Friday, August 16, 2019

Author Interview: Patrick Oden

Author and Theologian Patrick Oden
(photo: Amy Oden)

I interviewed author and theologian Patrick Oden on the release of his newest book, Hope for the Oppressor: Discovering Freedom through Transformative Community. I've already given a synopsis of his book and you'll find my endorsement on the back cover. Here Oden takes us behind the scenes to discover how this book came to be and what he hopes will be the outcome for those who read it.

The content is worth the hefty price tag for this book, but you can order directly from the publisher using discount code LEX30AUTH19 for 30% off until July 15, 2020. If you still find the cost prohibitive, encourage your library to purchase a copy. 

What inspired you to write this book?
Life!  Well, that’s true but it’s not a very specific answer.  More formally, it started with my experience in missional churches back in the 1990s. All was an attempt to embrace a very holistic community, getting outside the structures and programs of the establishment, including forms of controlling leadership.  All the while, I was reading Newbiggin, Hirsch, and other missional writers alongside academic theologians like Pannenberg and Moltmann. I realized there was a shared ecclesiology. I wrote a book, It’s a Dance, that covered key themes of the Spirit’s work, and that led to PhD studies, to explore more about this connection. My goal was to put emerging/missional churches in conversation with Moltmann, who is the grandfather of liberation theologies.
Early on in my studies, I realized that a lot of what these churches were doing sounded like the efforts of liberation theologies, only directed toward the industrial West rather than oppressed. It was an ecclesiology that shared liberation methods, but to oppressors! And Moltmann has argued over the decades that liberation has to happen from both directions, the oppressed need to be liberated from oppression and the oppressors have to be liberated from oppressing. Both together. I realized I was onto something, that there was a practical community oriented approach that encouraged people to live in new ways.

There was a lot written on liberation of the oppressed, but very little about truly liberating the oppressors.  When I got started on my dissertation, I realized I had to first provide a focus on Moltmann’s ecclesiology, showing he has argued for a liberation of the oppressors since his earliest works.  I had to start with the model of the church, and only then could I think about the bigger picture.
The dissertation was published by Fortress as The TransformativeChurch, so it was time to get to the heart of the project. My key question was what would a liberation of the oppressor look like if we listened to Moltmann’s caution to not start with what they have to give up, but instead point to what they have to gain. That is, I realized I needed to offer a positive approach to liberation, and that meant I had to go a very different direction than most of the ‘prophetic’ books written on contemporary political and social challenges—all while not ignoring the need for transformation, reconciliation, and justice.
Describe your ideal reader. Who did you have in mind as you wrote?   
My ideal reader is anyone who is aware that we have big problems in our society and wants to find new paths forward. This could be either because they’re frustrated by the dysfunctional rhetoric but don’t know how to think about these themes differently, or because they are yearning for their own freedom and wanting to understand how to lead well in their context.
  I’ve also tried to go beyond the American context and would love to have a global readership, since oppression happens all over the world.

One of the critiques of an earlier draft was that I wasn’t ‘prophetic’ enough. I got to thinking how it was too easy to just address issues in ways that would be preaching to the choir. So, given my academic audience, I’ve made pointed remarks about the particular kind of oppressing that happens in academia, and how we’ve excused ourselves. 
One of the most illuminating parts of your book to me personally was your discussion of how systems depend upon the anonymity of participants -- that individuals only matter so long as they contribute to the maintenance of the overall system. How is this the case today in higher education?
Higher education is in a challenging era. The goal of education should be, presumably, education. But there’s a lot of money, power, and status in the mix, and all that contributes to arrangements focused more on perpetuation than education.  A never-ending supply of students paying exorbitant sums have to keep passing through. In many cases they only deal with teaching assistants or adjuncts rather than full-time faculty. And if the students can’t pay, there’s no concern about their personhood or potential, it’s out they go. 
With faculty, much of the growth of institutions has been built on expansive use of adjuncts. Lured into PhD programs, they graduate with passion, significant knowledge about a narrow subject, and often very few other professional skills. They then become cogs in the system, treated as disposable because of the flood of candidates for any given position. More and more PhDs are produced without regard to their job futures, in order to continue to float the prestige that comes from having PhD programs, and the low-cost labor they provide. Those who finish have to stay in the system in order to hope for eventual validation via a permanent position.
Until they do find a position, life can be very hard, trying to navigate all the demands with very little pay and benefits. Adjuncts don’t matter as people, they’re just needed to help the institution continue. Students likewise often don’t care about professors as real people. They’re hoops to navigate on the way to graduation. While many are frustrated at this, most are unwilling to push for change, lest they lose their spot in the system.
You identify yourself as part of the problem, but your family has also been part of the solution. How did your grandfather learn to work outside the power systems of his day?
My grandfather was a farmer in Southern California, beginning in the late 1930s. When his Japanese neighbors were forcibly removed from their land during World War 2, my grandfather was among those who worked their land and made sure that all their bills were paid and the land wasn’t sold off. My grandfather, and my great grandfather as well, were real neighbors, willing to sacrifice their time and energy for those the government deemed untrusted. The Powers of that time acted in anxiety and greed. My grandfather farmed the land so the loss would be minimized.
During and after the war, my grandfather also began working extensively with Mexican workers as part of what was called the Bracero program.  There was, to say the least, a lot of racism and classism directed towards these laborers. As he worked with them, he learned the language and began developing a calling to both minister to them and to train more ministers. He had a degree from Biola, so his farming and ministry training went hand in hand. After he lost his farm because of a few years of bad storms, he saw this as a cue from God to start a Bible college and training center for Mexican pastors.
He made it his life work to empower men and women leaders, and spread the Gospel among those the power structures often ignored.  His method was just starting it and doing it, not waiting for others.  I think of that as the California spirit put to a fruitful use rather than greed.
If you could give readers one takeaway, what would it be?
When it comes to liberating the oppressors, start by looking at yourself.
 We get seduced by the systems to perpetuate them -- whether it be politics, religion, or education -- and we actually contribute to the oppressing even when we might be against these patterns. We want change from others, we assert power, then the struggle for control continues. If we’re not willing to do it in our zone of control, why should anyone else trust we want the best for them or for others?
If everyone considers their own life, their own workplace, their own neighborhood, and begins to live in ways that empower others, using freedom and choice for the benefit of others in real and tangible ways, all these small changes can add up to a massive social transformation.  It’s what I call a fractal community of God’s kingdom, the pattern of the Spirit working from below. People are looking to trust, people are looking for genuine community. If we do it, people believe us and see how freeing it can be. They then can hope for a deeper reality in their lives, and let go all their other attempts to establish meaning and power as part of the process. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Book Review: Richard Mouw's "Restless Faith"

