S U M M E R 2 0 2 0 / S M U P E R K I N S S C H O O L O F T H E O L O G Y magazine Perspective How SHOULD WE THINK about the Bible?
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IN PERSPECTIVE 3 Letter from the Dean 4 Thinking about the Bible 10 Bible Stories 13 The Gift of Giving 14 Faculty Roundtable 18 Have Bible, Will Travel 20 Bridwell Selections 24 Who We Are – 2020 at a Glance NEWS 23 2020 Seals Laity Award 26 Distinguished Alumna Award 28 Reboot Youth Ministry
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Letter from the Dean
The Latin phrase homo unius libri (a “person of one book”) is first attributed to Thomas Aquinas, among others, but it is most closely associated, at least for Methodists, with John Wesley. Of course, Wesley himself was exceptionally well read, including in areas such as medicine, travel, biography and poetry. Nevertheless, the Bible held a unique and primary place in his thinking. The same is true for us at Perkins.
attended countless Bible studies; certainly, I knew the Bible well on one level, much as I seemed to know Bridge Over Troubled Water inside out as a teenager. For a while, biblical scholarship appeared only to dismantle Scripture and to distance me from it. (I describe this experience more in my article on page 5.) Once again, it took time to hear the music, to learn that God could speak through a text I was hearing in new ways. I came to see that careful biblical study can remove layers of distortion, taking us closer to the original performance, allowing us to hear the notes more clearly,
That is not to say that studying the Bible is simple. A concern I sometimes hear expressed is that attending seminary will complicate a student’s mind. There is a grain of truth to this accusation. The same thing could be said concerning the in- depth study of virtually any subject. When you begin to look at something much more carefully, you see complexities you missed formerly. But that isn’t the end of the story.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is quoted as having said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity,
helping us to get the lyrics right. As a result, this “one book” is more vital to me now than ever.
but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” My own experience is that extended study of Scripture can and should lead one to a new and better simplicity lying on the other side of complexity. I like to tell the story about the first record album I purchased, Simon and Garfunkel’s immensely popular Bridge Over Troubled Water . 1 I did not own a proper stereo; instead, I listened to the record on a chunky box phonograph that made up in volume what it lacked in fidelity. Its two-pound (or so it seemed) tonearm lumbered across the black vinyl like a 10-ton diesel rumbling over asphalt. It was as though Paul Simon had written with me
In this 2020 issue of Perspective , we invite you to join Perkins School of Theology in our study of the Bible. Learn from Rare Books and Manuscript Librarian R. Arvid Nelsen about the remarkable Bible collections at Bridwell Library and how sharing these significant treasures impacts students at
Perkins, others at Southern Methodist University, community members and researchers from around the world. Read about studying the Bible in local churches and on educational trips led by our own professor Jaime Clark-Soles. How is that like and unlike teaching a seminary class? Enter biblical study from the vantage point of our students, whose story echoes my own. Join our international students as they journey to Texas to hear the biblical story in a new context. Grow with insights from our faculty about their own passion for the Bible. I would be remiss if I did not make one final point: Bible study at its best is a kind of conversation. We study and question the text, but the text in turn studies and questions us – or at least it will if we allow it, if we “have ears to hear.” When all is said and done, the most important reason for reading the Bible is to encounter God in its pages and through its agency. That is a lifetime project.
specifically in mind. I listened to the album hundreds of times, finding ever-new ways to apply the lyrics to the circumstances of my life (quite a stretch in the case of the song Cecilia!). Many years later, I bought a good stereo with a compact disc player. Of course, one of my first CD purchases was Bridge Over Troubled Water . I was surprised to hear things that I had missed previously, such as Art Garfunkel drawing breath. In no time at all, I became an audio deconstructionist, disassembling each song and analyzing its sonic bits and pieces (good bass line here, sloppy chord there). It took me a while to get back to listening to and loving the music. In time, however, I came to appreciate the fact that my stereo’s increased fidelity had ushered me closer to the original performance, whose occasional challenges were now more audible. At the same time, it made what was good, such as Simon and Garfunkel harmonies, that much better. It also enabled me to understand lyrics that I had been mis-singing for years! The day that I began academic study of the Bible was much like the day that I purchased my first good stereo. Initially, the experience was disorienting and disconcerting. I had already
Grace and peace,
CRAIG C. HILL Dean, Perkins School of Theology Southern Methodist University
1 E.G., in In God’s Time : The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), pp. 94-95.
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Thinking About the Bible – M y Story 1 By Dean Craig C. Hill
How should we think about the Bible? Our answer to that question is foundational to a great many other questions and so is deserving of serious attention.
