Paul and Pastoral Ministry

Are there metrics for defining the task or success of pastoral ministry? I’d venture to guess those metrics change from tradition to tradition, and congregation to congregation. Scot McKnight’s new book Pastor Paul makes a compelling case for why one metric is the cornerstone for all the rest. You can read more about it in my newest review on Christian Century.

From Jesus Creed, McKnight’s blog.

While you’re over there, you really need to check out two other pieces from next week’s print edition. Sarah Jean Barton–one of the kindest people I’ve ever met–has a beautiful review, “When Liturgy Embraces Difference,” on The Disabled Church by Rebecca Spurrier. Jason Byassee has an outstanding profile on Katherine Sonderegger (whose Systematic Vol. 2 releases soon!).

Overall, this is one of my favorite issues of the Century since I started reading. I’m proud to have contributed to it.


Pauline Dogmatics: What are we working with?

The most daunting exam during my time at Divinity School was in Douglas Campbell’s “Life of Paul” class. In theory, the exam was simple. Learn the Pauline letters inside and out. Know which ones are, according to Campbell, authentic. Know where Paul likely was when he wrote them. Know who people were, and where they were from, that Paul mentions in the letter. Know the arc of Paul’s life as told through the letter. In practice, it was very difficult. For Campbell, it is pure joy.

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Want to Give Good Books for Christmas?

Unsplash / Sharon McCutcheono

Christmas isn’t about the gifts we give. It is about the gift, a singular gift, of God choosing to become what we are so that we might become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1.4). But, in thankfulness and imitation of God’s gift-giving, we share gifts with others. So, what better gift could we give than books that help people come to know this gift-giving God better? (Yes, yes, the sacraments are the first and the true Christ-koinonia gifts, but lighten up! ‘Tis the season, right?)

These are mostly books that straddle the fine line between devotional reading and academic reading, with some poetry and practical theology in there for good measure.

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An interview with Ellen Davis

A Conversation With Ellen Davis on Opening Israel’s Scriptures

Unsplash / Mick Haupt

Whenever a congregant or student asks me what to do with the Old Testament, I recommend Ellen Davis’s book Getting Involved With God. It exemplifies the kind of careful, creative, and genuine reading that the Old Testament—and New Testament—expect of any reader. That Ellen Davis wrote such a book is no surprise. Throughout her career, she has written with critical rigor for the sake of the church. 

In her most recent book, Opening Israel’s Scriptures, Davis offers us, in her words, “the grown up version” of Getting Involved With God. It is grown up in two ways. First, the writing requires a bit more from the reader; second, the book covers a much wider range of the Old Testament writings. Nonetheless, for professors and pastors, this book gives us a joyful taste of theological, canonical, literary, and ecclesial approaches to exegesis.

Ellen Davis is the Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School. She has graciously agreed to respond to some of my questions related to Opening Israel’s Scriptures. (Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy of this book.) Enjoy the conversation below. Join in by commenting!

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The gathered glories

Malcolm Guite’s collection of poems, Sounding the Seasons, includes short sonnets for the Christian year. As All Saints’ Day approaches, I am reading his poems for the day. “The gathered glories” is especially provocative. It reads:

Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards,
Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,
It glances from the eyes, kindles the words
Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright
With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,
The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.
Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing,
He weaves their threads into the web of being.
They stand beside us even as we grieve,
The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,
Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above
The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,
To triumph where all saints are known and named;
The gathered glories of his wounded love.

“The gathered glories,” Sounding the Seasons, p. 58.

What I love is the tension Guite creates between my tradition’s custom of remembering the physically dead and the broader Christian concerns for those who are, in a number of ways, dead to the world. The “gibbet and the grave” conjures an image of one on the verge of death and one already dead. We remember not just those in the grave but those who, by Satan’s cruel hand and our shunning and shaming, stand at the edge of the grave.

Guite invites us, along with this week’s reading from Ephesians, to have the eyes of our heart widened, so that we may recall all the saints, in life and in death, not just those we’ve known.

Inspiration and Inebriation

A picture of Augustine.
St. Augustine,

Have you ever thought about why there are six stone pots in the story of Christ turning water into wine? Or have you ever wondered about why two or three “measures” of water could fit into them? Me neither.

Thank God Augustine did. His interpretation of the story of Christ at the wedding in Cana is playful, imaginative exegesis. As he preaches on this story, he observes the six stone jars. He reads them as echoing the six dispensations of prophecy. Once we understand Christ in those prophecies, he says, “what you read [in the prophecies] not only has a taste, but even inebriates you, transporting the mind from the body, so that forgetting the things that are past, you reach forward to the things that are before you.” His interaction with the two to three measures of water that can fit in the pots leads to a deeply relational presentation of the Trinity. Sometimes we name the Trinity as Father, Son, and Spirit, he says. Thus, three measures. In other instances, like later in John’s gospel, we hear that the Father and the Son are one. When this is the case, the Spirit is assumed  to be present and is, perhaps, the charity or love which makes the two one. And, so, two measures by appearance are three in reality. There is nothing—no detail, no word—without meaning, without life in this story.

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