Do you wrestle with your evangelical identity? Do you ever wonder whether it's time to throw in the towel and walk away?

If so, this book is for you.

As president of Fuller Seminary and former professor at Calvin College, Richard J. Mouw has spent many decades as an evangelical. All of them, he says, were restless years. This book is his explanation of why he's choosing to stay.

These are trying times for evangelicals. Cultural pressures from the outside and deep disagreements on the inside make evangelicalism an uncomfortable place for many Christians. The most recent national election in the US, to cite just one example, threatened to split families right down the middle.

Mouw takes us behind the scenes in the institutions where he has served to demonstrate that evangelicalism has always been this way. He reminds us of the core tenets that hold such a diverse group together, suggesting that these central values -- belief in the need for conversion, the authority of the Bible, the centrality of the cross, and an emphasis on daily discipleship -- cannot be found in this combination anywhere else.

He talks about Billy Graham, Christianity Today, Ann Voskamp, World Vision, and the National Association for Evangelicals on the one hand, as well as Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, Rob Bell, and the National Council of Churches on the other. We learn about his efforts to promote Mormon-Evangelical and other types of inter-faith dialogue without watering down his own Evangelical commitments. We read of his lonely engagement in the civil rights movement and politics during the 1960s when many Evangelicals' only concern was to "save souls." He wrestles with the individual and communal aspects of salvation and considers the value of both hymns and contemporary worship songs. In the end, he advocates "holding on while staying restless" as an Evangelical.

Speaking as an academic, I did not find the book to be heavy reading, but rather patchwork autobiography in accessible prose. Yet one does not have to know Richard Mouw to appreciate his reflections -- his wisdom shines through on every page and offers hope for Evangelicals who are feeling squirmy in today's politicized climate. He concludes,
"For me, the only way to be a properly functioning evangelical is to keep arguing about what it means to be an evangelical. Restlessness in claiming that label has long been the way I have kept moving. I hope that many of us can stay restless as we hold on while exploring together whether the best way to remain faithful to the legacy is to let go of the label. . . . For the present, I am inclined to go with the second option -- working for evangelical renewal, rather than simply allowing the movement's label to be co-opted by leaders who have departed from the best of the legacy." (174)
If you share his restlessness, this book may be just the thing you need to refresh your perspective and refuel your evangelical commitment. Mouw does not suggest that we hold doggedly to the label "evangelical," but he offers good reasons to keep it for the time being.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: Ben Witherington's "Priscilla" and Paula Gooder's "Phoebe"

Two of the most recent contributions to the burgeoning collection of novels written by biblical scholars are worth reading. Historical fiction about the Bible is not a new genre. What's new is that reputable scholars, with PhD's in New Testament and an impressive array of other academic publications, are harnessing their training for this unique genre and publishing these works with academic publishers (in this case IVP Academic).

Ben Witherington III fills out the story of the biblical Priscilla, or Prisca, mentioned in Acts 18 and Romans 16. The New Testament does not tell us much about her -- she's a tentmaker and church leader with her husband Aquila, both of whom work with the apostle Paul, and mentor the young evangelist named Apollos. Witherington weaves these facts about Priscilla into a coherent narrative in which the aging church leader tells her story to her adopted daughter, who is coming of age.