but he too was unable to fashion a satisfactory solution. “So, what do you do when you encounter this sort of problem?” I asked. His answer: “I just try not to think about it.” That was advice that I could not take. Too much was at stake. Three theological degrees and even more decades later, I am still a Christian. The core of my faith has not changed all that substantially, but my understanding of the Bible has. In this short space, I want to outline what I think is a reasonable and faithful alternative to inerrancy (the Bible contains no contradictions, historical inaccuracies or other such difficulties) that nevertheless recognizes Scripture’s immeasurable value and unique role. We start by considering the distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning. Deductive thinking involves the application of a general truth to specific situations. Let us say that the general truth is the excellence of my wife’s memory, for which I am perhaps not as grateful as I should be! Were Robin to inform me that I have a doctor’s appointment at 3 p.m. tomorrow, I would not phone the physician’s office for confirmation. I know that she has a reliable memory; therefore, I deduce that she is accurate in this instance. Inductive reasoning works in the opposite direction, from the specific to the general. When I first met Robin, I had no idea that she was gifted with a good memory.
During my freshman year of high school, the evangelist Leighton Ford conducted a crusade at our local armory, one result of which was the founding of a Christian coffeehouse called The Lighter Side of Darkness. “Lighter Side” was a perfect early-70s period piece, complete with purple walls, cushions for seats and empty wire spools for tables. (The practice of referring to it by its initials, LSD, did little to endear it to already suspicious parents.) It was like nothing that I had ever experienced. The confident faith, joyous worship and sheer drama of the place (one leader was a former drug dealer with reputed mob ties) overshadowed anything I had witnessed at my United Methodist Youth Fellowship. The principal activity at Lighter Side was Bible study. One of the coffeehouse “elders,” a fellow in his early twenties, would lead us through a passage or a series of verses. The unstated assumption was that Christians believed everything the Bible taught without qualification or equivocation. It was easy. I recall the day that it got difficult. I was reading a portion of Matthew’s Gospel, and, noting the cross reference in my Thompson’s Chain Bible, I turned to the parallel account in Luke. I was surprised to find significant differences between the two versions. No interpretive contortion, and by then I possessed an extensive repertoire, seemed capable of reconciling the details of the two accounts. Unsettled, I phoned one of the elders for guidance. I explained the conundrum,
1 This essay is adapted from and condenses material in the second chapter of my book In God’s Time, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002). Necessarily, I have simplified arguments that ideally would be explicated in greater detail.
left: Biblia Germanica. Augsburg: Günther Zainer, not after 1474. (06169)
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It is instructive to study the actual practice of the New Testament authors. Paul, for one, was extraordinarily free in his use of the Hebrew Bible. In many of his 89 biblical quotations, the original text is reworded to suit his argument, sometimes greatly altering its original meaning.1 A similar problem is evident in the New Testament’s reliance on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, sometimes at points where the text differs substantially from the original Hebrew.2 Which Old Testament is inerrant, the original or the version quoted by the New Testament? One admirable aspect of this way of thinking is the seriousness with which it takes the Bible. Indeed, the Bible may be regarded as the very Word of God, a title borrowed from prophecy (e.g., Isaiah 1:10: “Hear the word of the Lord …”) and generalized to include all Scripture. It should be noted that the Bible contains many types of literature, only a fraction of which could be described literally as “Word of God” speech. I shall never forget being in a worship service in which Psalm 137 was read, which ends, “Happy shall he be who requites you … Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” True to form, the pastor then said, “This is the word of the Lord,” to which the congregation dumbfoundedly responded, “Thanks be to God!” The seeming clarity of this viewpoint is appealing. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” By comparison, other approaches are dismissed as hopelessly complex and irredeemably subjective. Many defenses of inerrancy boil down to the sentiment that it must be true because God, being God, would not have left us in such an otherwise dicey situation. Looking at the above diagram, it is understandable that so much energy is expended in defense of inerrancy. Logically, the smallest biblical discrepancy would impugn the very character of God. Did Jesus cleanse the temple near the beginning of his ministry (John) or near the end (the Synoptics)? By this reasoning, he must have done it twice – that, or God is imperfect. One could go on and on enumerating such difficulties. The point is that this is a gloriously imposing yet exceedingly fragile construction. All is at stake in every part; as with a balloon, the tiniest puncture threatens annihilation.
Over time – through often embarrassing experiences – it became clear that her memory was superior to mine and ought to be trusted. In the process, I formulated a general
truth: Robin has an excellent memory.
