God Forgive Us For Being Women: A Theological Response

What follows is my “theological response” delivered today at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies as one of four panel respondents to Joy E. A. Qualls’ God Forgive Us for Being Women: Rhetoric, Theology, and the Pentecostal Tradition ( Frameworks: Interdisciplinary Studies for Faith and Learning; Pickwick, 2018).

“God Forgive Us for Being Women”:

A Theological Response

Practical Theology Interest Group

Rick Wadholm Jr.

Trinity Bible College & Graduate School

Presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies

Introduction and Testimony

I am grateful for the work of Joy Qualls regarding her publication of this invaluable work on women in ministry in the Assemblies of God. Her work continues to open the way for further studies of the use of rhetoric in Pentecostal circles, but more importantly in addressing the issues of women serving in leadership in the broader Pentecostal Church. In the movement through the various ways in which the Assemblies of God has addressed this subject, there were many stories and accounts, which gave room for considered pause and reflection. Many more (quite honestly) caused anger sufficiently that I was forced to put the book away for a while (and even tossed the book at one point). There were still other moments where I sensed the Spirit’s call to action on my own part in raising up a new generation of ministers for the good news of the kingdom in preparation for Jesus’ soon coming.

By way of offering some frame of context for my responses to this volume I offer the following. As a professor in an Assembly of God Bible college, I pour my life into discipling women and men called into vocational ministry. I serve several graduate schools and seminaries in the Assemblies of God globally and do likewise in those contexts realizing those students are transformative for the national churches they represent as these women and men are in their pursuit of graduate ministerial training. I am committed to this work. I long to see the sons and daughters of God empowered by the Spirit, educated for the work of the ministry, and serving to the Spirit’s fullest potential in and through them. I have contended for at least one U.S. District Council of the Assemblies of God to revise completely their bylaws to change the explicitly masculine language regarding the opportunities of serving in the presbytery and district leadership (with such a change being made in the upcoming District Council). I count this one small victory, but note that Qualls’ work reminds me that even should the rhetoric turn toward allowing women, this does not necessarily entail the actual election of women to such positions.

As a Pentecostal, I cannot but help to share a personal testimony as well. My mother as a teenager was invited to a revival service in the “Black side of town” at a racially mixed Pentecostal church holding services in a Quonset hut. Sister Lang was the evangelist preaching that evening. During the service, Sister Lang gave a word of knowledge to my mother in the crowd regarding her need for healing. She invited my mom to the altar where she began by asking if my mom had committed her life to Jesus. That very night my mother was saved, healed, and baptized in the Holy Spirit thanks to the prophetic preaching ministry of Sister Lang. In this fashion, I owe my own salvation and Pentecostal heritage to the ministry of Sister Lang.

Three Theological Words of Appreciation

While there could be any number of pointed comments made regarding specific points of Qualls work, I will leave such to others. Further, while there are many things praiseworthy in this volume, I will offer only three specific points. Thus, I would like to offer the following three specific theological ways in which I believe Qualls has helped to further this long-overdue conversation.

First, I would offer that her work on the history of one specific Pentecostal fellowship provides an avenue of investing the development and contours of a sort of theological history. In the case of this project, the Assemblies of God has been examined in ways previously not engaged. As such, Qualls has helpfully offered this gift of taking the reader on a journey through the various movements of Assembly of God leadership and their responses to women in ministry. Such a historic turn allows for a critical self-reflection for those on the inside of said fellowship, and speaks to potential self-reflection for other Pentecostal fellowships to consider their own journeys (for good or bad, for empowerment or silencing) and to offer ways to look to the future in what God has done and might still do among us as we sort through our specific theological claims and discern how the Spirit is speaking.

Second, Qualls has reminded the Pentecostal community that our rhetoric matters. We only often imagine we understand speech as those given to emphasizing divine speech patterns and forms. However, Qualls offers her prophetic rebuke, by way of historical examination, of the ways we have failed to appreciate our rhetoric. The way we describe, respond to, affirm, confront, empower, or silence women in ministry reveals more about our own hearts than it does about the Spirit per se. Our claims seek to draw upon the Scriptures, but seem to prefer cultural adaptations and entrapments more than we might like to admit. We cannot escape our contexts and the ways this shapes our speech (word choices, patterns, etc.), but we can (and must) be enabled to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.           

Third, in a fashion reminiscent of early Pentecostals (like Sister Aimee), Qualls has not based her work upon any forms of Feminism (though she could properly have done so). Instead, she has sought to be descriptive of the Assemblies of God’s history and to root her work in the theology of the outpoured Spirit and Pentecostal testimony to such as engagement of the Scripture’s own witness. My appreciation of this point is not because Qualls chose not to make use of Feminism, but because she instead chose other bases for her work to offer ways (through careful choice of rhetoric) to persuade readers to hear what she says without offering the stumbling block for many who might not otherwise give their ears to hear.

Three Theological Words of Commendation

By commending Qualls work, I mean first off to give thanks for the ways she is helping us to speak to each other and listen better toward faithfulness to our Lord. Second, I mean to commend this work toward ways in which it might be better clarified and strengthened in its contentions. Third, I mean to commend this work for our hearing in call and response to what God is at work doing among us already and desires to do toward that Day. With such explanation of my meaning to commend this work, let me humbly offer the following three specific commendations.

