Thursday, December 26, 2019

My Favorite Books of 2019

I entitled this blog Chastened Intuitions as a way of recognizing that our gut feelings about something need reshaping in light of research and exposure to other perspectives. Reading is a powerful way to pursue that kind of learning. I read 40 books in 2019. The five listed below made the most significant contribution to my own growth, chastening my intuition in important ways.

Surprised by Jesus Again: Reading the Bible in Communion with the Saints by Jason Byassee

I encountered this book as a skeptic, but I was quickly disarmed, even charmed. I did not find every reading persuasive, but I was won over by his central thesis. Byassee winsomely, playfully invites Christian readers of Scripture to delight in its mysteries and to participate in God's passionate quest to lavish his love an on ever-widening circle of faithful followers. He is right to chide biblical scholars for our lack of imagination. Reading this book has reignited my passion for a pedagogy that ushers fellow readers of Scripture into a place of wonder. A finalist in the Christianity Today 2019 Book Awards, this book is well worth reading.

The Liturgy of Creation by Michael LeFebvre

Given LeFebvre's brilliant doctoral work on Old Testament law, I expected this book to be carefully researched and lucidly written. I was not disappointed. LeFebvre skillfully brings into focus the parts of the Pentateuch readers are most likely to skip, showing how the purpose of each calendar notation in the Torah, including its opening chapter, is liturgical―to order the work and worship of the covenant people. His reassessment of Genesis 1 moves beyond the stalemate in the creation debates without recourse to extrabiblical or scientific arguments. His thesis grows organically from a close reading of the biblical text. LeFebvre shows himself to be a master teacher with pastoral sensitivity, able to patiently explain what he has so carefully studied. This book will change the way I teach the Torah. I can't wait to share it with my students!

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour

A powerful and enlightening story of a Palestinian Christian living in the aftermath of WWII. His story unveils the dark side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its origins outside the land of Palestine, and the way both sides have been caught in the crossfire between nations whose complex interests are not above board. Chacour's hope is that Arabs and Jews can learn to live together as neighbors. He has devoted his entire life to this aim: PEACE. Such an eye-opening and hope-filled book!

Hope for the Oppressor by Patrick Oden

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.

Phoebe by Paula Gooder

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. Together with Holly Beers' A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman and Ben Witherington III's Priscilla, 2019 was my year to discover what is was like for women of the Roman Empire in the first century.

Friday, December 20, 2019

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

I've had several opportunities to interview about Bearing God's Name across a wide range of venues. As the interviews go live, I'll keep adding the links below. Choose your favorite and give it a listen!

Podcast Interviews

The Naked Bible Podcast with Michael Heiser (74 minutes)
We discuss the nature of Old Testament law, the heart of biblical theology, and what it's like to be a woman in the world of biblical scholarship.
Heath in Pursuit with Heath Hollensbe (48 minutes)
This was such a fun interview! We talk about the Ten Commandments, the beauty of the Old Testament, the power of liminal space, how to find Jesus in the Old Testament, and more.
The Shaun Tabatt Show (29 minutes)
Shaun asked such great questions! We talked about the relevance of the OT and what we miss if we "unhitch" from it, the uniqueness of God's personal name, the power of liminal space, the literary structure of Exodus, the Ten Commandments, my favorite Hebrew word, the meaning of Exodus 20:7, and how it relates to the Lord's Prayer. I also tell the story of some miracle french bread.
Disrupters Podcast with Esau McCaulley (48 minutes)
Esau and I discussed my journey into biblical studies as a woman and consider ways to encourage women and minorities in scholarship. I tell stories of how I was disruptive as a kid. I claim that the lists of names in Numbers are very good news. We also touch on the book, in particular reconciling my very positive view of the Torah with Paul's view. Esau wants you all to know that he started reading my blog long before I was famous. 
Food Trucks in Babylon (Western Seminary) with Patrick Schreiner and Todd Miles (51 minutes)
In this interview I show how uncultured I am when it comes to eating out, and I make my best attempt to bridge to the disciplines of theology and New Testament studies. This was a good conversation about what's at stake when we "unhitch" from the Old Testament.
Bible Project with Tim Mackie and Jon Collins (56 minutes)
Join us as we talk about the Name Command (Exodus 20:7), how the Israelite high priest is a visual model of the role of Israel as a nation, how this relates to the temple being the "place of the name," and how God's name is profaned and sanctified. We touch on the Lord's Prayer, John's vision in Revelation, and the way the my book breaks new ground in publishing. As a bonus, we also talk about how we met and how Ray Lubeck influenced all three of us. Little known fact: Jon Collins was one of my first students!
OnScript with Matt Lynch (55 minutes)
We discuss what's new about the new covenant, what it means to be God's treasured possession, and how to interpret the command not to "take" God's name in vain. I talk about the influence of my mentor, Daniel Block. We also do a "speed round" in which I answer the question, "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"
The Outpost with Josh McNall