People who believe in biblical inerrancy tend to think deductively about the Bible. The general truth is God, who is perfect and all powerful. What sort of book would such a God “write”? One that is without error, since it is God’s nature to be perfect, and it is in God’s power to produce a perfect result. If we then turn to specific texts, for example, to the dozens of stories found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), what are we to make of their apparent differences? Since this is a perfect book, we know in advance that no actual discrepancies can exist. Case closed. The argument is bolstered by an appeal to the King James translation of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Without entering into a complicated argument about Greek syntax, let me note that much has been read into this verse that is not there. The most probable translation puts verses 15 and 16 in parallel:
15: “the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation …
16: All inspired writings are also profitable for teaching …
The passage upholds the usefulness of the Hebrew Bible, the early church’s Scripture, not only for evangelism but also for Christian teaching and admonition. The word theopneustos, “inspired” or “God breathed/blown,” was used elsewhere (e.g., in Plutarch with reference to dreams) as a claim of divine origin without specifying the manner of origination, e.g., “dictated” by God.
1 See the analysis in Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989). 2 For example, in Acts 15:13-21, James’ argument is dependent on a quotation from the Greek version of Amos 9:11-12 (vv. 16-17). Also, it seems unlikely that James would quote the Septuagint to the Jerusalem church.
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into place. In all likelihood, Luke has moved the story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because he wanted it to serve a paradigmatic function. Note the addition of vv. 17-21, the reading from Isaiah 61 that serves as Jesus’ “job description” throughout this Gospel. Contrary to Matthew and Mark, the people at first received Jesus’ words with gladness (v. 22). Their rejection came later, only after Jesus had spoken of God’s favor toward the Gentiles (vv. 25-30), another detail found only in Luke. In fact, Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance are two of Luke’s central concerns, 3 so it makes perfect sense that he told the story in this way. Nothing could be more Lukan (see Luke 2:25-35). To fret over the historical differences between this account and that found in Matthew and Mark is to miss the point entirely. One shelf in my office is given to books that attempt to explain away such difficulties. It is instructive reading. One of the largest volumes purports to examine every significant discrepancy. That is a startling claim since the author missed 10 difficulties for every one he spotted. The truth is that most of us read the Bible devotionally. We come to it to find solutions, not problems, so it is understandable if we fail to notice, for example, that Jesus sent out the Twelve with “nothing … except a staff” in Mark 6:8 but with “no staff” in Luke 9:3. Do such problems mean that the Bible cannot be trusted, that it is false? Some jump to this conclusion, but that is by no means necessary. If the Bible disappoints us, it is probably more because of our inappropriate expectations than because of its limitations. The Bible is a powerful, precious and irreplaceable witness to Jesus Christ, but it is not itself a proper object of our faith.
On one level, there is no point in debating. The idea is thoroughly circular; its conclusions are written into its premises. All contrary evidence is ruled out in advance. Unless one is willing at some point to think inductively, to weigh and to test evidence, the general truth is unassailable. It reminds me of the story of the man who was convinced that he was dead. His attitude distressed family members, who eventually enlisted a psychiatrist. After several fruitless sessions, the psychiatrist landed on what he thought was a solution. He asked the man, “Do dead people bleed?” “No,” the fellow answered, “dead people do not bleed.” The doctor then pricked the man’s finger, which bled profusely. “I’ll be,” said the man. “Dead people bleed!” At best, this way of thinking produces confident disciples. At worst, it sets those same disciples up for a fall. I took a religion class in college in which the professor walked us through a number of the Bible’s most problematic texts. The exercise was devastating for some of my classmates. Others fought back, resourcefully defending the Bible. Ironically, however, both responses originated in the same mind-set, based on the conviction that belief in Christ is inseparable from belief in inerrancy. For me, the issue was on the table and would not go away. Only after years of study could I admit that my view of the Bible did a poor job of actually accounting for the Bible. In passage after passage, I saw that otherwise intractable problems disappeared if only I would admit that human authors in particular historical settings with specific theological concerns had composed them. Let me offer just one of literally hundreds of examples. Mark 6:1-6 records the story of Jesus’ rejection in the synagogue at Nazareth. Matthew tells the same story at the same location (13:54-58) with only minor variations, but Luke puts the story elsewhere, not in the middle but at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (4:16-30). An interesting consequence is the disciples’ absence; in Luke, they have not yet been called. One could harmonize all three accounts only by fudging significant details in each. One could say that the event occurred twice, but that is hardly likely. But if we look at the story from the point of view of Luke’s historical situation and purpose, everything falls neatly
Of course, this is my own statement of general truth arrived at by inductive reasoning, by beginning with the particular and then moving to the general. In this model, the study of individual texts eventually leads one to formulate opinions about the Bible. This allows one to ask
3 This is true both in the Gospel and in Acts, also written by Luke; note, for example, the crowning declaration in Acts 28:25-28.
