Sunday, November 14, 2021

Reflections on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

It's likely that I'll remember 2021 in part as the year in which Mike Cosper narrated my solo drives and weekend walks. Often I wondered if I could take yet another heart-sickening story of the abuse of power in the church, but I kept coming back, like a moth to the flame. 

If you're not familiar with it, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is an audio documentary sponsored by Christianity Today about the Seattle mega-Church called Mars Hill pastored by Mark Driscoll -- its origins, rapid growth, M.O., and the toxic culture of leadership that lead to its messy end. 

I have never met Mark Driscoll, never listened to one of his sermons, and never read one of his books, so why did I invest over a dozen hours listening to this podcast?

In the first place, it's well produced and well articulated. The sound design is fantastic and the stories are compelling. Christianity Today set a high bar with this one.

More importantly, it helps to explain a movement I could not understand at the time -- among other things, how a conservative pastor could say such crass things about sex, gender roles, and manhood from the pulpit and get away with it. Like most evangelicals with an ear to the ground, I had seen and heard clips of inflammatory things that Mark Driscoll said from the stage (around 2012), and I was deeply concerned. I later learned about his highly unethical ploy to get one of his books on the New York Times bestseller list. It was hard to miss the news about the raft of plaigiarism found in his books. And I knew that in spite of his church elders' attempt to lead him through a disciplinary process, Mark had resigned and headed to Arizona . . . where he planted a new church.

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill shines a spotlight on abusive power dynamics that are too-often operative in Christian churches and institutions. Cosper traces various threads to help us see the origins of unhealthy ideas and the ways that they hurt people. At the same time, he highlights the stories of those who experienced radical transformation in their lives in the early days of Mars Hill. 

I believe God calls the church to bear his name with honor. In the case of Mars Hill, the quest for growth-at-all-costs was paired with Mark Driscoll's growing refusal to be accountable to seasoned leaders in his church network or even to his own board of elders. We can learn a lot from this story. It stands as a modern day parable of sorts, warning of the dangers associated with a leader having too much power, too fast, without godly character and life experience to prevent that leader from going off the rails. Unlike a parable, this one has real collatoral damage. So many former members are still trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of what happened.

Ironically, the podcast has been a sensation of its own. Today it's ranked #2 in religion podcasts in the US. This probably says something about our our collective desire to hear grizzly tales of others' demise. It probably also points to how widespread these problems are in the church. I'm guessing it appeals to a lot of people who would like to understand a conservative brand of Christianity that prides itself on fidelity to Scripture but puts up with a bully in the pulpit. Probably all of these reasons. (As a side note, it's in very interesting company on the top 5!)

I've listened to The Rise and Fall in part because of its popularity. As an educator and lover of the church, I want to be in the loop about what people are hearing and how they are processing. If you've listened to at least part of the series, how has it personally challenged you? Leave me a note in the comments below.

Personally, I've been sobered by what well-meaning people will tolerate when a strong personality is at the helm. The podcast has given us much to lament. It renews my appreciation for institutional structures that have rigorous checks and balances in place. It's also a reminder that character matters a whole lot. For Driscoll, his popularity became the "proof" of his effectiveness and the "fruit" of "his ministry" -- but how many of those metrics could be traced to people who tuned in because they were incredulous? Just because people are listening, that doesn't mean the teaching is sound. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah warned against false prophets who told people what their itching ears wanted to hear (Jeremiah 6:14).

If the podcast series has left you disillusioned about the church, a good next step might be to read Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer's book, A Church Called Tov (tov is the Hebrew word for "good"). It's on my short list of books to read next. McKnight and Barringer write about how to cultivate a healthy church culture where stories like this one will not keep happening. May the overwhelming popularity of this podcast awaken the church to stop tolerating abuses of power and instead cultivate communities marked by faithful and humble service!

Monday, October 11, 2021

Thankful and Not-So-Thankful: Reckoning with Our North American Legacy

Imagine this: 

You are a young mother nearing her due date living just outside of Seattle, Washington, but you fear going out in public. You know that if you give birth in a hospital, the US Government will likely confiscate your newborn and put it up for adoption. You want your baby. You are prepared to love and nurture it in your family home on the land of your great grandparents.

Sound far-fetched? 