Witherington's story is well researched and loaded with historical and theological insight. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a historical document (e.g. Pliny the Younger). And yes, this novel has footnotes. Historical fiction is an enjoyable way to learn about life and culture in the first century, making history more accessible to students and laypeople. The chapters are short. The plot is believable. His interpretation of scripture and its context is plausible.

We're introduced to the apostles Peter and Paul as well as Apollos, the emperors Nero, Claudius, and Domitianus, seasons of persecution and pressure for the young church, the tension between Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus, the gladiatorial games, and even the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. We're given Witherington's conjecture about Paul's mission to Spain, his return to Rome, and his death -- none of which are recorded in the New Testament but are matters of great curiosity for biblical scholars. 

If I have one complaint, it is near the end of the book, as Priscilla and her daughter discuss the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Their re-reading of Paul's letter to the Romans (chapters 9-11) is surprisingly flat. I've not read much of Witherington's voluminous contribution to New Testament scholarship, so perhaps his interpretation here is in keeping with what he has said elsewhere. For a stronger reading of that passage, see N. T. Wright's work. Still, my disappointment with this one chapter should not detract from the overall quality of the book. It remains a solid introduction to the contributions of women in the earliest churches.

Witherington's other books of this genre include A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem (IVP, 2017) and A Week in the Life of Corinth (IVP, 2012).  

Another outstanding book in this genre is Phoebe, by Paula Gooder (IVP, 2018) which reconstructs the life of the female deacon who delivered Paul's letter to the Romans. It's a page-turner and well worth reading!

How does a woman with a slave name end up delivering Paul's letter to the Romans? How does she have the means to undertake such a journey? How was she educated to the point that Paul chooses her to explain his letter? What did she think of the church in Rome? Gooder answers all these questions in a compelling way. She kept my attention from beginning to end. Friends who are not biblical scholars have enjoyed the book, too. Highly recommended. 

One of these days, biblical scholars need to start writing historical fiction on the Old Testament . . .

Monday, July 8, 2019

Foreword by Christopher J. H. Wright!

I'm so grateful that Dr. Christopher J. H. Wright agreed to write the foreword for my new book, Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters (IVP)

Chris Wright is the author of my all-time favorite book, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (IVP) as well as many other helpful books on the Old Testament, including the just-released The Old Testament in Seven Sentences (IVP), which I plan to read soon. Wright has a special gift for making scholarship accessible to the church, and he's devoted his entire career to cultivating biblical scholarship around the globe. One book I've recommended countless times is The God I Don't Understand:Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Zondervan).

Wright's IVP author page gives an impressive list of published works and ministry roles:

Christopher J. H. Wright (PhD, Cambridge) is international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, providing literature, scholarships, and preaching training for pastors in Majority World churches and seminaries. He has written many books including commentaries on Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel, The Mission of GodCultivating the Fruit of the SpiritOld Testament Ethics for the People of God, and Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. An ordained priest in the Church of England, Chris spent five years teaching the Old Testament at Union Biblical Seminary in India, and thirteen years as academic dean and then principal of All Nations Christian College, an international training center for cross-cultural mission in England. He was chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group from 2005-2011 and the chief architect of The Cape Town Commitment from the Third Lausanne Congress, 2010.
When I first read The Mission of God, I was beginning my doctoral work on the concept of bearing Yahweh's name under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Block at Wheaton College. I found that Wright had already zeroed in on this biblical theme and explained it beautifully, but he had not connected the wider theme with the command "not to bear the LORD's name in vain" (Exodus 20:7). I'm delighted that Wright found my interpretation convincing, and that he was willing to let this project bear his name as well. It's an honor to have his partnership in introducing my new book to the world!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book Review: Oden's Hope for the Oppressor

You are part of the problem. So am I. But there's hope for us.

In this daring book, Patrick Oden invites us to step outside of the systems we've relied on for our identity and enter a different kind of community.

To cite just one example of oppressive systems among many, the world of white privilege is waking up one person at a time. That's a good thing. But often those who benefit from systemic injustice are left feeling awkwardly helpless. What can be done? Is everything I attempt just another iteration of oppression or paternalism? Oden opens the door and lets in a fresh breeze, inviting us to another way of doing life together. He draws on the diverse voices of men and women from around the globe as he makes his case.

I had the opportunity to read this book before it went to print. I'm so glad I did. Here's my official endorsement:
Hope for the Oppressor is a brave undertaking. Patrick Oden suggests that efforts to liberate the oppressed will never be successful until oppressors experience liberation, too. Without true liberation of all parties, new cycles of coercion result. But there's hope. He locates that hope in Christian community, where our notion of selfhood can be reconceived and our fractured selves healed in light of God's holy love. Oden's thesis is grounded in theologically rich readings of biblical texts and skillful engagement with historical and systematic theology. His book issues a life-giving invitation for all of us — those with privilege and those without — to participate in a different kind of kingdom. His book has the potential to fuel a revolution for those who dare to reexamine their lives in light of his claims.
Much more could be said about Oden's book than what could be fit on the back cover. The following synopsis of each chapter will give you a sense of his breadth of engagement, from classic theologians to systems theory, from spiritual psychology to lived experience, from the Bible to the early church to pastoral theology -- there's something for everyone!

