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.

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 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.

On Earth As It Is In Heaven: A Brief Theological Reflection

“…on earth as it is in heaven…” While we might consider this from the trajectory of the revelation of the God to Israel preceding Jesus’ statement (which would be a fitting approach), we might also consider this statement as embodied in the one leading the prayer: Jesus the Christ. Such a reflection (drawing from the New Testament) offers several hearings of this text leading to praying and doing.
We might understand by “heaven” not an ethereal disembodied sphere of existence “out there” or even “above here”, but as wherever the kingdom of God is present. Wherever God reigns is most properly to be regarded as “heaven”. While God’s reign is not fully experienced “on earth” it is coming to bear “on earth” even as it has from the beginning of creation and the planting of the garden.
Considering such a view of “heaven” we might define “on earth” as that sphere of existence wherein God’s reign is less fully yet being realized.
There is a strange movement that occurs here. It is never as if “earth” is not where God reigns, nor is “heaven” to be regarded as itself such bliss that nothing more could be added to it. No. The kingdom of God is yet more realized in both heaven and earth by the two becoming the kingdom of our God and His Christ. This is not to suggest something essential lacking to the reign “in heaven,” but to appeal to the grace of God towards, in, and for us in his self-giving love embodied in Christ Jesus.
Christ Jesus brings heaven to bear on earth. Or more properly first, the Holy Spirit brings heaven to bear on earth in the virgin Mary. This is “God with us”. God being toward us, heaven toward earth (even in the earth).
Christ Jesus bears heaven on earth as the light burdens being given in place of earth’s heavy burdens. He seeks and saves that which is lost as a light blazing in the darkness. Earth cannot be regarded as wholly other to heaven. Unclean spirits are cast out. Disease and even death itself is demonstrably overcome on earth as it is in heaven. And these are all laid to bear on the cross as one raised up from the earth and lifted up into heaven in shamefulness. Yet the Father sees fit to not leave his Son buried in the earth, but raises him up to ascend into heaven to His right hand as King Jesus. And from there the Father pours out Jesus’ Spirit upon all flesh to fill the hearts and mouths of the saints with heaven on earth until the earth should be filled with the fullness of the glory of God.
And heaven shall be opened and the Christ descend bearing heaven to the earth. At last the kingdom shall come in fullness as his reign continues without end. His throne (the throne of God and of the Lamb) established in His city now come down from heaven and established upon the new heavens and the new earth. It is here, in the two joining, that we are praying toward as Jesus taught us to. It is here, in the two joining, that we are working toward as the Spirit compels and empowers us to. It is here that we (and all of creation with us) are moving toward: the day when the Father in heaven’s name is holified, His kingdom come, and His will done “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Pentecostal Oral Liturgy

I’m taking a number of Trinity students to the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (hosted in Cleveland, TN this year) in a few weeks. Every Thursday for the last several months we’ve met for about a half hour to talk about various aspects of the trip including topics/papers that will be a part of the gathering. One of the papers that I summarized today (and handed out a copy of) was from a dear friend (thanks Monte) who is engaging (in part) ways that the poor find their voice in the Pentecostal oral liturgy, all the while most of life mutes their voices.
Likely you may not think Pentecostals have “liturgy”. However, it is simply those practices which form such a gathering into the image of Christ. I was asking for examples of such and the students helpfully offered such things as praying in tongues, singing, prayers, and preaching. I should mention that each Thursday, just prior to our half hour gathering for particular trips, we are together as a full campus singing to the Lord, offering prayers and testimonies. During our corporate time today our Director of Student Ministries called for us to join in prayer for the mass shooting in a school in Parkland, Florida yesterday. As he mentioned this there were audible groans from several places in the chapel.
I pointed to those groans as a poignant example of Pentecostal oral liturgy. Those groans belong to the Spirit who also groans with creation for redemption. Such groans function to address the deep anguish of heart in the face of such darkness. It longs, it cries, for response. Inexpressible groans that long for the kingdom of our God to become the kingdom of this world. Groans for the King to return and set all things to right.
Moments like this remind me of the value of the integration of scholarship with practice, worship flowing into theological reflection and that theology answering back as further worshipful response to God in the midst of his people in the midst of the world.