This happened with regularity in my lifetime, in the 1970s. I learned about this travesty by listening to a children's audio book as we traveled this summer. I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day, is the story of a girl who discovers that her mother was put up for adoption at birth, even though her birth mother wanted her and was prepared to care for her. Simply being "Indian" and unmarried resulted in the confiscation of her child. Although this particular story is fictional, it is based on history.

Imagine this:

You are a young family in British Columbia, raising your children in the community where your parents and grandparents and their parents and grandparents have always lived. One day, police arrive and take your children by force, citing the need to educate them properly. They are taken to a residential school run by the Church, where they are forced to  cut their hair, wear a uniform, and speak only English. They never return home -- not for holidays or funerals. You never hear from them again. You suspect that they are dead, but you are told nothing.

Sound far-fetched?

This happened with regularity in my Dad's lifetime, throughout the 1900s as late as the 1990s. I mention my Dad because he was born in the small town of Enderby, British Columbia to recent immigrants from Europe who spoke broken English. Just 90 minutes away was one of Canada's largest residential schools, which boasted 500 students in the 1950s and operated until after I was born. You might have seen the Kamloops Indian Residential School in the news this summer, when 215 unmarked graves were discovered there, most of them children.

Before her death, my grandmother told me a story about my Dad's birth, when the nurses whisked him away to perform an elective surgery without so much as asking for her consent. She had no intention of circumcising him because in Europe only Jews practiced circumcision (keep in mind that this is on the heels of WWII, when circumcision could be a matter of life or death). That was bad enough, but if she had been a Native American, she may never have have seen him again. My own father could have grown up in a residential school. 

Stories from these schools are nauseating -- regular beatings and repeated rape by residential school staff, starving children as punishment, and a stated policy to "kill the Indian in the child." This happened in North America. This happened in living memory.

Having recently moved from Canada to the US, my holidays are still feeling jumbled. Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, but Indigenous Peoples Day in the US. So today, on Canadian Thanksgiving, I'm reflecting on things that I am thankful and not-so-thankful for in relation to the history of indigenous peoples.

  • I'm thankful for my students at Prairie College (Three Hills, Alberta) who studied the history of residential schools and presented their findings to our class. You can learn more about the important work of Canada's National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on their website.
  • As painful as it was, I am thankful to have had my eyes opened to the darker side of North American history, whose effects are still felt today.
  • I'm thankful for growing awareness of this issue, which creates space to grieve together and imagine a different future.
  • I'm not thankful for the role the church played in the confiscation of "Indian" children in the US and Canada. Mostly well-meaning folks perpetrated cultural genocide, seeing their own way of life as superior and failing to recognize how the gospel is good news for every culture, not just their own.
  • I'm not thankful for how church leaders were able to abuse children with impunity for so long. Lack of accountability put thousands of children at risk, and the generational effects of that trauma on survivors are still being felt. 
  • I'm not thankful for decades of cover up in white spaces that has continued to silence the voices of indigenous people as they cry out for justice.

Reckoning with our shared history is no easy task. Both the US and Canada have a legacy of violent oppression toward indigenous peoples. Most difficult to swallow is the church's role in that legacy. I am not equipped to outline all the ways this has been expressed, but these snapshots offer a glimpse of what I've learned in recent years.

I leave you with this new song by my friend, Brian Doerksen. Brian lives in British Columbia (and worked with me at Prairie College). In the wake of this summer's discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops, Brian wrote this song. He recognized the need for us to sit with this hard news, to feel its sorrow, and to weep with those who have been weeping for generations. I'm thankful for his courage.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A Personal Announcement: My Biola Story

Choosing which college to attend is a big decision. I remember back in high school as I was wrestling through my options, the guidance counselor at my Christian school went on a trip to California to visit several schools. When she returned, she sought me out to say that she had found the perfect place for me: Biola University.

That was 1994.

I was stubborn. I had already made up my mind to go to Multnomah Bible College in Portland, where I planned to study Greek and Missions so I could become a Bible translator. I had my future all planned out.

Fast forward to 2021. 

I've finally come around. I've accepted a job offer from Biola University. I'll be joining their faculty this fall as Associate Professor of Old Testament. This summer we're moving from Alberta, Canada to Southern California. It's a wee bit warmer and a whole lot more crowded. We're in for quite a change!