First, this work would be better served through a clarification of language regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit and pastoral ministry/authority. The baptism in the Holy Spirit functions as empowerment for witness and is not calling to vocational ministry. This failure to distinguish between empowerment as witnesses to Jesus and those called vocationally among those empowered for witness makes for argumentation that does not appreciate the fullest import of the empowerment of the baptism for all, and the distinguishing features of specific gifts within the church for individual members of the body.

Second, and related to the first, there seems to be at times a collapsing of language wherein terms are not sufficiently clarified or distinguished. Qualls seems to collapse such terms as calling and authority, and preaching and pastoring. These terms could use careful distinction as calling to ministry does not essentially entail authority within the church, nor does preaching entail pastoring. In relation to such terminological ambiguities, one might wonder in what ways “pastor” is made use of since many within Pentecostalism seem good with women pastoring women, children, or youth, but somehow not preaching in the Sunday AM worship setting as the regular preacher nor leading a board of elders.

Third, there appears at times to be an over-simplification of the unity of thought in early Pentecostalism (or at any other time in Pentecostalism) that regards the Assemblies of God as primarily in favor of women in ministry, pacifist, etc. There has always been a mixed response to these issues. What we are dealing with is predominant voices who were published and whose writings are extant. We do well not to overplay these nor to imagine things as more cohesive than they might have likely been. While Qualls at times allows for variant voices to be heard in her reporting of history, this work would be further strengthened in the recognition that always we are only dealing with those literate leading voices who were published and preserved. This may or may not be actually indicative of the Assemblies of God even as it is representative of specific leading voices. The broader constituency likely is not aware of such and may not even care. This is perhaps a problem of theological education wherein leadership may speak to issues, but the broader church simply does not hold such in individualized contexts.

Four Theological Orientations of Response

Finally, I would like to offer a four-fold (without offence to our five-fold brothers and sisters) orientation toward a stronger theological reading of Scripture and expression of such through our practice as the Pentecostal Church in better orienting our vision and language regarding women in ministry.

First, creation (as pre-Fall). Qualls rightly notes the ways in which Evangelicals have tended toward appealing to a proposed creation idea of the role of women in the Church drawn primarily from the post-Fall narrative of Genesis. Qualls does well indicating the ways in which appealing to pre-Fall creation is the ideal and ought to inform our trajectory within the redemptive community of God. I would press this yet further along the lines of interpretation offered by J. Richard Middleton’s The Liberating Image.[1] Creation of humans in the image of God was creation liberated into freedom toward and for one another. It was not bounded by relations of power and authority over and against, or exclusionary, but relations in light of God’s own inner communion: Father, Son and Spirit … mutual self-giving in love one for the other. Pentecostals, as those who live in light of God’s soon coming kingdom, also live in light of this beginning (and have perhaps missed this as orientative toward God’s intent in creation). To borrow the German terms for those points, which lay beyond historical investigation – urzeit and endzeit – Pentecostals are well served to draw upon our theology of urzeit (without exclusion of the endzeit), but it should actually be the urzeit to which we appeal as God’s intent and not the sin-filled world of historical experience. These times belong to the margins as those things outside of our experience and belonging to the revelation of God distinctly calling for belief, and to be enacted by faith. These are believed and experienced only by faith as that which belongs not to the fallen world groaning for redemption, but as the world “very good” and where God is with his people and his people with God. Such life is indeed liberating from the very beginning as a move toward the end. While Qualls makes certain overtures toward such a reappropriation of this true beginning, readers would do well to take up this task toward a more fully developed theology of creation pre-Fall.

Second, being in Christ. As Pentecostals we have already begun to experience the new creation breaking in upon us in our experience of the Spirit-anointed, Spirit-anointing Messiah. While this is a foretaste, it means that in our experience of Jesus we are experiencing what was intended from the beginning and have been liberated to a world already being made new in Christ. This inclusion in Christ, and only in Christ, toward that life calls for a rethinking of gendered relations. If indeed, there is neither male nor female in Christ (Gal. 3.28) what does this mean in the praxis of the Church? It certainly does not mean a removal of gendered life in Christ, but does point beyond simply an idea of “salvation” as inclusion in the community of God. It entails a remaking of all peoples as the one people, a testimony against the relations of distinction used against one another and an entering into unity where the “other” is received as Christ. This is not degendering, nor regendering, but engendering all of God’s people into Christ Jesus, the man from Nazareth, Son of Man and Son of God. This is a freeing to be male and female beyond cultural boundedness, but also within cultural expressions as embodying Christ with us.