above: The Beatitudes. Harting, Petersfield, Hampshire, England: Pear Tree Press, 1905. (27249)
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to one’s prejudices. How often have we selected the biblical view that we prefer and then used it as the key for interpreting out of existence the views with which we disagree? Challenging or controversial texts are dodged; in the process, the theological distinctiveness and integrity of individual biblical authors are lost. There is no uniform biblical view of, for example, the place of the law or the role of women. That can be frustrating, to be sure, but it is not the impossible obstacle some imagine. In practice if not in principle, even the most “literal” of biblical interpreters manage to navigate safe passage around these problems. Of course, it is better to make such interpretive choices consciously, but doing so requires a different conceptualization of our relationship to the Bible. A compelling example is the New Testament’s treatment of slavery. To conform literally to the text is to permit the owning of slaves, a point not lost on 19th-century American slaveholders. Nevertheless, much New Testament teaching is in tension with the institution of slavery. Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which he asserted the slave Onesimus’ equal standing as “brother” to his owner, is especially instructive. Most of the New Testament is on a trajectory toward egalitarianism: in Christ “there is neither slave nor free.” So it is possible to argue, as abolitionists did, that on a deep level the Bible is on their side. Does the New Testament retain any authority in this scheme? To quote Paul, “Yes, much in every way” (Romans 3:2). For one thing, we would have little idea who Jesus was or what he taught without the New Testament. Occasionally, I encounter someone who speaks of Christ and yet is blissfully unconstrained by the available evidence: “My Jesus would/would not …” Can one bypass the New Testament and get directly to Jesus? Only if one is content to find a projection of oneself. To know and to listen to Jesus necessarily means knowing and listening to Matthew and John and Paul. The New Testament books are utterly irreplaceable guides into an otherwise largely inaccessible territory. Let me suggest a parallel. The older I have gotten, the more I have appreciated my parents, both of whom are now deceased. Their instruction and example are reliable guides that I do well to follow. Indeed, I am in daily conversation with their internalized voice. They continue to direct me toward what is good and true and worthy. That is not to say that my parents were perfect. Like all good people, they were most prone to misstep when failing to live up to their own ideals. Fortunately, those occurrences were infrequent, and they justly
open-ended questions. It does not presuppose a result to which the Bible must be made to conform, and it is not threatened by problems. That does not mean that it requires that there be difficulties; in practice, persons can be found using this approach across a considerable theological spectrum. Of course, that breadth of interpretive possibility raises the specter of subjectivity. What is to stop me from finding only what I want and constructing a god to suit my purposes? Are we not venturing out onto the slippery slope of relativism? The short answer is that all of us, including inerrantists, are already there. None of us can escape entirely the historical situation in which we are located. Each of us comes to the text with a prior understanding of reality, with assumptions about what is true and what is possible, with unexamined self-interest and unacknowledged self-limitation. Having made this admission up front, we have the chance to construct a system of interpretive checks and balances that tests our individual readings against those of others within the broader communities of faith and learning, both across cultures and through time. The Protestant Reformers were right to insist that the whole counsel of Scripture ought to be consulted, but their dictum “Scripture interprets Scripture” all too easily becomes a license for harmonizing according
above: The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ. Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire, England: Golden Cockerel Press, 1931. (11002)
deserve respect and admiration. By analogy, the Bible, even with its tensions and challenges, is a voice with which I remain in lifelong conversation. Where it seems self-contradictory, it must be tested against its own best, most Christlike self, even as we continue to test ourselves against it. Of course, this approach does not produce uniform or certain results. Hence, the more individualistic and idiosyncratic the interpretation, the more it ought to be brought into conversation with the interpretive tradition of the larger believing community (that is, the synagogue and church through time and across cultures). Among other things, it is also essential to bring the Bible into conversation with science and history. After a speech given a number of years ago, someone pulled me aside and explained that fossils had been planted by Satan to trick humans into questioning the Bible. Personally, I would prefer a world with velociraptors to one in which the devil has the power to mess about with geology. I certainly would favor a world in which Christians did not divide over an issue that has so little to do with the truthfulness of their faith or the quality of their character. Nevertheless, even these considerations will not lead to unanimity and certitude. We have to face reality: Different persons will understand Scripture differently. This does not free us from the requirement to interpret the Bible carefully and rigorously. On the other hand, it does mean that we should hold our beliefs with a fair measure of humility and with charity toward the beliefs of others. Our cultural backgrounds, social locations, schooling and experiences are too varied to allow for universally accepted interpretations. What is credible to me will not always be credible to you, and vice-versa. In such cases, tolerance is not only ethical, it is sensible. I am profoundly grateful that the greatest commandment is not to be right. All of us are wrong about far more than we will ever know. All of us will look ignorant – and, most likely, morally deficient – to future generations. Much as a democracy requires an educated citizenry, a responsible church, however conservative or liberal, requires an educated congregation. To weigh, discern and test what the Bible says takes knowledge and effort. It is not easy. Sometimes, it is even painful, especially when the text challenges our preconceived notions or disappoints our expectations. The Bible comes to us like the angel to Jacob (Gen. 32:22ff.), wrestling with us, and both wounding and blessing us in the process. Jacob would not have become Israel apart from this encounter (v. 28); neither can the church know its identity and pursue its mission without wrestling long nights with Scripture.