We have loved living in Canada. Three Hills is a friendly town with a lot of charm. Prairie College is a harmonious place to work, with eager students, devoted colleagues, and a solid mission. We've loved our church and our kids' school. But by the time you read this, we'll have said our tearful goodbyes and headed south. We're feeling drawn into this new work. In so many ways, the timing is right.

You see, I left out the middle of the story.

In 2013, I was on the home stretch of my doctoral program. Biola was looking for a professor of OT for the graduate school division of Talbot School of Theology. They specifically wanted someone to teach Hebrew. They urged me to apply. I did, and made it all the way through the process to the campus interview, but felt unsettled about it. Hebrew is not where I shine. I love teaching English Bible classes. And I'm especially fond of freshmen. We also weren't sure about living in California. Our hearts were in Oregon. Precisely then, my dissertation hit a brick wall. I had more work to do than I could possibly finish in time, so I pulled out of the process. But Biola didn't forget about me.

That was seven years ago. Since then I finished my dissertation, taught at two of my favorite schools in Oregon (neither of which offered me full-time work), and spent four years investing at Prairie College. When Biola approached me last year about a possible tenure-track position in Old Testament teaching undergraduates, we were ready. Friends, I'll be the first woman in Biola's 113-year history to hold a full-time faculty position in Old Testament. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my new colleagues during the lengthy application process, and I'm excited to join the team. 

Biola is a world-class institution offering a robust liberal arts education. Biola says this about its academic reputation:
U.S. News & World Report ranks Biola as a first-tier national university and on its selective list of universities with “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” The Princeton Review includes Biola on its list of “Best Western Colleges.”
I am thrilled to get to participate in their mission of providing "biblically centered education, scholarship and service -- equipping men and women in mind and character to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ."

Other fun facts: 
  • Biola (1908), Prairie (1923), and Multnomah (1922) were all birthed as part of the Bible College movement. Did you know that BIOLA started as an acronym? It used to stand for Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Biola still offers a strong 30-credit Bible core for every student.
  • Biola has nearly as many faculty (200) as Prairie College has students (250), and Biola has more undergraduate students (4000) than Three Hills has residents (3400). In fact, California has more residents (39.5 million) than all of Canada put together (37.5 million)! Quite a change of pace!
  • Biola is farther from "home" (Portland, OR) than Prairie is. In case your Canadian geography is rusty, Alberta is directly east of British Colombia and north of Montana. Three Hills, Alberta, is 14.5 hours northeast of Portland, while LA is about 16 hours south. However, we no longer have an international border to cross.
  • Because of the pandemic, both of my "campus visits" were online. Biola is very thorough, and there were more than 15 steps to the process, including lots of interviews on Zoom. Thankfully, I spoke in chapel at Biola 18 months ago, before the pandemic hit. I also took our oldest daughter there for a college visit 4 years ago, so I have a pretty good idea what the campus and surrounding area are like.
  • Half of my teaching load (two classes each semester) will be BBST 209: History and Literature of the Old Testament. The rest of my classes will be electives, which will allow me to teach in my areas of current research.
  • Our home in Three Hills sold in less than 24 hours, with no realtor, no listing, no sign, and only one showing. The new owners had been praying for us for months and felt called to come to Three Hills to work with young adults.
  • God provided a condo for us to rent month-to-month while we look for a house to buy. It's in Cerritos, which means "Little Hills" -- so we're moving from Three Hills to Little Hills! This condo will be our 12th address in 23 years of marriage.
  • We are STILL eating cherries from our 2017 bumper crop. I wonder what kind of fruit God will provide in our next home? (Update: lemons and tangerines!)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Note To Subscribers

If you received this blog post in your email inbox, that's because at some point you subscribed to my blog. Thank you! Blogger tells me that the automatic email subscription service is going away. Supposedly, I can access the subscription list, but I haven't been able to do it successfully, so it will be up to you to re-subscribe using the new subscription service links on the side of my blog instead.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I've been blogging for over 10 years. 

I've written over 500 blog posts. 

And this blog has had well over 215,000 views.

YOU are the reason I keep writing. 

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Summer Sale on Seminary Now: 40% Off!

Last year, just before the pandemic started, I filmed a series of teaching videos for Seminary Now to go along with my book Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters. As one of the contributors, I was given access to all of the other content. I went through Ruth Haley Barton's course, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. I had read her book several years ago with a group of women in leadership, and it was great to go through her content again.