Third, pneumatologic rhetoric. Perhaps, further we might begin to think pneumatologically and thus see in the “shy member of the Trinity”[2] the very work women (as Qualls helpfully states throughout) in Pentecostalism have taken up as they point to another, the Christ, rather than themselves. There are a number of directions this might develop, but perhaps most relevant to the project of Pentecostal rhetoric is an opening of speaking by the Spirit in tongues. To speak in tongues is to speak beyond the boundedness of the world as we know and experience it and to speak toward the language of the kingdom coming.[3] This is, partially, to exercise the tongue with “pneumatological imagination.”[4] This is to speak by the Spirit, a pneumatologic rhetoric, that points to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom over and beyond all words with imagined power in the present passing age. This liberating of the tongue is orientative toward God’s future where one people live fully in the one Spirit as those speaking in many tongues with one voice. This is the pneumatologic rhetoric of the distinctions among us enabled by the Spirit to bear witness to the one God and Father of all. Following Leonardo Boff, “The Spirit sets humankind free from an obsession with its origins, its desire to return to the original paradise, access to which had been finally closed (Gen. 3:23). The Spirit moves us on toward the promised land, the destiny that has to be built and revealed in the future.”[5] This pneumatologic move points us, orients us, and even draws us, eschatologically as God’s future in-breaks by the Spirit into the present.

Fourth, eschatology, specifically an eschatological hermeneutic.[6] A hermeneutic of eschatological orientation is at play in how Pentecostals read Scripture (or ought to be), make our theological confessions, and our Pentecostal Christopraxis.[7] An eschatological hermeneutic as Christopraxis hears Scripture toward their aim (when all things are brought into the life of Christ Jesus as from the Father) rather than simply via a historical-grammatical reading of Scripture. Such a hermeneutic might be regarded as prophetic which is language which Qualls proposes as the potential of Pentecostalism and as truer of early Pentecostalism. Qualls’ contention was that this earlier hearing of Scripture was impacted by a shift toward priestly understandings over and against prophetic understandings. While a specifically gendered bias might appear in a priestly turn (it is not inherently so), to paint the priestly as inherently conservative and the prophetic as somehow progressive or not conservative, seems to miss the very conservative nature of the prophetic as pointed out in the works of Terence Fretheim and James Barr.[8] Thus, while one might argue for a return to a prophetic engagement with Scripture, such would be ultimately “conservative”, that is, it is thoroughly in light of creation pre-Fall, being in Christ, pneumatologically proclaimed, in light of the making of all things new. Further, a truly “priestly” and “prophetic” turn is a turn to King Jesus as true beginning and end. Perhaps the notion even of “conservative” in such a sense alters the term as many have come to define it in light of life in a sin-fallen world who are not seeming to take seriously the in-breaking kingdom of God. Such an eschatological orientation cannot but hear beyond the historical context and potential historical intent of the texts of Scripture and see these in light of Jesus the Christ in whom those previously in Adam find themselves by the Spirit declaring a world that is testified to by the life of the en-Spirited community toward that dawning day of his return. This is why Bonhoeffer would say, “The church of Christ witnesses to the end of all things. It lives from the end. It thinks from the end, it acts from the end, it proclaims its message from the end.”[9] And thus may it ever be so of those claiming Pentecost, and the God of Pentecost, as their shared experience.

I would actually have utterly missed the point of this book if I did not end where Qualls begins: with a prayer for forgiveness. But here, instead of a rhetorical word of confession by a wounded and abused member of the body of Pentecostal fellowships, I offer a confession of my sins (and our sins), of omission and commission. I have sinned against my sisters here in failing to speak up on their behalf as often and as boldly as the Spirit has compelled me to. I have sinned against my sisters here in speaking and acting in ways that dismissed and damaged God’s fullest calling on their lives to minister fully on his behalf. I have sinned against my sisters here in not always affirming their imaging of God in Christ with regard to the call to care for the flock of God. I have sinned against my sisters here as a man thinking first of being a man among brothers, and have not raised up my sisters as the prophetic witnesses they are in God’s congregation. 

Dear Church, we have sinned against our sisters … and we have sinned against God. We have sinned against Christ’s body. We have sinned against the temple of the Holy Spirit. And we can only begin towards redemption here by saying, “God, forgive us….”


[1] Middleton, J. Richard. The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005).

[2] Frederic Dale Bruner and William E. Hordern, The Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984); see also, T. F. Torrance, Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (T & T Clark, 2001), 63; Andrew K. Gabriel, The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Attributes (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 94. Gabriel prefers the term “the Forgotten God,” 100.

[3] On which see, Robert Jenson, Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of Christian Sacraments (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 57.

[4] Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 133-217.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. Paul Burns (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988), 192-193.

[6] On just such an example of eschatological orientation in our hermeneutic and speech toward the telos of creation as defining for Pentecostalism/s, see Yong, Spirit-Word-Community, 47-48.

[7] On the construction of a Christopraxis, see Ray Sherman Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

[8] Terence E. Fretheim, “The Prophets and Social Justice: A Conservative Agenda”, Word and World 28 (2008): 159-168, and James Barr, “The Bible as a Political Document,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 62 (1980): 278-279.

[9] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 3; ed. John W. de Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 21.

Andrew K. Gabriel’s “Simply Spirit-Filled”: A Book Review

I am grateful to Andrew Gabriel for the opportunity to review Simply Spirit Filled: Experiencing God in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019).

Andrew K. Gabriel (PhD, McMaster Divinity College) serves as Associate Professor of Theology and Vice President of Academics at Horizon College and Seminary in Saskatoon, SK. He is a member of the Theological Study Commission of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (with which he is also an Ordained Minister) and the author of three books, including The Lord Is the Spirit: The Holy and the Divine Attributes.