Grace Is Life

Today I had a student that I am mentoring who mentioned something I said in one of my classes: “Grace is life”. I had said this as part of my response to a student’s sermon addressing grace, but never defining it in any sort of substantial sense. It seemed taken for granted. I had offered that the preaching student consider “Grace is life”. I only briefly added to this a few comments about that life being the life of God in and for us. Then I moved on with the class. This student in my office, however, wondered just what I meant by it.
Being a dad I’m good at giving far more than someone asks for. 🙂
I opened with clarifying that for me this statement flows from my readings and reflections on the work of Karl Barth. I walked the student through the basic idea of God’s freedom for, to, through, and in (and even against) us. This, for me, is grace. God remains always free in his own self-giving. We find ourselves taken up into this in God’s own self-giving in Jesus the Christ. Here is Man given freely to and for God and to and for creation. Here is God given freely to and for God and to and for creation. And always and forever this freely flowing life of God is given in God’s own love for God and our being taken up into that movement by the Spirit of Jesus.
And then tonight as I sat down to do some evening reading I happened upon this statement by Barth regarding election that seemed related to my discussion with my student:

… in the name and person of Jesus Christ we are called upon to recognize the word of God, the decree of God and the election of God at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of our own being and thinking, at the basis of our faith in the ways and works of God. (CD 2/2 p. 99)

For myself (and I pray for my students as well), I find tremendous help in these ideas for pastoral care and praxis. Grace becomes both the opportunity and possibility of life … and that life is in God’s own life. What do you think?

Misreading Bonhoeffer: A Response

Bonhoeffer
I was recently alerted (via Facebook) to an article by Richard Weikart, “The Troubling Truth about Bonhoeffer’s Theology,” Christian Research Journal 35.6 (2012) which can be read HERE.
It seems Weikart initially felt quite happy with Bonhoeffer while he thought him an “Evangelical,” but quickly dismissed him once he came to see him as “Neo-Orthodox” (pp.1-2). What makes this so troubling is that neither category is fitting for this early twentieth century German Lutheran minister theologian, but seem more concerned with categories of Americans intent on dismissing folks by use of labels. That being said, Weikart expresses numerous points at which he finds trouble with Bonhoeffer.
Under the heading of Scripture, Weikart quotes Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, “Scripture belongs essentially to the preaching office, but preaching belongs to the congregation. Scripture must be interpreted and preached. In its essence it is not a book of edification for the congregation.” He then proceeds to argue this is not true to Luther (on the “priesthood of all believers) or Lutherans. But this type of belief about the place of the proclaimed word and its potency is precisely Lutheran. Weikart seems to not realize the place of the preached word in Lutheran theology proper or in the theology of Luther. For Luther (and thus Lutherans in his wake), it is the proclaimed word of God where one hears the voice of Christ. Such is the case with Bonhoeffer.
Where Weikart accuses Bonhoeffer of moving from his earlier reading of Scripture with regularity, he seems oblivious to Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the spiritualizations of the pietistic Lutheran practices with which he had at first been fostered into and only later came to see the pietism often did not result in greater faithfulness, but only a higher sense of spiritualized success all the while avoiding taking responsibility in the life of the world (see his many such comments on this in Ethics). There is in fact nothing wrong with not reading Scripture daily. Jesus didn’t. He couldn’t. What is imperative is that we meditate upon Scripture, hear it and obey it. The Scriptures nowhere demand daily Bible reading. That is a matter of pietistic Evangelicalism that has learned to think such a practice is a requirement of genuine spirituality. Bonhoeffer seems to have understood this at deeply sustained levels.
While many (in the U.S.) regard Barth as “neo-orthodox” this is not owing to Barth himself, but to early American interpreters of Barth who either failed to understand him or misrepresented him. It is easier to just lump him in with others who are also rejected without wrestling with what he has actually written.
Under his attack on Bonhoeffer’s (and Barth’s) view of Scripture, Weikart misses that the Scriptures are recorded not as transcripts, but as careful theological reflections of the revelation of God concerning the stories of Israel, Jesus, the Church and the world. The Scriptures are not attempting to document empirically verifiable history, but instead that which must be believed by faith which is offered sufficient witness to believe. Weikart’s view seems to be more intent on historicality (even when the text itself does not warrant it, nor the preservation of the text) rather than the realities to which the text points in the manner in which the writers were inspired to record them.
Further, what Bonhoeffer rejects of the emphasis upon trying to speak of the “historical” with regard to Jesus is that 19th-20th century German obsession with doing just that. This led to a number of notions such as a bifurcation of the Jesus between that of history and that of faith, or worse yet, an eradication of the historical Jesus altogether. Bonhoeffer was responding in just that sort of milieu. And he responded by pointing to faith in the preserved stories of Jesus regardless of the ability to historically verify details beyond the witnesses of the texts themselves.
Weikart’s use of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison shows an utter disregard for the writings of one in a personal letter to another that was NOT intended for public consumption. If any of us had things we said privately preserved by others after our death and disseminated globally we would find ourselves having stated things which we were wrestling with and/or were not offered with the context of explanation (because it is assumed the person spoken to knows this sufficiently to understand). Judgment of all of us would ensue.
Under the title “The Good Book,” Weikart fails to grasp Bonhoeffer’s rejection of Scripture as offering “universal, timeless truths”. Bonhoeffer is convinced that to treat Scripture as offering such, is to pre-determine what God would have us to do in any and every situation. But this (for Bonhoeffer and for myself) ignores the living word of the living God who speaks today through that word to us. It makes a binding law of the word of Jesus. It means one is no longer required to attune their ears to the Spirit, but only to reread words written. It is on this very idea, that I have personally found life and joy in Christ and proclaim that we are not through listening as if we have heard all there is to hear…NO! We must go on listening anew today!
On Weikart’s claim of universalism, he fails to engage the very “this-worldly” notion of redemption at work in Scripture and the theology of Bonhoeffer. Instead, he seems to think more of spiritualized heavenly individualistic salvation. Bonhoeffer, however, was concerned with the redemption of the cosmos that was enacted in Christ Jesus. Bonhoeffer was concerned with “people” and not simply individuals and he was concerned with this precisely because of the election of Jesus wherein all of humanity finds redemption. This is not to say all are saved, but to say that in Christ salvation is sufficient for all and is extended to all and must be declared to all. The pastoral and missiological implications of this are profound.
I for one find little to judge negatively of Bonhoeffer’s reflections stated by Weikart, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve become one of Weikart’s “liberal” “neo-orthodox” folks he seems so adamant are to be despised and rejected. Or maybe Weikart is simply judging Bonhoeffer by means of his own skewed theological and ideological agenda rather than on grounds of truthful discourse that hears Bonhoeffer in Bonhoeffer’s own context. To those who have ears to hear…
___________________
My apologies for not citing Bonhoeffer’s works throughout. This is more of an overall response (without direct access to Bonhoeffer’s works from my home). For those interested in reading Bonhoeffer in context, they can read the pages cited by Weikart as well as reflecting particularly on Bonhoeffer’s Ethics which answers (for myself) the misreading of Bonhoeffer contra much of American Evangelicalism and its inherited pieties.