Our family has loved Seminary Now! For family devotions, we've gone through John Walton's Lost World of Genesis One, Sandy Richter's Stewards of Eden, and David Fitch's Faithful Presence. Our 12-year-old has genuinely enjoyed these courses.

Looking for high-quality resources to equip your leaders and disciple your church? If you haven’t subscribed to Seminary Now yet, take advantage of their biggest sale of the year! 

For a limited time, save 40% off an *annual* subscription 

with discount code ANNUAL40. That’s less than $9 a month!
This amazing offer expires today, June 22.

Sign Up

Seminary Now
is a new streaming video platform with courses from today’s leading professors and authors. In addition to those listed above, Seminary Now offers courses by Scot McKnight, Nijay Gupta, Brenda Salter McNeil, Robert Chao Romero, Lynn Cohick, Tish Harrison Warren, Tremper Longman, and Esau McCaulley. Like Netflix or Masterclass, subscribers get unlimited access to all courses—available on smart phone, tablet, and TV devices. Most courses are presented as 10 episodes of less than 15 minutes each, making them ideal for family devotions, personal enrichment, or small group learning.


The high-quality content and easy accessibility make Seminary Now an excellent resource for training your leaders and discipling your church. A church subscription to Seminary Now provides:   

  • logins for church staff and lay leaders to complete certificate tracks 

  • engaging, relevant content for small groups and Sunday school classes

This month only: 20% off a church subscription (expires June 30). Complete this form to get church or group pricing. 

Comment below to let me know which course you want to take first! Or, if you're a subscriber, I'd love to hear which course has been your favorite and why.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Introducing a New Devotional Resource on the Psalms

Until recent decades, the Psalms have been a mainstay for individual and corporate prayer for Christians. For 2000 years, churches sang and prayed the Psalms so frequently that many Christians knew them by heart. In some traditions (Catholic, Anglican, Christian Reformed, to name a few), this is still the case. But for the vast majority of us who identify as Evangelical Protestants, the Psalms have dropped off our radar.

In our clamor for the latest worship songs, we have lost sight of one of the most precious resources of our historic faith. We cherish the fact that we can come to God just as we are, but our "vocabulary" is rather limited. We naturally gravitate toward certain language and certain topics when we pray. To be frank, our prayers often become unimaginative and dull. Believers can still value the authenticity that comes from spontaneous prayer, while expanding our language for prayer by praying the Psalms.

I'm delighted to share with you a new devotional resource that I hope will strengthen our collective prayer muscles and provide companionship on our spiritual journey. Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends is an anthology of devotional reflections on the Psalms by over two dozen early Christian writers. I've selected a few paragraphs on each psalm by a wide range of voices spanning the first 15 centuries of the church -- Augustine, John Calvin, Gertrude the Great, Mary Sidney Herbert, and many others. Most, if not all, of these writers prayed through the Psalms regularly and would have known them by heart. I found their words inspiring, challenging, and enlightening, and I hope you do, too.

Does your prayer life feel anemic? Are you hungry for a deeper connection with God? Consider joining me this summer in praying through the Psalms. Praying the Psalms contains a reading plan that will take you through the entire book of Psalms in eight weeks by reading and praying just three psalms a day. 

Option 1: Read the Psalms.

Option 2: Read the Psalms along with these devotional reflections.

The devotional is not meant to replace the Psalms, but to be read alongside them. I've set aside June 14 to August 14 to read the Psalms with you. That's 9 weeks, so there's grace built in if life gets crazy and you fall behind. 

All of the Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics are divided into eight "chapters" so that they are easy to read with a group over eight weeks. Each chapter has discussion questions. And each week, you'll find a free companion video on the Sacred Roots YouTube channel in which I introduce the next "chapter" of the book. Here's my introduction to the series:

If you plan to join us in reading through the Psalms, I'd love to hear about your experience! Comment below to let me know that you're joining us. Could you recruit a friend or two to join you? 

This volume is the first in the Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics series funded by the Lilly Foundation. The series is one dimension of the Sacred Roots Thriving in Ministry project led by Hank Voss of Taylor University, which seeks to connect under-resourced pastors with the riches of our historic faith. You can learn more about the larger project on the Sacred Roots website. The Lilly Foundation covered the cost of producing the first 16 volumes, so all the income from sales of the book will fund a second series of spiritual classics. You can order a copy of Praying the Psalms on Amazon. 