Gabriel’s desire for his readers regarding the life of the Spirit in “Simply Spirit-Filled” is that they be: “Open, but not gullible. Discerning, but not cynical. Engaging, but not fanatical. My hope is that you would be simply Spirit-filled” (10). His style of writing is approachable and engaging offering an intelligent, but readily accessible read for persons from teenagers to adult with any concern for the Spirit (whether wrestling with basic questions, or just seeking a deepened engagement). Personal anecdotes, testimonials, and reflections permeate the chapters and offer pastoral insight in leading others alongside for living as those who keep in step with the Spirit.

After sharing briefly about his personal spiritual journey in chapter 1, he opens in chapter 2 discussing two experiences typical in many Pentecostal and charismatic settings: shaking and being “slain in the Spirit” (he refers to these two as “shake and bake”). Sifting through multiple Biblical texts which have been used for supporting such experiences, Gabriel helps the readers to discern ways of hearing Scripture more properly with regard to experience, but also to remain critically humble in enjoying what the Spirit may in fact  be doing.

Chapter 3 engages issues of hearing God speak to us. The interweaving of personal story and Biblical/theological reflection calls for readers to reflect more carefully along with Gabriel on the ways in which the Spirit is in fact already speaking. To become better listeners. To attune ourselves to hearing well. (This chapter bears many similarities to the ways I continually seek to counsel church-goers and students toward hearing what the Spirit is saying…an issue which often creates tremendous anxiety especially for young college students).

Chapter 4 broaches the subject of tongues. Here he specifically provides responses to three common challenges to speaking in tongues (tongues are only a sign of Spirit baptism, tongues are just for a few people, and it’s “magical” or it’s “just me”). In the end, he clarifies the spiritual gains of speaking in tongues and along the way offers some brief comments toward interpreting Paul in 1 Corinthians well with regard to Paul’s understanding of the place and function of tongues within the life of the Church.

Chapter 5 engages the health-and-wealth/prosperity gospel and “Word of Faith” theology in light of God’s plans to heal and bless. Here he even names numerous such preachers/teachers in order to at least highlight some specifics of what he is addressing before addressing a healthy (pun intended) approach to healing and wholeness. Gabriel’s discussion of “faith” and the many ways it gets abused (usually with regard to someone else’s “faith”) turns to pointing toward a trust in God when we do not understand or do not clearly see an answer as we might desire. Regarding praying for healing, he comments, “If you think you must use a specific technique or formula when praying for healing, you may have a hangover from prosperity teaching” (118). His response, ask for healing and trust God. It remains God’s gift to give.

Chapter 7 concludes this book with a portrait of what it might look like to be Spirit-filled. To be Spirit-filled is to be captured by the love of God…a love which answers in love for God and others. This is to be “spiritual” in the language of Paul…to be ones guided and in step with the Spirit as those who are yielded to the life of the Spirit among us making us to be more like Jesus.

As a tool for reflective devotional purposes, Gabriel provides a prayer in relation to the contents of the chapter along with numerous helpful pointed questions regarding the chapter’s contents. These provide a direct resource for making use of this book for a personal devotional reading, group study, Sunday School, or discipleship, thus adding to the overall value of the book for continued deeper consideration and application. Gabriel is to be commended as a scholar for producing such a work that may prove to bear much fruit for the wider Church should it gain its needed wide reading. Pastors and church leaders would benefit greatly from reading this volume and finding ways to either lead congregations through its contents or to preach and teach upon the topics laid out with specific attention to the Biblical texts discussed.

One notable curiosity from my reading, Gabriel does not discuss the Spirit at all in chapter 5 (on faith and healing) all the while the gifts of “faith” and “healings” belong as gifts of the Spirit given to the body of Christ. His discussion of the topic is pastorally careful and reflective, but seems to lack the integration of the role or function of the Spirit specifically in the processes of faith and wholeness here (though he takes up the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 6). While one will find him offering multiple engagements toward perceiving the life of the Spirit in the other chapters, this chapter could have used a clarification throughout toward faith as the work of the Spirit in us (as gift even) along with the life-giving enjoyment of the Spirit who purposes to make a world fit for our God and Father and His glorious Son, King Jesus.

_____________________

I was provided a complimentary pre-publication copy by Andrew K. Gabriel for review purposes only for this review and am offering my review freely.

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.