Radio Interviews

Prairie Radio with Dan Callaway (17 minutes)
We discuss the release of Bearing God's Name and some of its big ideas.
Songtime Radio with Adam Miller (27 minutes)
We talk about why the Old Testament is essential for Christians and how we can find grace in it.
Remnant Radio with Josh Lewis and Michael Roundtree (66 minutes)
We talk about the OT law and how it applies to Christians, how different denominations count the 10 commandments differently, what's new about the new covenant, and how Jesus relates to the law.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Author Interview: Holly Beers, "A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman"

Holly Beers, Westmont College,
Author of A Week in the Life
of a Greco-Roman Woman

Holly Beers is the author of the recently released A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman (IVP). Holly's book joins a growing number of works of historical fiction written by New Testament scholars. My copy is still in the mail on its way to me, but I have heard excellent things about it and can't wait to dive in. New Testament professor Nijay Gupta of Portland Seminary says, 
"I highly recommend Holly Beers’ new A Week in the life of a Greco-Roman Woman. Beers knows her ancient social context, but she crafts a nice story to bring it all to life. This is something I am going to try to use in the classroom the first chance I get!"
Holly, please tell us a bit about yourself -- where and what you teach, where you studied, what your areas of interest and expertise are. 

I'm from a small town in Minnesota and did my undergraduate (North Central University, Minneapolis) and master's (Bethel Seminary, St. Paul) work close to home. My PhD is in New Testament from London School of Theology. I teach at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where the weather is beautiful but, to my sorrow, it does not snow at Christmas. My main specialties include Luke-Acts (my favorite is Acts, of course -- best book in the Bible!), the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, Second Temple Judaism (the world of Jesus and Paul!), and New Testament ecclesiology (or: how Jesus' first followers "did church"). A growing area of interest and expertise for me is Pentecostal hermeneutics. I was raised Pentecostal and still consider that my tradition, and I am increasingly interested in how the global Pentecostal church is shaping biblical interpretation. 

Image result for holly beers week in the life of a"How did you get connected to this project?
I met with Dan Reid from IVP (who's now retired) several years ago when he visited Westmont. He asked if I knew of the series, and I did, as I'd read Ben Witherington's A Week in the Life of Corinth. He said that they were looking for someone to write a volume on a woman's life in the first-century world. That was the beginning of this book, as I started to imagine who the woman might be and what her life would look like. 

How long did it take you to write it?

Good question. I had planned on two years, but then I was in a Vespa accident; those injuries (concussion and broken wrist) delayed me a bit. I had a draft done in about three years, I think.

What was the most challenging aspect to figure out?

I had never written a novel before, so that was rough at first. I've read probably thousands of novels in my lifetime, because that's what I do for fun, but I'd never written one. I got into the habit of praying every time I sat down to write. I'd say something like: "Spirit of God, help me. You know I've never written a novel. Write with me and through me today." Honestly, I feel like the book is really co-authored; it's me and the Holy Spirit! 

What was one of the most exciting discoveries you made as you researched?

It was exciting to learn that women's lives were probably much more varied in the ancient world than people often assume today. They were not living cloistered lives behind closed doors; that would only have been an option for the very wealthy. Most women would have had to be out and about as a practical necessity. They would have gone to the market, interacted with a variety of people, and even worked in family trades and businesses. 

Without spoiling the story, can you tell us a bit about the Greco-Roman woman who is the main character for your novel? What is her name? What is she like? What challenges does she encounter?

My main character's name is Anthia. She is strong, practical, and thoughtful. She encounters the challenges of everyday life in her world, which include mourning the death of a close friend; keeping Artemis, the patron goddess of Ephesus, happy; helping to ensure that her family has something to eat every day; supporting her extended family; managing her husband's unpredictable temperament; raising her young son; and managing her pregnancy. 

With Holly Beers at SBL in San Diego, 2019
Who do you envision reading this book?

I've always wanted to write a book that my mom could read. She loves the Bible and cares deeply about faith, but doesn't have formal theological training (besides having me in her life). This book is really for those who want to learn more about the world of the Bible in an accessible way, and I envision those people as being both inside and outside Christian faith. I also hope scholars read it, and that it shapes their vision of the New Testament world and the way that they communicate it to their students. It would also make a good text for a classroom. 

What are you working on next?
I have a couple of projects in the works. The first is an investigation of the use of the Old Testament in some of Paul's letters. First I'm working in Colossians, then I'll head to Ephesians. I'll be writing a commentary on Colossians and/or Ephesians for a new New Testament commentary series that is geared toward serving Christians who are charismatic or Pentecostal (broadly defined), including people outside of North America and Europe. I've always wanted my scholarship to serve the church, and this opportunity is one that still surprises me and humbles me.

Thanks, Holly, for telling us about your work!

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

Kelley Maranto Mathews for Patheos

Sandra Glahn for Aspire2 

Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (about Bearing YHWH's Name at Sinai, my published dissertation on which Bearing God's Name is based)

Guest Blog Posts

Cateclesia Institute (coming soon)


Library Journal



Robert Mayer for Only Visiting This Planet

Michael Philliber for Deus Misereatur

Kenson Gonzalez for Viviendo Para Su Gloria

Bible Study Magazine

Faith Today

Bible Today


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!