I hope this is a rich summer for all of us as we expand our prayer language and practice bringing our whole selves into the presence of God

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Best Books for Academics Learning Their Craft

So you have your PhD. Now what? If you're fortunate enough to land a job, even a contingent one, how do you transition from slaving away at a dissertation in the bowels of the library to joining a faculty and standing at a lectern? The books below have helped me navigate this transition. I wish I could share them with every academic I know. 

Disclaimer: I didn't set out to write a commercial for InterVarsity Press. IVP just happens to consistently hit home runs by publishing books that I want to read! They aren't paying me to write this. I'm sharing it in hopes that these books can help you reach your full potential.

Trying to engage a classroom of 18-year olds is a far cry from spending long hours in the library laboring over a dissertation. Mike Kibbe (Great Northern) gets this, and he's written a wonderful guide to navigating the transition from what you've been trained to do (i.e., research and write) and what you're now hired to do (i.e., captivate students and help them learn). From Research to Teaching: A Guide to Beginning Your Classroom Career (IVP 2021) should be required reading for every newly minted PhD in Bible, theology, and related disciplines. Honestly, I couldn't put it down. Mike writes with candor and teaches with creativity. 

I'm 5 years in to the teaching profession, and I still believe it's the #bestjobintheworld. However, its rhythms and challenges are so unique that only an experienced insider can help someone like me find sustainable ways to navigate the academic year. Christina Bieber Lake (Wheaton) is the faculty mentor I wish I had in real life. The Flourishing Teacher: Vocational Renewaal for a Sacred Profession (IVP 2020) procedes month by month through the academic year, offering honest reflections and sage advice. I have savored each month's chapter for most of this school year. Last weekend I indulged myself by reading to the very end. What a gift to help me find perspective and cultivate joy in the journey!

THIS is the book I wish I'd had ten years ago. Power Women: Stories of Motherhood, Faith, and the Academy (IVP 2021) is a collection of essays by academic mothers about how they've navigated the dual callings of raising children and being a professor -- simultaneously. Men, before you tune out, you need this book, too, especially if you work in academic administration. This book will show you proven ways to recruit and retain female faculty in your institution. It's a treasure trove of ideas for how to help academic moms flourish. I had no women to model for me how to get an MA with small children, and few who could strategize with me about how to navigate a PhD with school-aged children. I am currently the only academic mom at my institution. How many other women out there are alone and need support? Power Women is a wonderful first step. Editors Nancy Wang Yuen (Biola) and Deshonna Collier-Goubil (Azusa) have done us a great service by bringing us the voices of a diverse group of women who have approached the quest for work-life balance in unique ways.

Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality
(IVP 2019) is a winsome guide written by one of IVP's star editors, Andrew T. Le Peau. His practical advice will revitalize your writing. Not everyone senses a calling or desire to write, but in most educational institutions it's a must. Writing is the currency of the academy -- the surest path to tenure, to impacting your field, to building a brand, and to reaching a broader audience with important ideas. Learn to do it well.

I read Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective Organization (IVP 2017) when I transitioned from adjunct to full-time faculty. I wanted to know how to serve effectively in my institution. Gordon T. Smith is president of Ambrose University in Calgary. He has a keen sense of how to lead well and how to help others learn to lead well. Every generation has a tendency to try to re-invent the wheel, but lasting change comes through healthy institutions. My own passion will give out in time. A healthy institution harnesses the passion of a whole team and makes it last a generation or more. Though most professors would not identify the faculty meeting as the highlight of their week, a well-led faculty meeting can be a tangible generator of lasting change. I blogged about this book over at The Well if you'd like to learn more.

Gary Burge (Wheaton) has been around the block a few times. Looking back at a productive career, he reflects on distinct seasons of his own life in which priorities shifted and new goals coalesced. Where The Flourishing Teacher is a month-by-month guide to the academic year, Burge's book delivers on its title: Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor's Life (IVP 2015). It takes a much longer view and identifies the promises and pitfalls of each decade. I plan to keep this handy throughout my career.

Do you have another favorite that I haven't listed here? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. I never want to stop improving at the art of being a professor!