right: The Song of Songs Which Is Solomon’s. Chelsea, London, England: Ashendene Press, 1902. (10268)
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BIBLE STORIES: Students share how their understanding of the Bible expanded at Perkins
Each of us brings our own story to the reading of the Bible. Perkins students are no different. They come to Perkins from a range of backgrounds, as Bible newbies or longtime students of Scripture. Most evolve in their views of the Bible during their theology studies. We invited several students to reflect on their journeys with the Bible at Perkins; here are their stories.
interpretation of the Bible. I became aware of the dangers of language that reinforce gender bias, hierarchy and antisemitism, including those in worship songs and liturgy. My greatest learning has been that all sacred texts are inherently ambiguous, flexible and “liquid.” The Bible’s interpretation is based on the social location of the reader. My faith has definitely been challenged, but thankfully I have come to fully embrace the classic definition of theology, attributed to Anselm of Canterbury: “Faith seeking understanding.” My faith drives me to believe that if I continue to seek, I will find. I still believe the Bible is divinely inspired and the best tool we have in understanding the mind of God.
SARAH BILAYE-BENIBO Master of Sacred Music student Pentecostal St. Louis, Missouri
Coming from a very conservative and homogenous background, I knew Perkins would challenge my fundamentalist approach to the Bible. As a worship leader, I was both excited and scared about how much my ministry might change. Interpretation of the Old Testament with Professor Scholz is probably the most eye-opening class I’ve ever taken. She challenged the class to think critically about the bias we bring to our
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dismaying. When you start to learn about different interpretations, you see how the Bible has been weaponized at times. The classroom helps us out of our ideological bunkers. We get to know one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s an important thing in such times as these. A big ‘aha’ moment for me was in Professor Heller’s Old Testament class. He explained that the Bible isn’t necessarily a window; it’s more like a mirror. We always bring our own lens, our own experiences, when we read the Bible. We can’t come to the Bible entirely objectively, no matter how hard we try. He also told us not to confuse familiarity with understanding, and that “the only thing that you can’t learn is something you already know.” That’s why the Bible is truly a living word. You can’t assume you know what a passage says, even though you’ve read it a million times. That is what makes the Bible such an amazing work!
With my education, I hope to help expand the church’s vision of God, to understand that God is not a man, a king or an American. God is a spirit, and, in this way, God is reflected in every living being.
NICK MCRAE Master of Divinity student Seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church Richardson, Texas
I have a long, complicated relationship with the Bible. I grew up in a church that takes Scripture very seriously, with an emphasis on refraining from a long list of activities and keeping yourself separate from the world. While I was in college, I became a Quaker and began to question whether the Bible should still be taken super-seriously. By the time I arrived at Perkins, I had these two poles fighting in my brain. I was really struck by something I learned in Professor Heller’s Old Testament class: the Bible was written by actual people, in actual times, in actual places, for actual circumstances. We need to learn about the context, and the background, to understand what that writer was trying to convey. I’m a licensed local pastor in a United Methodist church. Teaching Bible study, I often say, “We can trust in God. The Bible is trustworthy. But we must read it with humility. We can’t assume we know ‘the’ way to understand it. Let the Bible grow your faith and your understanding and your love for other people, but always read it with a humble heart, not one that is seeking to be right.” That impulse to be right is often not our friend.
RICHARD ANASTASI Master of Theological student Roman Catholic New York, New York
I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but I’m not a literalist. Not all parts are meant to be interpreted the same way. Having studied at Perkins, now I can better articulate that. My Old Testament class with Professor Susanne Scholz exposed me to different hermeneutical lenses, like my own patriarchal, male, Anglo- centric viewpoint. There are other interpretations out there. It’s up for me to decide which I will internalize. In Professor Jaime Clark-Soles’ New Testament class, we viewed a video that compared the poverty and powerlessness of South Africans with the way the Hebrews were treated by Rome. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed. It was very impactful. Now, when someone says, “Well, the Bible says …” regarding some social, economic or political issue, I ask, “Where? Which translation?” I’ve come to understand that all sacred texts are flexible, elastic and ambiguous. Whether it’s the Bible, the Qu’ran or the Upanishads, a reader creates meaning based on their social context. For example, I read the book of Isaiah four years ago, before coming to Perkins. All I remembered were the gloom and doom prophecies. When I read it again about two years later, all I noticed were the pastoral passages. The words are the same, but I changed.
