Saturday, December 7, 2019

Blog Tour: Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters

Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters (IVP) releases December 10, 2019, but it's already had a second printing! This is due in large part to those who have have helped me get the word out by interviewing me for their blog or magazine, and for those who have spread the news on social media.

Below are links to blog and magazine interviews about the book. I'll keep adding to this post as new opportunities arise, so check back later for more!


Interview with Jen Pollock Michel for the December
issue of Christianity Today
Magazine Interview 

Jen Pollock Michel for Christianity Today


Blog Interviews

Jen Jones and Me at the IVP booth at SBL
with the recently-released Bearing God's Name
Ian Paul for Psephizo

Jennifer Brown Jones for Life Beyond #Blessed

Andrea Bridges for The Well, InterVarsity's blog for Women in the Academy (coming soon)

Kelley Maranto Mathews for Patheos

Sandra Glahn for Aspire2 (coming soon)


Guest Blog Posts

Cateclesia Institute (coming soon)

Reviews

Library Journal

Goodreads

Amazon




Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Best Books on Women in Ministry

People often ask me for book recommendations on the topic of women in ministry. Here are some of the books that I loan out most often, organized roughly from the most accessible to the most academic.

Image result for kristen padilla now that i'm calledKristen Padilla, Now That I'm Called: A Guide for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry (Zondervan, 2018)

Kristen writes for women who sense a call to ministry but are not sure how to carry it out in their context. Her book is sensitive to long-standing gender roles and dynamics in complementarian congregations and does not presume that readers are egalitarian. She warmly affirms the giftedness of women and encourages them in their quest to be faithful to God's call.

Alan F. Johnson, ed., How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2010)

Image result for half the church carolyn custis jamesThis book is a treasure of stories about men and women who have shifted toward a more egalitarian outlook. A collection of testimonies rather than a systematic argument, this book shows the struggles of Christian leaders to be faithful to Scripture, their "aha!" moments, and the humility it took to admit that they had been wrong.

Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women (Zondervan)

Carolyn's book urges women to step up and participate in kingdom work. We can't sit back and expect the men to do everything! God created us to work as a team, side-by-side ruling over creation. Carolyn addresses some of the most common arguments for male-only leadership that are rooted in the creation story and in the letters of Paul, showing the problems with those interpretations and inviting readers to consider the urgency of God's design for partnership. This book is one that the entire church, not just women, need to read.

Image result for alice mathews gender roles
Alice Mathews, Gender Roles and the People of God: Rethinking What We Were Taught about Men and Women in the Church (Zondervan, 2017)
This is an accessible introduction to the key biblical text that so often figure in the debates over women in ministry. Dr. Mathews has been teaching a course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on this topic for many years, and this book is the best of her classroom content, now available to everyone.

Related imageLucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture's Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts (IVP, 2019)

Lucy's book is a brand new release from InterVarsity Press. As she reexamines the relevant biblical texts, Peppiat "finds a story of God releasing women alongside men into all forms of ministry, leadership, work, and service on the basis of character and gifting, rather than biological sex. Those who see the overturning of male-dominated hierarchy in the Scriptures, she argues, are truly rediscovering an ancient message―a message distorted by those who assumed that a patriarchal world, which they sometimes saw reflected in the Bible, was the one God had ordained." (from publisher's book description)

Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Baker, 1992)

Dr. Keener's book landed on my desk on an interesting day. An invitation to preach had just been retracted on account of my gender (the pastor got complaints when people found out I was coming). Dr. Keener examines the cultural and historical context that motivated Paul's statements, offering a new perspective on how to read them responsibly.

Image result for cindy westfall paul and genderCynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Baker, 2016)

Dr. Westfall explores the broader question of gender according to Paul, revisiting the most controversial texts to offer a fresh perspective. She is historically grounded and moves the debate forward in helpful ways based on the latest research.

You'll notice that the subtitles of several of these books share a similar tone: recapturing, rediscovering, rethinking, reclaiming. These authors all agree that something is missing in Evangelical churches today. In our efforts to obey the Bible, our churches have implemented practices that inadvertently prevent gospel ministry and silence the Spirit's work. These authors -- all of them Evangelicals -- call us back to the Scriptures to take another look. Things are not as simple as many have assumed ("women, be silent"), and our faithful reading and practice of Scripture depends upon a careful reassessment. If Scripture is to remain our authority for faith and practice, we cannot afford to get this wrong.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

N. T. Wright and a Book for Both Bedside Tables

What books are sitting on your bedside table?