1 Kings: For the Person in the Pew (A Review)

Jim West
Photo courtesy of Joel Watts and Facebook. 🙂

Jim West (ThD; Professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology) has written an easily read commentary on the entirety of the Old Testament of which I have reviewed his commentary on 1 Kings. West has proven himself to be a capable scholar of the ancient Near East, but more importantly of the texts of Scripture and as a preacher of said texts. He has written extensively on Scripture (including this commentary series covering the entirety of the Bible) and is perhaps one of the foremost and most prolific of bibliobloggers today. West shows considerable concern for the average church goer in his writing of this commentary both in the use of language, brevity and pastoral injunctions.
the-person-the-pew-commentary-series
West here offers some of the most concise and on-point comments of any commentary I’ve read on 1 Kings. He writes with the skill of an artisan even as he limits his own comments to a minimum. Where he becomes prosaic is in the quoting of other commentaries (sometimes at length), but even more so in his not to be missed excurses (on such topics as suicide and theodicy) which offer delectables neatly prepared for consumption to those wanting more.
Several of the features which make this volume less helpful would firstly include the choice of translation (the RV) which is all but out of use by the Church and uses unhelpfully antiquated language. While West claims it is perhaps “one of the best ever produced” this offers little consolation to the contemporary reader in the pew who neither is likely to use it or to understand its language (and if they prefer such dated language likely already prefer the KJV).
Several other features which would greatly benefit this series: listing the excurses on the table of contents page, including a bit more detail in the introduction, and indicating the chapter being discussed somewhere on the page. The introduction at least offers a very basic indication of West’s ideas about the text, but could perhaps use some further boiling down of the overall theological themes of 2 Kings. On passage number citations, if one stops reading and then takes it up again it takes some searching to find the correct chapter/passage.
One final lamentable feature of this series: West opts too often to refer to deity as “God” even when the very point being made is to be made by using the divine name YHWH (Yahweh, or even as his translation of choice has it: LORD). This seems to be all to common a mistake (and not a trifling one) in commentaries of all varieties. While this may be missed by many readers “in the pew” it continues to validate notions of the generic sense of “God” rather than specifically the God of Israel, YHWH, who makes and keeps covenant by that name and whom the writers are specific to point to by that name. A point which he seems to understand when he points clearly to Yahweh as God on pages 122-123.
On page 117, West improperly states that there would be no more raising of the dead after Elijah until the time of Jesus. Though he must have written the commentary covering 2 Kings 4 where one encounters Elisha raising the Shunnamite’s son.
Overall, West is to be commended for producing among the most readable commentaries on 1 Kings and thus deserving of a wider readership. His work highlights throughout its pages many key ideas and could likely inspire further reflection upon the text proper. One cannot but help to hear the word of a preacher speaking as a prophet of the LORD and calling the community to faithful obedience in the voice of Jim West’s many comments. May this commentary bear fruit in the Church.

Pioneering Movements: A Book Review

As one who is supervising the writing of a Master’s thesis over the course of this year on the topic of church planting, I was thrilled to receive a review copy from IVP on the notion of pioneering movements. What is especially helpful about this volume is its practical application to the multiplication (and not simply addition) of those participating in the job of planting churches and the planting itself.

PictureAddison, Steve, Pioneering Movements: Leadership That Multiplies Disciples and Churches (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 192 pp, paperback, retail $16. ISBN 9780830844418.
As one who is supervising the writing of a Master’s thesis over the course of this year on the topic of church planting, I was thrilled to receive a review copy from IVP on the notion of pioneering movements. What is especially helpful about this volume is its practical application to the multiplication (and not simply addition) of those participating in the job of planting churches and the planting itself.
This volume is the third one for Steve Addison (Movements that Changed the World and What Jesus Started) and it presses his work yet further offering a genuine proposal for creating church planting movements rather than simply planting churches ourselves. The key move forward for this volume is the specific implementation of training believers (however new to Christ they might happen to be) on how to plant churches and how to train others to plant churches. It is intentionally a movement that does not entail professionalization, but focuses instead on the enablement of all to carry forward the mission of Christ into the world.
A brief outline:
Addison opens with a brief discussion of the role and nature of the “apostle” in the Biblical text. He makes a case for apostolicity that functions to establish churches and develop others who will also establish churches and follows this with his own journey as an “apostle” and one training other “apostles” to plant churches and train others to follow (pp. 15-35).
Addison goes on to a short summation of the work of Jesus who himself focused on training others to release into the work of planting churches (pp. 37-46). He follows this up with a short (and helpful) summation of the work of Peter to do likewise as he had been commissioned by Jesus (pp. 47-59).
He shares numerous stories (historical and contemporary) of church planters and church planting movements which range from Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia Pacific, South Asia, China, Europe, the Islamic world, and North America. I found these numerous contexts to offer a multiplicity of motivational accounts from such diverse backgrounds (among the planters) and contexts, but with each following unique trajectories to see church planting movements established. This was a potent way to make the case for the methodology proposed by the intermingled methodological chapters.
Among his methodological chapters are such things as the proper relationship between the “church” and “missionary bands”. These should neither become confused with one another nor should either dominate they other, but they must work in fellowship with one another (no small task in the lived reality of people in the midst of redemption).
He goes on to describe five levels of “movement leadership”: (1) seed sower, (2) church planter, (3) church multiplier, (4) multiplication trainer, and (5) movement catalyst. These are not simple steps where one is intended to progress along from one to the next or like a ladder being intended to climb to the “top”. Instead, these simply function as various roles which must be filled as part of the move toward creating a church planting movement rather than simply planting churches. There is not really a linearity to the movement either. One might discover that their gifts are best used in one particular area rather than another, but each of these must be present to generate the church planting movement (pp. 95-108).
His marks of a church entail: recognized local leaders, habit of giving, Lord’s Supper is regularly celebrated, baptizing new believers, training to share the gospel, studies in basic discipleship completed, studies in church formation and self-recognition as a “church”. He does also hint multiple times when arguing for “self-governance” of all church plants that they must practice their own discipline as a part of their life as a church. To count as a “movement” this must become self-replicating to at least the “third generation” where a church that has been planted, has reproduced itself and that reproduction has also reproduced itself.
This volume was simple to read and offered a very basic introduction to how one might begin to work toward a church planting movement. It offers advice on simple ways of sharing Christ (such as asking, “What would be your miracle that I can pray for?”), training others to share Christ, and points to resources for just such training. Addison also offers a number of maps and charts/graphs throughout this work which offer helpful examples to visualize what he is describing. At times, it seemed this was almost more of a marketing scheme to acquire further resources (eg, the “Discovery Bible Study”), but the resources are actually offered freely and this is basically a form of an inductive study of Scripture which calls for accountability in putting into practice what has been heard in the text of Scripture.
He closes the volume with a discussion of the many reasons a person might not either do the work of church planting and multiplication by asking numerous questions rooted in actual experience among church planters that cover such issues as health, money, people issues, family, and persecution. With such realities one cannot simply think to put their hand to this work without counting the cost.
Addison’s approach is certainly friendly to a more Pentecostal/Charismatic approach as it presumes one lives in the gifts of the Spirit and expects miraculous answers to prayer. He also seeks to keep church planting movements from becoming over-reliant on outside resourcing (whether human or financial) which I find helpful against the likes of “The Gospel for Asia” methodology which seems to me a reversion to an earlier almost colonial form of missions focused on outsiders paying insiders to pastor and plant churches. This is emphatically opposed by Addison (much to his credit though he never names this organization specifically and I only offer it because of its impact via K. P. Yohannan’s book Revolution in World Missions).
Overall, I would commend this book to pastors, missionaries and church planters globally. I intend to give away copies myself since I see this as a launching point for working to advance churches being planted globally and the good news being shared with all of creation.
_________________________
*I received a copy of this book to review from IVP (for which I am grateful), but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this volume.
 