Chapter 1: The Crisis of Social Identity
Oden introduces Luhmann's systems theory, showing how systems seek to define everything, but in the process they anonymize participants who depend on them. This chapter is illuminating.
Chapter 2: The Crisis of Self-Existence
Here he introduces Kierkegaard's concept of sin, namely, an expression of our anxiety in seeking selfhood as part of these systems.
Chapter 3: The Crisis of Becoming
Loder's spiritual psychology argues that oppressive behavior develops from a false notion of self tied to systems that perpetuate false intimacy. The solution is a reconstituted self in relation with other whole selves.
Chapter 4: The Liberating Way of God
Oden looks at biblical selfhood in the Old Testament to illustrate how oppression has always been the result of a selfish quest for self-fulfillment apart from community. The creation pattern and the exodus narrative hold out the possibility of a different way.
Chapter 5: The Liberating Way of Christ
The New Testament contributes a vision of a new way of life opened up by Christ, one defined by self-giving love in community.
Chapter 6: The Way of the Early Church
Oden introduces the writings of Clement as a window on early Christian communities. They understood that Jesus redefines personhood, calling the wealthy to radical generosity rather than participation in oppressive economic systems.
Chapter 7: The Liberating Way of the Desert
The desert fathers and mothers, such as Anthony, taught that we become who we were meant to be when we participate in the life of God and see ourselves in him.
Chapter 8: Hope from God
World War II-era theologians help us reconsider the classic attributes of God, showing their relevance for the Christian vision of the good life. Pannenburg demonstrates that only God provides a coherent basis of identity. As we're drawn into God's holy love, we become coherent, loving beings. Moltmann teaches that Trinitarian relationality opens up a liberated way of life, free from coercion.
Chapter 9: Hope with God
Jean Vanier models the relinquishment of systemic power. He embraced his own brokenness by living with the disabled, and he suggests that we become fully ourselves in messy and loving community characterized by mutuality. Sarah Coakley broadens the notion of systematic theology to include the arts and to insist on the value of contemplation and the primacy of desire as a signal of our true theology. 
Chapter 10: Hope for Transformation
Oden considers how the resurrection introduces a powerful hope for transformation that is grounded in this life. It rightly orders our passions for participation in the mission of Jesus.
Chapter 11: Hope in the Kingdom
Participation in God's kingdom requires vulnerability and the relinquishment of our need to derive identity from others. Honest prayer, love that flows from holiness, cultivation of belonging, exercise of forgiveness -- all these make possible the re-orientation of our disordered loves.
Chapter 12: Hope among Community
Participation in loving community provides a way forward. Self-denial, forgiveness, and openness to others makes possible a new kind of life. We can only be our true selves in this kind of community.
Chapter 13: Conclusion
Oden's concluding chapter gives a retrospect of the book's argument, weaknesses, and challenges. 
Patrick Oden deserves our thanks for his careful scholarship, pastoral sensitivity, and illuminating vision of Christian community. You can pre-order his book here. If your personal budget is strained at the moment, encourage your school's library to purchase a copy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Book Award "Interview"

Richard Middleton presenting me
with the R. B. Y. Scott Award
(Photo: Shannon Stange)
Last week I was interviewed by Dan Callaway for Prairie Radio. You're welcome to listen in on the interview as we talk about my background, how I ended up at Prairie, and what I'm working on this summer. The interview was so much fun that I decided to continue it right here on my blog...

In this post, I interview Dr. Carmen Imes on the R. B. Y. Scott Award she received from the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies for an outstanding book in Hebrew Bible. (Wait, isn't that you? Yep. So you're interviewing yourself? Um, also yes.)

Carmen, how did you feel when you learned you were receiving this award?
Genuinely shocked. If you read the list of past recipients, you'll see that I'm joining an all-star list of Canadian biblical scholars. 
Why was that so surprising?
When you go through the entire process of producing a book like this, you've seen so many drafts dripping with red ink that it can be hard to imagine that what you have to say is said well enough for others to appreciate. Don't get me wrong. I like the book. I'm convinced by my argument. But each time someone in the wider world finds it helpful I am surprised and delighted all over again.
What was the occasion, and who presented you with the award?
The award was announced at the reception of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies annual meeting. This year's meeting was held at the University of British Colombia. The incoming president of the society, J. Richard Middleton, presented the award.
Why was your book chosen?
I'll let the anonymous judges answer that question.In the words of one reviewer, It is a persuasive, careful, and enlightening book, with implications far beyond its apparently limited subject.” 
Another reviewer said the book “shows remarkable engagement of the question, displaying a breadth of scholarship and very fine command of several methodological approaches (lexical, historical, literary, and metaphorical). The thesis is argued with logic, clarity of expression, and judicious treatment of opposing views. A long-overdue reassessment of a crux interpretum. It is deft, compelling, and convincing in the presentation of its conclusions. . . . .  its expression is clear: meticulous and well argued, with creativity of expression (even some drawings!) and the amassing of supportive ANE and biblical texts and parallel metaphors. The work of a new scholar, it shows maturity of thought and expression.” 
Did you get a plaque or something you can put on your wall?
No, but I did get a check for $500, which is far more useful.
If someone wanted to buy your book, where could they do so?
Bearing YHWH's Name at Sinai is available on Amazon or directly from the publisher. Right now Eisenbrauns is offering a celebratory 30% off because of the award. Use the discount code NR18 to take advantage of the sale! 
Are you busy writing another book?
Four, actually. I'm especially excited about my next book, which is coming out in December with InterVarsity Press. It's called Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, and it's already available for pre-order. I've reworked all the key ideas in my (award-winning!) published dissertation so that normal people can read it. Dissertations are technical for good reason, but my goal was to make my research more accessible for a wider audience. You can read about my other projects here. I currently have two book projects in the works on the Psalms and I'll soon start another one on Exodus.
What inspires you to keep writing?
I have always enjoyed writing, even as a child. As a professor, I see writing as a way for transformational ideas to spread beyond the classroom to a much wider audience. Books have changed my thinking in so many areas and fueled my passion for biblical studies. I hope that my books do the same for others. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Academic Prayer Series