About 10 years ago I had an opportunity to meet New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop the Right Rev. Dr. N. T. Wright. We shook hands. Although it was spontaneous, I knew instantly what I wanted to say to him. It went something like this:

N. T. Wright is known for his ability to bridge the gap
between the academy and the church (Photo: C Imes)
"It's an honor to meet you, Dr. Wright. My husband and I would like to thank you. You are nearly the only writer who has the distinction of appearing on both of our bedside tables."

I was in seminary at the time. I spent my days reading books like his Jesus and the Victory of God. My husband, on the other hand, did not gravitate towards non-fiction, and certainly not academic books. But he picked up a copy of Wright's Simply Christian and loved it. What a gift to have found a respected scholar who also had the ability to connect with wider audiences, beyond the academy! Wright gave us things to talk about as a couple that connected our worlds. That was just what we needed.

Academic and Accessible books by C. J. H. Wright and
Sandra L. Richter (Photo: C Imes)
I can think of two other biblical scholars whose books my husband and I have both read and enjoyed: Sandra L. Richter and Christopher J. H. Wright. Scholars like Wright, Wright, and Richter are my models. They know their stuff academically, but they also take the time to communicate in an accessible way for the church at large.

That's what makes me so excited about my new book release. I've done the scholarly research, defended the dissertation, and published it as well as other articles on related subjects. But this new book is totally down-to-earth. Our 17-year-old daughter read the entire manuscript of Bearing God's Name before we sent it off to the publisher so that we could get rid of all the words she didn't know.

This one's for the church. It's for men and women and teens and grandparents who struggle to know what to do with the Old Testament. It's for people who want to obey Scripture but aren't sure where to start. It's for new Christians as well as Christians who've been around the block a few times and still feel like they're missing something. It's for Earl, who hasn't read a book since high school other than a welding manual. It's for Marilyn, who kindly tried to read my dissertation and just got frustrated. It's for my parents, who have cheered me on for decades and now can finally benefit from all the hard work. It's for my former students, who can re-experience Torah class and share it with their families.

Bearing God's Name doesn't officially release until December 10th, but I'm already getting messages from readers almost every day who say that it's making a difference in their lives.



Not sure which book to choose for your bedside table? Here's a comparison:


If you're married and anything like my husband and me, you might need to pick up one of each.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Book Review: Elias Chacour's 'Blood Brothers'


Image result for elias chacour blood brothers

I'm leading a trip to Israel with Prairie College in 2020, so as part of my preparation I'm trying to get a handle on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first book on my list was Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers, which has been recommended to me several times. It was a fascinating read!

Chacour is a Palestinian Christian leader who came of age in the midst of great turmoil in the Middle East. He tells of his peaceful childhood in a Christian village in Galilee where his family had owned and tended the land for generations. They understood themselves to have been grafted in to the "olive tree" of Abraham through faith in Jesus. Chacour's father regularly did business with Jewish villages nearby, treating them as brothers. Like the rest of the watching world, his family sympathized with the plight of European Jews. Chacour's village was ready to welcome new Jewish settlers fleeing Europe to live among them and farm the land. But they were never given this chance.

The peace of their community was shattered when Zionist soldiers arrived after WWII, kicking Palestinian residents off of their own land and confiscating their property. The violence of the war seems to have infected the "peacekeeping" troops, who were funded by a variety of nations with special interest groups. Unlike their Jewish neighbors, these troops were violent and their aim was conquest. It was the beginning of a decades-long conflict that is still unresolved today.

Chacour has devoted his life to working for peace between Arabs and Jews. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, he has watched communities transformed by hope and brotherhood. So although this story is a brutal one, the undercurrent is hope -- hope for a peace made possible by restoring the dignity of every human being.