A Little Reading for 2016

HermeneuticsAs I look to the coming years and what the Lord might allow me to do, I like to plan ahead what I might be able to read. The types of things which give direction to my choice of books are the projects I’m currently working on (or interested in potentially working on) and, now that I’ve been teaching, those subjects which I have and will teach. For whatever it is worth, I always welcome reading recommendations (but know that my Amazon wishlists contain somewhere in the vicinity of 300+ titles already 🙂 ). So here are a few of the volumes I will be reading in 2016 to be “discipled” further in several areas.
Hermeneutics
Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.
Bartholomew, Craig G. Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.
Ricœur, Paul. Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976.
Ricœur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Preaching
Alcántara, Jared E. Crossover Preaching: Intercultural-Improvisational Homiletics in Conversation with Gardner C. Taylor. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015.
Witherup, Doug. Interrobang Preaching: A Renewed Homiletic for the Twenty-First-Century Church. NC: Witherup, 2014.
Theology (just for fun)
Diller, Kevin. Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.
Isgrigg, Daniel D. Pilgrimage into Pentecost: The Pneumatological Legacy of Howard M. Ervin. Tulsa, OK: Word & Spirit Press, 2008.
Spencer, Archie J. The Analogy of Faith: The Quest for God’s Speakability. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015.
So what books are you scheduling to read in the next year to develop in specific areas of your life and calling?

Counterpoint Series and The Socratic Club

Counterpoints-TwitterSeveral other faculty members of Trinity and I started a “Socratic Club” this last year on campus (on the origins of such a group see this short synopsis). We gather every Thursday night and discuss matters primarily biblical, philosophical, literary, and theological. While our Club is not as targeted as the original one of Oxford we still operate along the same principles of an open forum where anyone can share.
It has included presentations by individuals on topics ranging from such topics as the nature of Christian preaching, what is the gospel and how are people saved, and engaging “spirit/s” in Greek literature. We’ve also had group counter-point discussions. Thus, this post.
This week only Zondervan is offering each of their Counterpoint series for only $4.99 (a steal of a deal). These have made our Club able of tackling all sorts of issues that we don’t have to be concerned with intense research or the stress of what to say. We simply provide a copy via our library, ask individuals in the Club to read a particular view/chapter and highlight the key points of the argument being presented. We’ve covered such topics as genocide in the OT and women in ministry, with plans to continue using this series. It also allows the rest of us the opportunity to hear a number of perspectives from within the broader scope of Evangelicalism on a topic.
If anyone is interested in starting such a group on their campus this is a great way to supplement discussions that is low cost and low stress.