SHANDON KLEIN Master of Divinity student Seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church Richardson, Texas
I came to Perkins because I wanted to be at a place where I could hear different interpretations, to learn the Hebrew and Greek and to interpret the texts in the original languages. That has definitely made my experience richer and taught me to appreciate the beauty of the Bible. It’s also been
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I also learned that we must be aware that we read the Bible in community. Even when we’re reading alone, our interpretations are built from the people we listen to. If we only listen to people with similar perspectives, it’s too easy to come to the kind of “common sense” readings that Americans in the 19th century believed mandated slavery; if we listen uncritically to people we regard as authorities, we can stumble into their traps and create our own. But if we seek voices from different backgrounds, we both gain compassion for the Bible and our sisters and brothers, and help to filter out our own biases.
LINDSAY BRUEHL Master of Divinity student Considering ministry in a Baptist church Dallas, Texas
I was raised in the Church of Christ. The Bible never really interested me, but I loved church. A few years ago, my life fell apart personally and politically, and I started to delve into the Bible. I heard the pain in the Bible of the people who have gone before us, and I fell in love with Scripture. Some things in the Bible are awful. At Perkins, I learned that it’s meant to make you feel it’s awful. There’s sex trafficking in Bible, for example. No matter what you’ve been through, you can read the Bible and your pain is spoken. I grew up being told that Jesus was not political, and to stay out of politics. Well, Jesus was political. I think he saw that women were not treated as they should be. In the church where I grew up, women were not called. But when you look at Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, that’s a teacher-student posture. She is the one who proclaimed his resurrection. That’s a preacher right there, trained by Jesus. When he met the woman at the well, I think Jesus released her to preach. When I look at Jesus and how he’s operating – he’s freeing women all the time.
MACIE LIPTOI Master of Divinity student Seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church Plano, Texas
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to studying the Bible at Perkins. At my conservative Christian undergraduate college, I saw people using the Bible to be oppressive toward others. My first semester at Perkins, Professor Roy Heller’s Old Testament class was the first time someone showed me I could have fun with the Bible. He lectured on the passage where Abraham goes to sacrifice his son Isaac. Growing up, the story meant Abraham was a model of obedience to God. Prof. Heller told us, “No, Abraham failed this test. God never speaks to Abraham again.” That bowled me over. Blind obedience is not faithfulness; reason and our community have to play a role, too. Professor Jaime Clark-Soles’ New Testament course enlightened me to the complexities of the Gospel of John. It’s not just stories about Jesus; there’s metaphor and interconnection. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and leaves in darkness; the Samaritan woman comes at noon and has the first theophany. She’s the first to know who Jesus really is, yet she keeps asking questions. What that taught me is that we are asked to continue in conversation in Christ. I’m grateful that my Bible professors gave me space to wrestle with all this. It’s been an absolutely transformational experience.
REBECCA CHASE Master of Theological student Pursuing ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America Plano, Texas
My background is Lutheran, so I grew up with “sola scriptura,” the idea that the Bible is, for the most part, the inerrant word of God. At Perkins, I became more aware that humans chose what made it into the Bible, and what did not. Yes, they did it prayerfully, but it wasn’t all just God. That was a jarring moment for me, and I’m still struggling a little with that. But I’ve also been empowered to dig into the Bible on my own. Thanks to Professor Sze-Kar Wan’s classes in Greek, and deep dives into Galatians and Romans, I’m more aware of the translation as something I can engage with, rather than just accepting the translation I’m given.
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The Gift of Giving
As you read this issue of Perspective , and if you resonate with the kind of education offered at Perkins School of Theology, please join us in making Perkins more affordable for students. We want to make a Perkins education within reach of every qualified student who applies.
God continues to call women and men to ministry in a multiplicity of forms. As our partners, who care about trained clergy and laity, please remember that you can help in a variety of ways.
a Perkins Scholar ($583 per month). Perhaps your church would like to sponsor a student in this way. Do you want to honor a parent, pastor, mentor or spiritual influence in your life? Contact the Development Office (email@example.com) and converse about a named scholarship endowment. A final reminder, as always, Dean Hill is in need of unrestricted funds to enhance various areas of Perkins. The SMU Fund for Perkins is set up just for that purpose. That fund can be selected online (https://giving.smu.edu/ schools-areas/perkins/) or in a notation by check. I hope you enjoy this issue of Perspective . What goes on in our classrooms, in Dallas and Houston, is extremely valuable for the future of the church. An untold number of lives will be touched by the students studying at Perkins right now. Help them achieve their educational and ministry goals. Please join us in this endeavor, and thank you for helping Perkins students afford our outstanding education.