Old Testament Commentary Survey (5th Ed.) – A Review

Longman Survey 5thNow in its fifth edition (the first published in 1991), Tremper Longman III (PhD Yale University) “Old Testament Commentary Survey” (Baker Academic, 2013) offers a helpful updated appraisal of commentaries on the OT. I am thankful for the review copy that Logos provided for me and am delighted to recommend this volume as an essential tool in discerning how best to select volumes to consider for building a commentary library of the Old Testament. The accessibility and search-ability of the Logos version made reading and reviewing a volume like this one far easier especially given the heavy use of abbreviations (which were all hyper-linked to pop-up when the cursor was placed over them).
Who has Longman written for: “This guide is for anyone, layperson or minister, who desires to buy a commentary. It lists a number of works available for each book of the Old Testament, briefly summarizes their emphases and viewpoints, and evaluates them. This guide will be especially helpful to seminary students beginning to build the reference library that will be crucial to their preaching and teaching ministries” (p.2). Arguably he meets this aim for his targeted Evangelical audience.
There are a number things worth mentioning about this volume. One, Longman’s own criteria for recommending a commentary or not recommending it. Two, its already being out of date once it is published because of the current proliferation of commentaries and the need to be concise.
First, his comments regard several specific criteria that loom large throughout:

  • Evangelical issues
  • critical perspectives in light of “Evangelical” tendencies
  • theology
  • ancient Near Eastern context
  • readability
  • insightfulness

I wonder if any future update might better clarify Longman’s own understanding of “Evangelical”? He uses the term throughout this volume but never offers even a cursory summation of just what he means by it. Perhaps a brief explanation would better orient future readers as to what he means. Otherwise it seems based upon a simple acceptance that if one has uttered the “shibboleth” of “Evangelical” somehow they are sharing common knowledge and therefore stand on common ground. But in this highly diverse contemporary milieu of “Evangelicalism” found in the U.S. context (which it is supposed Longman has primarily in mind) it would perhaps go further to clarify his sense of the term even in broad brush strokes (e.g., issues of inspiration and authority of Scripture, canonical appropriation of any given text of Scripture, etc). Some of these are latently implied. For instance, when Longman seems to propose that engagement with the NT plays into this. This is how I understand his appraisal of “critical” perspectives that he deems to differ with “Evangelical” tendencies.
His own expertise (ANE and theology) is paramount in his appraisal process and thus might best explain why he focuses on such as criteria worth mentioning throughout. On his comments pertaining to readability, one wonders if he has done any readability tests (there are many available) or is he simply commenting on what he regards as highly readable. How does this align with average readability among laypersons and ministers? Or is this just a highly subjective proposal based upon his own judgment of what constitutes being “readable”? Finally, it might be beneficial if there were a comment or two explaining what he deemed “insightful” in the volumes he states are such*. Perhaps this is asking a bit much of a book that covers a LOT of ground in making such recommendations already, but he has already offered some comments on particulars in certain volumes. Why not explain if it pertains to such issues as authorship, theology, genre-classification, exegesis, etc.?
This second issue (involving all such published reviews of other literature) is not against Longman who has done a fantastic job since the first printing of aiding the layman, pastor and scholar alike (within the broad tent of Evangelicalism) in trying to wade through the multiplicity of commentaries on the market. This critique is inherent to the form of literature. For instance, Daniel Block’s excellent commentary on Deuteronomy (NIVAC, 2012)–though I understand from conversations with him that he will be able to also publish a stand-alone with Eerdmans (?), the total absence of the Abingdon Old Testament Commentary series (fifteen of which have been published since 2001), or Paul Shalom’s highly regarded recent contribution “Isaiah 40-66” (ECC, 2012)–a series which shows great promise to the scholar and yet the series is not even mentioned for review despite volumes also published on Exodus and two on Psalms.
Longman offers a terrifically insightful study of commentaries by describing whom each volume (and set) might best be appropriated: L(ayperson), M(inister/seminarian), or S(cholar). He ranks each by half-star increments (from 1/2 to 5 stars) with five stars being his strongest endorsement. He bases it on the aforementioned criteria and specifies within the commentary how one might understand his rankings: “One or two stars indicate that the commentary is inferior or deficient, and I discourage its purchase. Four or five stars is a high mark. Three, obviously, means a commentary is good but not great. I also use half stars in order to refine the system of evaluation” (p.2). He does not rank his own publications, but does include brief discussions of them. Certainly he understands well the writing of commentaries as he himself has written many in different series on top of being an editor for several. His own commentaries are listed together in Appendix B on p.153:

  •   Job. BCOTWP. Baker Academic, 2012. 496 pp.
  •   Proverbs. BCOTWP. Baker Academic, 2006. 592 pp.
  •   “Ecclesiastes.” In Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. A. Konkel and T. Longman III. CsBC. Tyndale, 2006. 400 pp.
  •   Ecclesiastes. NICOT. Eerdmans, 1998. xvi/306 pp.
  •   “Song of Songs.” In Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. A. Konkel and T. Longman III. CsBC. Tyndale, 2006. 400 pp.
  •   Song of Songs. NICOT. Eerdmans, 2001. xvi/238 pp.
  •   Jeremiah, Lamentations. UBCS. Baker Books, 2008. xvi/412 pp.
  •   Daniel. NIVAC. Zondervan/Hodder & Stoughton, 1999. 313 pp.
  •   “Nahum.” In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary. Ed. T. McComiskey. Vol. 2. Baker, 1993. Pp. 765–829.

Several humorous side comments are offered throughout, but here are several of note which speak to Longman’s own eschatological perspective (or at least away from those which he would self-identify):

  • For instance on Cooper’s commentary on Ezekiel in the NAC series, Longman writes: “This commentary is informative on a basic level but not too profound or thought-provoking. It adopts a dispensationalist and premillennial approach, which I personally find difficult to accept. So if that is your view, add a star. LM[two stars]” (p.108, bolding mine).
  • Or Baldwin’s commentary on Daniel (TOTC): “Baldwin is a balanced and sane exegete, which is important to note in a commentary on a book that attracts some wild ideas. ” (p.111, bolding mine–it would be interesting to hear some of the “wild ideas” he might have had in mind as he wrote this).

Anyone looking to gain free digital access to a number of other commentary reviews (including taking into account Longman’s own) should visit bestcommentaries.com.
________________
Longman was my second reader for my M.Div.Honours thesis and had commented in his formal review about my own “insightfulness”. Perhaps this is my own curiosity showing in that he did not comment on the specifics of what he found insightful in that work. FWIW, he gave me very high remarks and grade. 🙂

The Future of Biblical Interpretation: A Book Review

Future of Biblical InterpretationThanks to IVP Academic for providing a review copy of Porter, Stanley E. and Matthew R. Malcolm, eds., The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), 176pp.
I offer the following review of this volume:

The Bible encompasses a plurality of voices, not only in genre but in perspective. And not surprisingly, interpreters of the Bible have generated a plurality of interpretations. How might biblical scholars work responsibly with and within this plurality? And what are the future directions or possibilities for biblical hermeneutics?
The essays in The Future of Biblical Interpretation originated in a conference held in honor of Anthony C. Thiselton, who is well known for his important work in hermeneutics and New Testament interpretation. After an opening essay by Thiselton on “The Future of Biblical Interpretation and Responsible Plurality in Hermeneutics,” the contributors look at the issues from a variety of angles—theological, scriptural, kerygmatic, historical, critical, ecclesial and relational. The result is an engaging conversation exploring responsible and productive interpretation of the Bible. A must-read for anyone seriously engaged in biblical scholarship today. [the preceding is from IVP Academic, see their press release: HERE]
CONTENTS:
Introduction
Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm
1. The Future of Biblical Interpretation and Responsible Plurality in Hermeneutics
Anthony C. Thiselton
2. Biblical Hermeneutics and Theological Responsibility
Stanley E. Porter
3. Biblical Hermeneutics and Scriptural Responsibility
Richard S. Briggs
4. Biblical Hermeneutics and Kerygmatic Responsibility
Matthew R. Malcolm
5. Biblical Hermeneutics and Historical Responsibility
James D. G. Dunn
6. Biblical Hermeneutics and Critical Responsibility
Robert C. Morgan
7. Biblical Hermeneutics and Relational Responsibility
Tom Greggs
8. Biblical Hermeneutics and Ecclesial Responsibility
R. Walter L. Moberly
Conclusion
Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm

Porter and Malcolm are to be commended for this very fine (and brief) volume. The contributors are all well-regarded in their own rights and many of the contributions offer helpful proposals for responsibility in Biblical interpretation. Essentially this volume proposes a sort of responsible “concordant polyphony” of interpretation (p.10). How these divergent voices are to be held in a sort of harmonic tension is another issue (as the editors note in their conclusion). The variant voices offered here tend toward a plurality of approaches to interpretation rather than simply a plurality of interpretations.
Chiefest of the contributions, from my perspective, were Anthony Thiselton’s open-ended suggestions for the future of Biblical interpretation and Richard Briggs’ Scriptural responsibility. Thiselton astutely notes that one cannot know the direction of Biblical interpretation despite seeing the directions it has taken and is taking. He thus refers to “future possibilities” rather than “future directions” (p.24). His “possibilities” are worth mentioning: (1) a genuine confluence between general hermeneutics and actual exegesis of Scripture, (2) the call to engage the text of Scripture as “Other” rather than simply self-reflection, (3) an equal weighting of the voices of Scripture, (4) a move beyond the greatest extremes of interpretive theory, (5) continued appropriation and development of Speech-Act Theory, and (6) a proper use of literary theories in hearing the voice/s of Scripture.
Briggs’ chapter proposes “four specific theological construals of Scripture that might productively frame Christian wrestling with hermeneutical plurality: two testaments, in a creative set of theological tensions, as a means of grace, and held together dialogically as the communicative acts of the one God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and also the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (p.69). This is his manner of proposing a Christian reading of the Scriptures we hold by faith and confession. He argues it is not a responsible reading that thinks one should read apart from their commitment of faith to God in Christ as confessed by all the Church everywhere. This is, to my thinking, imperative for Christian interpreters of Scripture. Walter Moberly seems to offer a similar stream of thought within the framework of “canon”. His contribution might equally offer a helpful aim for understanding responsible Christian interpretation of the texts gathered and affirmed as authoritative for and by the Church.
Along a similar trajectory is Malcolm’s contribution. He argues for a “primed” and “faithful” interpreter (pp.81-84). This is understood to be an interpreter who holds the public confession of Christ as Lord as central to responsible interpretation of Scripture. Tom Greggs (Relational Responsibility), more specifically, speaks to a Protestant hearing of Sola Scriptura grounded in his understanding of the ecumenical creeds of the early centuries.
Less helpful contributions by James Dunn (historical responsibility) and Stanley Porter (theological responsibility) are also worth mentioning. (My appraisal of their work may be tangential to my own perspective on other related issues). Dunn offers a fine reminder of the situatedness of the Biblical texts (or any text for that matter) as well as of the interpreter. This is a necessary reminder. He does, however, seem to offer essentially his own (once again) offering of a re-reading of Paul in the strain of the “new perspective”. In this sense, I find him helpful and unhelpful. His methodology being helpful, his conclusions less than. Robert Morgan (Critical Responsibility), likewise, argues from a more thorough-going historical-critical perspective from within his own understanding of a NT theological perspective particularly with regard to the descriptions of the Jesus of history and Christ of faith.
The reason I do not find Porter’s chapter to be as helpful as others might be his (seemingly) over negative appraisal of theological interpretation in its contemporary trending. He argues for a “Biblical hermeneutic” against simply a “Biblical interpretation”. The former referring to the broader notions of theory and the latter to specific approaches to the text (or at least that is how I understand his approach). Hermeneutics is broad (entailing the interpreter as well), while interpretation is supposedly narrow and involves “processes and techniques” (p.31). I appreciate his attempts to delineate the two, but perhaps this is nuancing in ways others here have not and might themselves find unfruitful. Following his trajectory, he proposes a theological hermeneutic against a theological interpretation. Again, I find certain aspects of his approach to be helpful, while also seeming to be overly critical apart from a genuine appraisal of specifics. [Perhaps what is really needed is my own further interaction with other writings of Porter to better grapple with his approach]
Perhaps one of the most poignant comments for many of those who might make use of a volume like this was Walter Moberly’s personal narrative interwoven within his discussion of Ecclesial Responsibility:

“the way the Bible is taught in divinity schools and seminaries in the US…[is] not fit for [the ecclesial purpose of producing] future leaders of churches who will spend much time reading and interpreting Biblical texts, can finish their studies and still be relatively clueless about how to handle these texts well in the situations in which they find themselves” (p.134, referring to the comparable appraisal of Dale B. Martin, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal [Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox, 2008]).

That is a danger, all too real, that it would be hoped The Future of Biblical Interpretation might aid in remedying in part by at least raising the imperative questions of (as the subtitle claims) responsible plurality in Biblical hermeneutics. This is a welcome volume that should be incorporated into hermeneutic reading requirements for graduate level courses in Biblical hermeneutics and it is a fine praise to the tremendous contributions of the scholarship of Anthony Thiselton.
_____________
See what other reviewers have to say:
Nate Claiborne
Jim West (forthcoming)