Given the almost unqualified support for the state of Israel extended by many American Christians, this story is vitally important for us to hear. Chacour does not call upon Westerners to reverse history and force Jews out of Palestine, but rather to withhold judgment on who is terrorizing whom when we lack the proximity to make such judgments. He laments, "How terribly sad that men could ignore God's plan for peace between divided brothers, even supporting one group as it wielded its might to force out the other" (142). We must learn to listen and heed the teaching of the prophet Isaiah, "Practice justice and righteousness, and then you will have peace" (227). If we want to walk in the way of peace, Chacour will be an able guide.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Guest Post: Antonios Finitsis, editor of "Dress and Clothing in the Hebrew Bible"

As a follow-up to my recent post on our regional SBL research group, the mastermind behind our research group and the editor of our project wanted to add a few words. Antonios Finitsis is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Pacific Lutheran University. Here's what he has to say:

Antonios Finitsis (left) with members of the second research group
 on dress in the Hebrew Bible (Pacific Lutheran University, 2018):
Jennifer Brown Jones, Sara Koenig, Carmen Imes, Shannon Parrott,
and Jenny Matheny (Photo: Brady Alan Beard). Several more
scholars joined us in 2019 for a new round of collaboration.
     Academics, we all love our footnotes, those long litanies of names and sources that are the hallmark of our work. It is a matter of ethics, respect, and attributing credit where credit is due. It is also recognition of the fact that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Any research is indebted to those you came before and devoted their minds to exploration and discovery. Thus, I would argue, it also an expression of gratitude towards the labor of scholars who shared their findings with us. Citations are indispensable for our work.
     In that spirit, I have to refer to my undergraduate Hebrew Bible professor in the University of Athens: Elias Oikonomou. He was the scholar who introduced me to biblical archaeology and exploded my imagination with his work on biblical ecology. His mind was a spring-source of new concepts and I was often taken by his thoughts. One of them, that apparently had a profound impact on me, was what he called: “collective thinking.” He explained that biblical scholars do most of their work in isolation, however, he believed that working and thinking together could lead to even greater discoveries. Today, I would add that it also leads to even greater gratification and contributes towards better community.
     Our Pacific Northwest research group was conceived on the theoretical basis of what professor Oikonomou called: “collective thinking.” I even likened its workings to a “think-tank” in the call for papers the year that I introduced it to the regional conference. My goal was double. First, I wanted to prove that biblical scholars in our side of the country do great work. Second, I wanted to build community. Higher Education institutions in our region are not as close to one-another as the ones on the East Coast and more importantly we do not have institutionalized annual conferences as they do. The result is a true Wild West loner feeling for all of us. If I were going to do this research group right, I would potentially affect our regional prestige and our sense of community.
     So the call for the Research Group on Clothing went out in 2014 and, as they typically say, the rest is history and in our case it is also a book. All of us who study history though know that nothing simply happens. In our case there are two behind the scenes details that I wish to disclose. First, nothing would have happened if the scholars gathered had not brought their A-game with them. We all worked hard and inspired one another to surpass our expectations. Hence we put forward our book with pure joy and celebration. Then, as Carmen astutely observed above, the academic world is filled with fragile egos and I would add: with bitter feuds. Had that being the case with our research group, history would have been very different right now. The intellectual humility and spirit of generosity that this group of scholars brought and cultivated was unparalleled. I still remember the euphoria we all experienced at the end of our conferences. It was not a feeling anyone could have foreseen or construct artificially. That was a sign of a unique collaboration. Of course, our scholarship will be evaluated on the basis of its quality and we will be delighted to be engaged in dialogue. While the enthusiasm for our findings might fade, the memory of our community will be forever vibrant and energizing.
Thanks, again, Tony, for pouring your energy into this community of scholars and making the Pacific Northwest a truly collaborative place to work!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Our Regional Research Group: A Model for Academic Collaboration

One of the highlights of my academic career thus far has been participating in a unique research group in the Pacific Northwest. When we moved to Oregon in 2014, I discovered that the Hebrew Bible section for our region of the Society of Biblical Literature was engaged in a multi-year research project on clothing. I was in the midst of finishing my doctoral dissertation, which included a study of the garments worn by Israel's high priest, so I proposed a paper that would dive deeper into that topic. My paper proposal was accepted, and I began work on the most rigorous interdisciplinary project I had ever undertaken -- researching the production of dyes and fabrics in ancient times, the styles of clothing worn by the elites in cultures surrounding Israel, the Hebrew terms used for fabrics and colors, and the overall literary structure of the tabernacle instructions in Exodus. I was trying to get at the symbolic significance of Aaron's garments in their literary and cultural contexts.