As a regular contributor for InterVarsity's blog for Women in the Academy and Professions, The Well, I've submitted several prayers tailored for academics. Here's a list for easy reference with a selection from each one, plus a bonus from my own blog:

A College Student's Back-to-School Prayer
Library at Regent College, Vancouver (Photo: C Imes)

Sharpen my mind,so that I can learn to think clearly and critically.
Melt my resistanceto new ideas that are good and right and true.
A Professor's Prayer
Grant me wisdom to manage my time well so that I can stand before my classes prepared.Grant me the grace to let go of misplaced guilt for what I cannot be or do.
Grant me discerning eyes, that I may see my students as you see them and that I may love them as you love, that I may anticipate potential mental blocks, that I may discover the key to unlock their desire to learn. Let me not get in the way.

A Scholar's Prayer
Quicken my mind, that I may discern what is right and understand more fully the complexities of the subject that is before me today. 
Grant me diligence to stay on task and ignore distraction. At the end of this day may I be able to stand before you unashamed of the work I have done and left undone.

A Prayer for Academic and Professional Conferences
Help me to choose wisely between the myriads of options available to me — papers, seminars, conversations, exhibits, work, play, rest. May I discern what is best and let go of what is not.
Above all, may I bring you glory today as I bear your name in the academy and among all those whose talents and energies make this conference possible.

View from University of British Colombia Campus
(Photo: C Imes)
An End-of-Semester Prayer
Lord, here I stand at the end of another term. I have poured into my students — ideas, questions, caring, comments, time.
Now I entrust them to you.
Take what I have taught them and separate wheat from chaff. Blow away what I said that was empty or worthless. Help them to treasure the truth. May it nourish them in days ahead as they move into new contexts.

I hope these prayers inspire you to embrace your vocation as a Christian professor, if you are one. If not, perhaps they'll inspire you to craft your own prayers for your own vocation.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Sound of Music and the Audacity of Praise

I've been working on the "ugliest psalms" lately, the imprecatory psalms, which call upon God to bring harm on the psalmist's enemies. These challenge our sense of what belongs in the Bible and what are appropriate ways to pray. "Break my enemy's teeth" certainly seems an audacious prayer.

We might imagine that praise psalms are much more innocuous. With all their attention on God, they steer clear of the mud-slinging of human conflict and simply celebrate what we like about him.  Perhaps we think of praise psalms like a Mother's Day card ("Best Mom Ever!" . . . not to mention the only mom we've ever had) or like a standing ovation at the end of a an orchestra concert (Well done!). But praise psalms are much more audacious than that. I've written a piece for the Political Theology network on the audacity of praise, but here I'd like to offer a further illustration of what I mean.

To dial in to what's really at stake, we must consider their context.

Have you seen The Sound of Music? I think it offers an analogy that will help us with the significance of praise psalms. Captain von Trapp is a retired naval officer in Austria raising his 7 children with the help of one governess after another. The children are hard on these substitute mothers, so the captain turns to a nearby Abbey for help -- maybe a nun can keep his children in line! The Abbey sends him a novitiate, Fräulein Maria, who wins the hearts of the children as well as their Father. Their romance is set against the backdrop of a growing threat of occupation by Nazi Germany in 1938. They return home from their honeymoon to a Nazi flag flying over their front door, a summons to serve in Hitler's navy, and an (unrelated) invitation to perform in the Salzburg Music Festival. They attempt to escape to neutral Switzerland as a family that very night under the cover of darkness, but are caught in the act. Thinking quickly, the family pretends they are heading to perform in the music festival instead.