Did you know that you can give recurring gifts to Perkins in the same way you pay monthly bills out of your checking account or from a credit/debit card? To do that, visit the Perkins website: https://giving.smu.edu/schools-areas/ perkins/ and select “Perkins School Student Financial Aid” from the drop-down menu. Gifts of any size are important as we seek to make education more affordable for students called to ministry. One-time gifts are welcome, but recurring gifts are a handy way to continue participating in this important work. Recurring gifts can be scheduled monthly, quarterly or yearly. Of course, recurring gifts are not only for Student Financial Aid; there are a number of options available to you, including the SMU Fund for Perkins, the important unrestricted fund that Dean Hill can use for a variety of purposes. If you would rather donate by check, checks can be sent to: Perkins Development, PO Box 750133, Dallas, TX 75275- 0133. Checks should be made out to “SMU,” with “Perkins Development” on the notation line. If you want to target your gift further, note Student Financial Aid, or SMU Fund for Perkins, or some other fund. Another way to make an enormous difference in a student’s educational life is to contact me at the Development Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) to sponsor a Perkins Scholar. That designation is used for a select group of M.Div. students who not only have outstanding academic abilities, but also leadership qualities. A three- year $7,000 per year commitment is necessary to sponsor
With a thankful heart,
John A. Martin Director of Development Perkins School of Theology
To join the effort, please visit giving.smu.edu/perkins or contact me at: John A. Martin, Perkins Development, PO Box 750133, Dallas, TX 75275-0133 214-768-2026 (direct line) | email@example.com
SUMMER 2020 SUM ER 2020
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Abraham Smith Professor of New Testament
TEACHING THE BIBLE TO THEOLOGY STUDENTS
Consider the daunting task facing teachers of the Bible: helping modern students understand how an ancient text speaks to the world today. Perkins students come from a range of Christian backgrounds. Some of them are fundamentalists, others are agnostic and many are somewhere in the middle. They enter Perkins from the wider world, where some dismiss the Bible as entirely irrelevant and others insist each word must be honored as literal truth. We asked Perkins’ Bible scholars to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching theology students; here are excerpts from their responses.
Q. What led you to devote your career to studying and teaching the Bible? John R. (Jack) Levison, W. J. A. Power Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew: My very first week at Wheaton College, I was in Greek professor Gerald Hawthorne’s class. He walked in, put down his briefcase, and wrote Philippians 4:13 in Greek on the board. Most of the students knew that verse as, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Jerry said, “I don’t like that translation, because it’s not true. You can’t do chemistry through Christ who strengthens you. The translation I like is Today’s English Version: ‘I can face all things through the
One who gives me power.’” He posed a problem, raised a question and pricked our curiosity. I was hooked. I was gone. I was all in. Susanne Scholz, Professor of Old Testament: I grew up with the Grimm’s fairy tales as a child in West Germany, not with the Bible. I had a great religion teacher in my Gymnasium (last three years of 13 years of schooling) who hooked me to study theology at the university level. Then I had some great Bible professors, went on an archaeological dig, spent a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and did feminist exegesis with Dr. Phyllis Trible, a pioneering scholar in the United States. How can you not devote your life to a text of such magnificent, profound and enduring influence in society and in the world?