Research sections of SBL can be quite competitive and critical. If you're lucky enough to have a paper proposal accepted, it can be an isolating experience to present your research among academic peers who then pompously critique it. Once I gave a paper at the national SBL meeting on the history of interpretation of a passage. I had just 20 minutes to survey 3,000 years of interpretive history, and one of the only four people in attendance lit into me for failing to mention Philo. Not everyone is that unfriendly, but the academic world is full of fragile egos, so people sometimes try to protect their turf and climb to the top by making others look stupid. I compensated for my nervousness with the clothing research group by exploring every possible angle of my topic.

I needn't have worried. This research group was entirely different. Thanks to the vision of Antonios Finitsis, the research group on Dress and Clothing in the Hebrew Bible is a warmly collaborative environment involving both junior and senior scholars that enables each member to produce his or her best work.

Here's how it works: Each member commits to attending the group for 2-3 consecutive years. In year one, each participant presents a paper on the topic of clothing in the Hebrew Bible and responds to someone else's paper. All the papers are distributed before the meeting and we all read all the other papers so that feedback can be prepared in advance. Each of us leaves the meeting with valuable suggestions for improvement.

In year 2, we present a revised version of our paper that incorporates the input of our fellow scholars. We also provide a formal response to one of the other revised papers and hear another respondent to our work. Following this second round of feedback, each of us revises our papers again, preparing a final version to be presented in year 3.

The essays are then collected for publication, resulting in a volume that is far more coherent and integrated than the average essay collection. The product of our research, entitled Dress and Clothing in the Hebrew Bible (T&T Clark), was released last month, the culmination of 5 years of scholarly collaboration.

Our group included Ehud Ben Zvi, Scott R. A. Starbuck, Ian D. Wilson, Sean E. Cook, Sara M. Koenig, Joshua Joel Spoelstra, Shawn W. Flynn, and myself. We are a rather eclectic bunch. Though we share an interest in the Hebrew Bible, our group includes people from Jewish, Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Evangelical traditions teaching at a wide range of institutions, from the University of Alberta to Gonzaga to Seattle Pacific to Prairie College. We span an international border, including Americans and Canadians.

I learned so much from my colleagues -- both in their own papers and in their responses to mine. By the end of this project, we have more than just a published volume. We have become friends -- helping each other with rides and housing for regional meetings, offering career advice, and cheering each other on in our work. I am so grateful for Tony's leadership, and thrilled to be participating in a second round of papers with another stellar group of scholars that will become a second volume on this topic. (This time around I'm working on clothing metaphor in imprecatory psalms). This unique approach to collaboration is now attracting scholars from as far away as Ontario, Colorado, and Utah.

Drawing of Pharaoh Seti I with the goddess Maat
at Abydos by Abigail Guthrie (Photo: C Imes)
A special bonus as I worked on the first volume was discovering that my TA, Abigail Guthrie, has quite the talent for drawing. Two of her illustrations made it into the book. Congratulations, Abby, and thanks for your great contribution!


Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Body of Christ, Broken for You: What Communion Taught Me About Church

It may not seem like such a big deal to stand there holding a tray of bread squares. Don't be fooled. It's a very big deal.

Let me back up. Two years ago I arrived at Prairie College as professor of Old Testament. I was ready to teach and ready to serve. In my first couple of weeks here, a colleague approached me to see if I'd be willing to help serve communion at our convocation chapel. I was surprised at how much this meant to me. Forty years old at the time, I couldn't recall having ever been asked to serve communion before. I've attended church my entire life -- not casually, but devotedly. If there is such a thing, I'm a professional Christian. I've dedicated my life to this faith, to this message. I've been to Bible college and seminary. I spent 15 years as a missionary. But I'm a woman. Perhaps that's why I had never been asked to pass out bread squares and tiny cups of juice to fellow believers.

For chapel we passed the trays down long rows. Somehow I messed up the every-other rhythm or sent the wrong tray first down the row, which meant that people were trying to hold a cup while passing a tray and taking bread. That didn't work very well (these things take practice, of which I had none!). In the end, everyone was served and our job was done. I felt mostly like an imperfect cog in a machine. Happy to help, but nervous and clumsy.

The body of Christ, broken for you (Photo: C Imes)
This year was different. This year at our convocation chapel those of us serving stood at the front of the auditorium. Everyone came forward to receive communion. I held the tray of bread as people passed in front of me. I looked each one in the eye and told them, "The body of Christ, broken for you."