The joyous evening of music is strained by the presence of Nazi soldiers guarding the exits. In the front row sits the Nazi officer who was sent to escort Captain von Trapp to his new post in Hitler's navy. While the judges evaluate the results of the competition, Captain von Trapp regales the waiting crowd. Alone in the spotlight, he sings "Edelweiss," a simple song about a white alpine flower native to Austria. The lyrics are not in themselves seditious, but sung in this context, his audacity is plain. The lilting melody evokes for the crowd a longing for Austrian independence. The Captain is overcome with emotion, unable to finish the song. Maria, the children, and the entire audience join him for the finish, ending with the hopeful plea, "Bless my homeland forever!"

The psalms are like this. On their own, they don't strike us as rebellious, but set against the backdrop of Assyrian or Persian rule, they are a form of insurrection. Psalms of praise exalt Yahweh above all human rulers and rival gods, diminishing their claim to power.

To see what I mean, head on over to the Politics of Scripture blog to read my post.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Projects in the Works . . .

My blog has been quiet lately, but not because I haven't been writing. Some longer-term projects took priority over the past few months. Here are some of the highlights:

Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters (InterVarsity Academic)
This book is slated to release December 10, 2019, just in time for Christmas! It distills the key insights from my doctoral studies in non-academic language. If you've ever wanted to sit in on some of my classes, this book is for you. Together we'll journey to Sinai so that I can show you why Christians can't afford to ignore what happened there. From Sinai we traverse the rest of the Old Testament and into the New, seeing how Jesus and the early church found their identity and vocation at the mountain where they met God.
I can't reveal his name yet, but just wait until you see who has agreed to write the foreward! If you'll be in San Diego in November for ETS, IBR, or SBL, you can pick up copies there for all your friends. I'll carry a pen on me in case you'd like your copy signed.

Essay on the high priestly garments for Dress and Clothing in the Hebrew Bible (T&T Clark)
This book is the culmination of four years of research and collaboration with other scholars in the Pacific Northwest Region of the Society of Biblical Literature. My essay explores the theological and symbolic significance of Aaron's high priestly garments.
Our second cycle of research is already underway, with eight papers slated for presentation this weekend at our regional meeting. My contribution this time around is on clothing metaphors in the imprecatory psalms.  
Illustrated Psalms in Hebrew (GlossaHouse), co-authored with Matt Ayars
Like my Illustrated Exodus in Hebrew, this volume will pair the unedited Hebrew text with beautiful illustrations by Keith Neely and a fresh English translation for easy reference. It will be a great way to practice Hebrew while experiencing the theological riches of the Psalms. Watch for it in November.
Reading the Psalms with Augustine and friends (Sacred Roots Christian Classics Series)
Funded by the Lily Foundation, this new book series helps under-resourced pastors to access classic works in biblical studies, theology, spirituality, and mission. I'm editing the inaugural volume on the Psalms. The book will include devotional comments on each psalm from early Christian writers in updated language, with a special focus on Augustine.
Exodus (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch series)
I've just agreed to take on this major 5-year project, a 700-page commentary on the book of Exodus for pastors, students, and scholars. Bill Arnold will serve as editor.
Watch for the Genesis volume in this series by John Goldingay. My contribution will be out by the time our youngest is in college.

As you can see, these span the range from accessible writing for the church to technical writing for the scholarly community, with resources for pastors and students in between. I love having a foot planted in both worlds and bridging the gap between them. It truly is the #bestjobintheworld!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Foot in Two Worlds

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.  —Galatians 6:4-5, The Message

Recently our entire campus participated in the Global Connections Conference, an opportunity to hear about some of the greatest needs in the world and consider how God might be calling us to contribute. It was at a conference just like this that Danny and I first explored the possibility of mission work, initiating what would become 15 years of service with SIM. Ironically, we resigned from SIM in order for me to pursue a full-time faculty position teaching Bible. I say "ironically" because now more than ever my work is leaning in to the ministry for which we long prepared and for which I'm best suited. By opening up the Scriptures with my students, I'm addressing the acute need of this generation to understand and encounter the Living Word.

But finding our identity and calling as a believer is not a one-time-fits-all experience. With every changing season of our lives or changing circumstance, we may find ourselves asking again: Who am I? How is God calling me to invest my time and training? I was back in that space during the conference, needing clarity about my role, prayerfully considering the path ahead. A barrage of opportunities had me feeling muddled. 

Foot in Two Worlds (Photo: C Imes)
Bishop Dr. Joseph D'Souza began by challenging us to see what God sees and to commit ourselves to doing something about it. In the course of sharing his own story, D'Souza said one thing that especially piqued my interest:  "I am called to have one foot firmly planted in the church and the other firmly planted in the world." His point was not prescriptive; he was not trying to impose his calling on anyone else. But his words brought my own calling more clearly into focus:

I work at the intersection between the church and the academy in the field of biblical studies. I am called to have one foot firmly planted in the church and the other firmly planted in the academy, with my work forming a bridge between these worlds. My aim in the church is to be and invite others to be lovers of God -- loving God with our minds as well as our actions. My aim in the academy is to produce quality scholarship, representing Christ well. I write and speak across this spectrum -- for laypeople, college and seminary students, pastors, and fellow academics -- showing the relevance of academic inquiry to those in the church and modeling respectful but discerning engagement with the academy.

