I would contend Jesus offers cleansing precisely through his self-sacrificial taking on their uncleanness.

“The Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter” (1871) by Vasiliy Polenov

In light of this movement by Jesus, it makes the taking of communion (or Eucharist) all the more powerful. The Church is instructed to consume Jesus’ body and blood in the elements of bread and cup. This would be an ultimate defilement for this community grafted into Israel. And yet this very act constitutes a testimony to the cleansing, healing life of Jesus constituting this community by His Spirit bringing to bear His presence in their midst.

“In the OT the partaking of blood in any form, even blood in meat, was strictly forbidden….However, in the Eucharist, the meal that commemorates the making of the new covenant, believers partake of the bread and wine, elements that represent the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24).  By eating these elements a believer shares in the benefits of Jesus’ death (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25; Heb. 9:15-22).  The discourse in John 6:52-59 is amazingly radical in its vivid imagery.  Jesus boldly speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood …. The intent of these words in John is … to pronounce boldly that in partaking of these elements a believer commemorates Jesus’ death and enters into the deepest communion with his Lord.” (John E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992], 279-280)

The bearing of the unclean (his flesh and blood), by the grace of the Lord, becomes the receiving of cleansing … and the communion of saints is made saints by the Spirit of Holiness imparting the life of the cursed one hung on a tree, buried, and raised. Further, in his resurrection, Jesus did not pass through any cleansing rite upon being raised, yet shares meals with his disciples repeatedly and invites faith-confirming contact. How could Jesus be clean? It is the uncleanness of his death that cleanses and gives life in the testimony of God raising him. Jesus is declared (and even made) clean by his being raised. The very nature of his being cursed and unclean willingly has become the very thing which the Father uses to heal and make clean. In the book of Acts it is the testimony of Son and Spirit to Peter that what God has made clean should not be called unclean (Acts 10).

In Christ Jesus a new day has dawned wherein bearing uncleanness is the way to cleansing. And this is the faithfulness of our Great God and Savior! And this is the testimony of the Church in the midst of the world!

God Our Father/Mother (?): On the Divine Name in Christian Scripture

On a number of occasions I have engaged in conversations, or heard podcasts (I’m thinking here of the October 17, 2017 of The Liturgists Podcast on “God Our Mother”), or read articles (or quotes like the one pictured here of Julian of Norwich) by those who contend for broader language in regard to what we might properly call our deity within the Church. Some have contended that the NT language of “Father” is more a construct of cultural embeddedness related to a bygone era that needs this metaphor to be expanded to any number of other possibilities, such as “Mother” that would be more appropriately inclusive and thus representative of the non-gendered deity we claim to worship.
This is an abstracted illusion as it fails to appreciate the very context from which we (the Church) have inherited our language of addressing the divine: Israel and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christopher Seitz has a helpful chapter engaging this very subject in Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness (Baylor University Press, 2004), pp. 251-262. I include his closing paragraph as giving voice to my own reading of this issue (p. 262):

To call God “mother” or “she” would be to call attention to God as truly gendered, simply by the fact that such language means to serve as a replacement for or improvement on the biblically grounded language has the capacity to transcend this framework of discussion, because it emerges as a testimony to God’s own name and initiative in revealing it, rather than because it conforms to metaphors whose fitness is determined by human debate or divine defense. To defend God as “father” by appeal to suitability of metaphor would in fact undo the logic with which the language emerged in the first place, which is riveted to Israel’s particular experience of God’s revelation and, through the work of Christ, its extension at Pentecost to all nations and peoples. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” emerges from a particular story. Our use of this language preserves that particular story and the God who brought it and us into being, making us his people and allowing us to be faithful witnesses who call upon his name, for our own sakes and for the sake of his creation.

We have not constructed our language for the divine, but have received it and do well to faithfully pass this story along in our invocation of the Name. To do otherwise, is to abstract “God” from the story of Israel and God’s self-revelation in and through Jesus as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
How we confess God is a matter of faithfulness to that self-revelation and not a matter of cultural speculation and debate. While metaphors for the divine abound in Scripture (including those which are feminine or motherly) we do well to take up the language of God’s self-giving in prayer and praise, and we refuse the very specificity of God’s self-revelation to do otherwise.

Goin' Fishin': A Brief Comment on John 21:11

Fishing in the TiberiasI was asked today why John 21.11 notes there were 153 large fish caught by Jesus’ disciples in this resurrection appearance. Here is my brief answer:

St. Augustine (in his Commentary on Psalm 50) notes that the number 153 refers to completeness of the Law and Spirit: the law being 10 and the Spirit seven(fold) with their sum being 17. If one takes the sum of the numbers 1 through 17 one gets 153. Case closed. 😉
I still contend it was the memory of a fisherman who notes the actualities of this miracle where there were 153 large fish and the net did not break (as it would be prone to do). A bountiful provision well beyond imagination. And Jesus didn’t need any of it to begin cooking them a fish breakfast, though he invites them to bring him some of their catch as well.
While any number of speculations have been offered for the meaning of the number 153 (imagination can be an incredible thing), the text is simply silent about it’s intent. The miracle returns to the super-abounding grace of God given through Christ Jesus as had happened at the wedding at Cana in chapter 2.1-12.
The goodness of God in Christ is more than sufficient to provide more than one could ever imagine or think to need. This drives the faith demanded by this gospel account (20.31): trust in this one as God’s own self-giving who would send the Spirit in super-abundance that He might remain with and in those who were His as a continuing witness to, in, for, and against the world.