The music was a bit loud. I'm not sure whether most of them even heard me. But something powerful happened as I said over and over, "The body of Christ, broken for you." I knew most of these people by name. I knew many of their stories. Some of them I loved deeply. Others -- to be frank -- not so much. In context of these relationships, those simple words became profound as my heart silently completed each sentence:

"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose body is also broken."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose spirit is crushed."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose mental health is tenuous."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose family is estranged."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose sin is still hidden."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . who is growing in grace."

A few people approached who I've never really clicked with. People who annoy me. They've never seemed to like me, either, but they had no choice but to come to me for bread.

"The body of Christ, broken for you."

My words to them were the same as to all the others, and this time the Spirit gently convicted me. Would you withhold love from one I love enough to die for?

I felt ugly places in my heart close over with forgiving love as I silently repented.

I heard a still small voice say to me, "The body of Christ, broken for you . . . who have failed to love." I needed as much grace as every other person I served. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

This story didn't take place in church. It was in a college chapel. But it illustrates one reason why listening to a sermon via podcast can never replace church attendance. Sunday morning is not primarily an intellectual transaction, nor is it primarily concerned with my vertical relationship with God, though it includes both of those dimensions. When we show up together at the foot of the cross, divisions are healed, grace is conveyed from one person to another, and we become just a little bit more like the family of faith God intended. As Kevin Peters said in his message that day,
"Our God is radically relational. . . . God designed us to be connected to him and to each other."
Mark Jonah had introduced communion with Hebrews 12:1-2, focusing particularly on the words, "Jesus . . . for the joy set before him, endured the cross." Mark always assumed that this joy was the joy of heaven awaiting Jesus, an eternal reward for faithfulness. Lately, though, he has been discovering a new dimension of Jesus' joy -- the joy of restored relationships now. Jesus knew that his death would have an immediate effect on relationships here. That joy made his suffering worth it. That joy is the reason we bother with church.

Yes, the body of Christ is broken. But it's brokenness brings life to you . . . and to me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Book Review: Chris Wright's "Old Testament in 7 Sentences"

This is a very sneaky book.

Choosing just seven sentences to summarize the Old Testament would be a challenge for anyone, but for someone who has spent his entire career deeply immersed in the Old Testament it's almost painful! Which parts can be left out? How can decades of study and teaching be captured in a brief and accessible way? Christopher J. H. Wright is no newbie when it comes to the Old Testament. He has written commentaries on Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, and Exodus as well as numerous books on OT ethics, preaching, and the mission of the people of God. Wright is just the right person write this book. (Did you see what I did there?)

Christopher J. H. Wright is a giant in Old Testament studies.
Just a few of his many books are pictured here.
(Photo: C Imes, at the Regent College bookstore)
So what makes this book sneaky? Wright acknowledges the difficulty of an endeavor like this. Based only on the table of contents, I made a list of all the things "missing" from the book, important moments in Israel's history and key aspects of biblical theology (image of God, covenant formula, the character of God in Exodus 34, Israel's failure to keep covenant, exile, etc). By the end of the book, Wright had covered everything on my list. Back to my point, Wright has managed to sneak a massive amount of biblical theology in this slim volume. He may have chosen just seven sentences, but attached to each one is a wealth of insight into surrounding texts. His book is a wonderful antidote to Old Testament illiteracy (not to mention Andy Stanley's exhortation to "unhitch" from the Bible Jesus read). It would make a great choice for a Bible Survey course or an adult Bible study. Discussion questions for each chapter are found in the back of the book.

So why would I spend my time reading a basic introduction to the Old Testament when I already have PhD in the subject? I'm always on the lookout for solid resources to recommend. This book in particular piqued my interest because Wright wrote the foreword to my new book. I'm a big fan of his work. He and I agree that the Old Testament law is a gift, and that the exodus demonstrates God's character. We agree that our destiny is not a disembodied existence, but that God plans to renew this world and restore the beauty of creation (see page 27). We share a passion to help believers discover the psalms as way of bringing all of who we are into God's presence (see page 149). Frankly, we agree on just about everything. If you flip through my copy of the book, here's what you'll find in the margin: stars, "exactly," "right," "cool," and "YES!"

Where do you read #ivpress? I brought Wright's book
 along this summer on a 6-hour hike at Lake Louise
in Banff National Park. (Photo: C Imes)
I'm grateful to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy. It's no surprise to me that this was an outstanding read. Wright's The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic delivers what it promises -- a small book with wide-ranging insights. Light enough to bring on a travel adventure . . . inspiring enough to want to read it when you're there.


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.