Having this kind of clarity frees me to respond to invitations to speak, teach, write, endorse, edit, and consult without guilt. Rather than asking, 'What would my colleague do?' or 'What would my peer do at another institution?' or 'How will this look on my CV?' I can ask, 'Does this fit with my mission?' or 'Is this the work to which I've been called?'

I'm standing on the cusp of summer now. My grading is finished. In a few hours my students will have graduated and/or headed home. I have a whole slate of projects lined up for the summer that I am eager to begin! These projects align with my mission. A lot of no's and the occasional strategic yes has put me in a joyful place. Having made the careful exploration Paul describes, I'm eager to sink right in!
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. --Galatians 6:4, The Message
Have you taken the time lately to prayerfully reconsider your involvements in light of how God wired you? The clarity of a personal mission statement can bring so much freedom. Instead of feeling pulled in multiple directions by every request for your time, you can develop a confident "no" that will make room for the right "yes." 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Full Circle: My Denver Story

Who knows what will become of us?

As children, we dream our dreams -- astronaut, famous singer, missionary, scientist. Our parents are wise enough to let us imagine the future without the wet blanket of reality. They may have ideas of their own, but no one can be sure how things will turn out. They watch and wait with us.

Denver, Colorado, was the cradle of my childhood, the fertile ground for growing up and dreaming dreams. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same zip code, longing to travel to the ends of the earth. I remember the children's sermon one Sunday morning. Rev. Kok asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I don't remember what I wanted to be at that age. I just remember how his offhand comment hit me. "Of course, none of you want to have my job when you grow up." I was floored. Was he serious? Who wouldn't want his job?! I knew no female pastors then, and I don't think I even dared to imagine myself in his shoes, but I couldn't think of a better job in the whole wide world than to preach the Word of God.

I probably said I wanted to be a missionary. In fact, I imagined I could be a missionary-astronaut-famous singer all at once, with space missions and singing tours during furlough. What I didn't want to be was a teacher, which seemed way too boring. Where I didn't want to live was America, because people already had plenty of opportunities to hear the gospel in English.

In the decades since my childhood I've changed zip codes so often I would be hard pressed to come up with a list of them all. West Coast, Southeast Asia, East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, and now the True North. In November, I boarded a plane in Calgary bound for Denver. Usually, going home means stepping away from my work, embracing rest with family. This time my parents picked me up from the airport in my suit jacket with a conference name badge ready to wear. I was home to work.

View of the Mountains from Downtown Denver, 2018
(Photo: C Imes)
It was my 10th year of academic meetings, but the first to be held in my home town. First item on the agenda? Family time. We headed to the retirement home in my old neighborhood to visit my grandparents. On our way to grandma's room, we bumped into Rev. Kok. He's long retired now and driving a motorized wheelchair, but there is nothing wrong "upstairs." We found him in the library studying for his Sunday School class on the Psalms. (A kindred spirit!)

His face lit up when he saw us, incredulous to see me after nearly 30 years -- elementary school student turned college professor. I lost no time in reminding him of his children's sermon and how I had aspired to be like him.

"Do you ever preach?" he asked, eyebrows raised in expectation. Time stood still as I considered the irony of his question and what might be at stake in my reply. Women didn't preach in our church growing up. It wasn't allowed. For most of my childhood, they couldn't even collect the offering. I realized in that moment that church practices are complicated, and that I probably didn't know Rev. Kok as well as I thought, or that he might have changed while I was changing, too.

"Yes!" I replied, the clock ticking again. "A few times a year in local churches or in chapel."

His response was immediate, affirming, "Good for you!"

It's a mystery how old aches can heal or unfinished chapters can be written in a moment's time. That conversation was balm to my soul. There he was, my childhood pastor, looking at the grown up me and saying, "well done!" All these years I had imagined his displeasure at the ways I'd come to disagree with him on theology or on church polity -- especially on the topic of women in ministry. And here we were, colleagues. He made sure I knew that.

Map of Palestine in Jesus' Day
from the NIV Study Bible
Photo: C Imes
I reminded Rev. Kok of another conversation we had some 33 years ago. At the time, it may have seemed insignificant. But in retrospect, it likely shaped who I've become. It was a Sunday morning. The sermon failed to capture my interest, so I was studying the maps in the back of the pew Bible. I might have been 8 or 9 years old. I was looking at the map labeled "New Testament in the Time of Jesus." But something was wrong with that map! Jericho should not have been there. The Old Testament said the walls fell down! I was puzzled (and, if I'm honest, probably felt a bit smug about finding a typo in the Bible).

I brought the Bible with me to the back of the sanctuary afterward, where Rev. Kok was shaking hands with everyone as they filed out. When he was finished, he turned to hear my question. I remember his giant frame bending down to look at the map. He didn't know the answer, but said he would investigate. (I had stumped the pastor!) One week later I could hardly wait for the sermon to finish. I was nervous that he had forgotten my question, but also eager to know if he'd found an answer. He asked me to wait until he was done shaking hands. Then he bent down beside me to explain.

His answer matters less than the fact that he had an answer. He had taken my question seriously, researched it, and brought me a response. A whole book on Jericho?! A reason for its re-appearance on the NT map?! I came away with a healthy respect for scholarship and an appreciation for libraries and the confidence to keep asking questions. Is it any wonder I ended up as an Old Testament professor?

The next day I headed downtown for six days of professional development, networking, academic papers, board meetings, and conversations with publishers. But the most significant work had already been accomplished at the retirement home. I'd come full circle.

And so I went home. Home to my roots. Home to the people who shaped my future. Home as the grown-up me, so grateful for the grace of God that takes our dreams and makes them something better than we knew to wish for. A missionary? Yes, but not in the way I'd imagined. A teacher, which was a much better fit for my personality than an astronaut. A ministry that includes preaching as well as writing the sorts of books that address Bible questions shared by children and adults.

It truly is the #bestjobintheworld, because it's what I was born (in Denver) to do. Who knew?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Top Ten Blog Posts of 2018

I published 28 posts in 2018, including three series: five posts on racial injustice, three on the Ten Commandments, and three on expectations for Christmas. Other topics ranged from advice for students to critique or appreciation for some of the year's most famous Christian leaders. In case you missed any, here are the ten posts that each garnered more than 500 views in reverse order of popularity:

10. TIME, Trump, The Death of Socrates, and the Art of Biblical Interpretation
Journalism ethics is all the rage this week (literally), with a provocative TIME magazine cover on the topic of immigration. (With apologies to readers interested in the politics of immigration and assurances to those weary of the debate, this post is not about immigration, but rather the relationship between art and truth). Are the facts at odds with the truth?
9. Racial Injustice Today? (Part 4)
James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree invites us to consider the dark side of America's not-so-distant past in light of the crossJesus' innocent death on the cross, with its trumped-up charges and false witnesses, is echoed again in America's shadowy history, where a sideways glance could get a man (or boy!) tortured and hanged without a fair trial -- if he was black. Cone's book holds the potential of awakening us to what we have missed.
8. A Professor's Prayer
Last semester I was new here and my head swirled with names and syllabi and schedules and handbooks. This semester I welcome familiar faces with a settled heart. The inner calm permits more deliberate reflection on my role as professor and my investment in this community. Perhaps my prayer for this new term may become your prayer as well.
7. Why Andy Stanley is Wrong about the Old Testament
Andy Stanley rocked the internet this week by saying that Christians ought to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament. No doubt a great many who heard this were relieved. There’s a lot of gnarly stuff in the Old Testament that people struggle with (I should know. I’m an Old Testament professor. With students lined up to see me during office hours.) Stanley’s pastoral motivation for making the statement is commendable. He has watched countless people leave the faith because they could not swallow the Old Testament or its God. His hope was to win them back by focusing on the resurrection of Jesus. It’s just that he’s going about it all wrong.
6. Shattered: Top Ten Myths about the Ten Commandments (Part 3)
By selecting the Israelites, Yahweh has claimed them as his own, in effect, branding them with his name as a claim of ownership. Because they bear his name, they are charged to represent him well. That is, they must not bear that name in vain. This goes far beyond oaths or pronunciation of God's name. It extends to their behavior in every area of life. In everything, they represent him.
5. Shattered: Top Ten Myths about the Ten Commandments (Part 2)
In this post I address myths about counting the commands, monotheism, Sabbath observance, and lying. For example, "the Ten Commandments make no effort to convince the Israelites that Yahweh is the only God. Instead, they call Israel to worship only Yahweh. In a sea of options, Yahweh is the only legitimate deity deserving of worship."
4. Shattered: Top Ten Myths about the Ten Commandments (Part 1)
The vast majority of artistic representations of Moses and the two tablets presume that he's holding "volume 1" and "volume 2." However, the words could easily have fit on two sides of a single stone tablet, even if that tablet was not much larger than Moses' hand. So why make two? For the answer we must turn to other ancient Near Eastern treaty documents.
3. Navigating the Valley of Disappointment
Why hang my innermost thoughts in plain view for all to see and read and know? Because you, too, have walked the valley of disappointment, and you will walk it again. This way we can walk it together. Ruth Haley Barton says "what is most personal is, indeed, most universal" (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, 223). The more honestly I share my own journey, the more we both stand to gain. 
2. #readwomen: Taking the Challenge
According to PhD research by IVP senior editor Al Hsu, "women read fairly evenly between male and female authors (54% / 46%), but . . . men read 90% male authors and only 10% female authors. That’s why the #ReadWomen campaign is needed, to highlight how we all benefit from reading women’s voices and hearing perspectives from the whole body of Christ."
1. What John Piper said . . .
John Piper has been saying it long and loud in a myriad of ways. In his universe, where Christianity is essentially masculine and God has appointed only men to leadership both inside and outside the church, and has appointed women to the joyful task of following, it is only logical that women should not be seminary professors. 
Thanks for giving me another 35,000 reasons to write this year!