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Q. What is it like teaching theology students? What’s most gratifying, what’s most challenging? Smith: The most gratifying aspect of teaching Christian Scriptures is the moment when the fog lifts, new vistas open and teacher and student alike see afresh a text come alive because it finally connects emotionally to a class’ lived experiences. The most challenging and yet informative aspect is the moment when teacher and student alike learn to see how our interpretations may have had a genesis not in the actual reading of a text but in certain assumptions we brought with us to the reading of a text. Wan: Most students come in with a lot of preconceived notions about the Bible, particularly their favorite hobby horses, their favorite texts. They have a hard time letting go, even when their interpretation really doesn’t accord with the historical possibilities of meanings. That is a challenge, but also fun. I can almost always predict what sort of interpretation students will have about a certain text. I try to turn it around as a way of teaching them, surprising them, destabilizing the old understanding. Clark-Soles: I enjoy meeting students where they are. Some didn’t grow up in church; others have been in church since birth. I like to say this early on in class: “My job is making what is strange familiar and what is familiar strange.” For those students who feel intimidated, I take care to help them see how they already have the skills and aptitude for engaging the text. It’s not as mysterious or as strange as they may think. For those who grew up in church, and do know the text, I try to get them to look again and bring a whole set of different questions to the text. For example, where are all the women in the Prodigal Son story? Not in order to be shock jock-y, but to get enough distance to be able to see the text anew. To me the text itself is revelatory and is a locus for encountering the risen Christ. I hope to create space for students who so desire to have such an encounter and to inspire them to go out from Perkins and create such spaces for others in whatever way God calls them to. Scholz: Most students come to my Hebrew Bible class hoping either for what I call a personalized, privatized, sentimentalized (PPS) Bible study (i.e., how can I be a better Christian?) or they expect historical explanations about what the texts meant way back then, in ancient Israel. Most do not expect to be challenged in their theological, political, cultural and hermeneutical assumptions when they study the Hebrew Bible at a Christian-affiliated theology school. Most do not expect to study the Bible in conversation with
Sze-kar Wan, Professor of New Testament: I was born in China and lived in Hong Kong. I knew some English when I came to this country as a 15-year- old, but I could hardly understand what the teacher was saying, so I majored in math. I shied away from anything that required me to write or read, because I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag. In college I became more dedicated to Christianity. I had the idea – which I think now is rather naïve – that if I could really understand the “real” meaning of the biblical text, I could find out what Christianity was all about. It’s not as simple as that. In seminary, I realized that the Bible allowed me to be creative. I could find new meaning. Roy L. Heller, Professor of Old Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor: I was brought up in a Pentecostal household where the Bible was regularly quoted, discussed and considered. I’ve always been interested in religion. A couple of my undergraduate professors convinced me that I should probably consider graduate school; when the time came to settle on a major, it seemed like religion would play to my strengths. Studying the Bible was, almost, the self- evident choice. Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor: As a freshman in college, we discussed Matthew 28:19 in history class. Most translations say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” That sounds like an imperative – as in, your job is targeting people for evangelism. Instead the professor read the passage as: “As you are going, make disciples.” It’s a big difference. Instead of going to Africa to save people, your job is to go to work today and witness to the gospel. That struck me because, as a Russian Studies major and a military brat who had lived in Italy, I already understood that language really matters. If I wanted to gain a fuller understanding of the Bible, I needed to read it in the original language. Abraham Smith, Professor of New Testament: My earliest reflections and work in biblical studies were essentially motivated by a mission: to rescue Paul from the dustbins of pragmatic irrelevancy. He suffered from multiple charges: social accommodation on questions about gender and slavery; theological inconsistency; and perhaps no small measure of dense writing. After all, someone closer to his own time once said of his letters: “there are some things in them hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16, NRSV). Little wonder it is, then, that this otherwise towering figure has also been described as an enigma, perhaps even a “protean” figure (as Amos Jones once did in Paul’s Message of Freedom: What Does It Mean to the Black Church? ).
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Q. In your years of teaching, have you noticed any changes in students’ views and understanding of the Bible? Smith: Today’s students do not necessarily bring a biblical-content literacy with them to the classroom. I spend more time helping students to catch the tone and tenor of individual writings. On the other hand, the absence of that literacy may actually allow some students not to study the material with larger, unchecked assumptions and thus to see the texts apart from received traditions that otherwise could dilute the power and promise of the texts. Wan: I think the text is a way for us to have a conversation about what truth is. The Bible is not a kind of computer manual that you can simply open up and find the ‘truth’ in there. Truth is a continual conversation between what we are experiencing, what questions we are asking today, what our concerns are, what our understanding of justice and reality is. When we are armed with all those questions and ask the text those questions, I think it is in that give-and-take that we understand what truth is. It’s not so much a method as an event. It’s a conversation rather than a discovery of something static. Heller: In the years I’ve been teaching, I think students have become more aware of the literary nature of the biblical text. They understand that the Bible is composed of texts that have been composed and edited and re-edited over centuries and that the real power of the text is found in the ways that those types of literatures are encountered by real people now, who are living in real circumstances now. Students are clearer about
contemporary religion and politics. But then we read the story of Sarah, Abraham and Hagar to learn more about sexual violence in the world. And we study the 19th-century debate on slavery to get a sense of Christian arguments for and against the so-called Curse of Ham (Gen. 9:20-27). It is hard work to teach people about their relentless preference to read the Bible either as a book about personal piety or as a history book about a largely fictional past. Most of my pedagogical efforts consist in exposing the hermeneutical habit of differentiating between the biblical past and the now as a hermeneutical “fallacy” because readers, grounded in their social locations, create biblical meanings, even when those very readers claim to be uninvolved participants in the meaning-making process. The authors are dead. Long live the readers of the Bible! Levison: Most challenging is wooing people who have been hurt by the use of the Bible back to loving the Bible as Scripture. What I find gratifying is how hungry students seem to be. I was a little worried they would only be interested in pushing their own political agenda. They don’t. They’re willing to engage other students about biblical texts. The text gives students a base for civil disagreement and discourse. We’re not Fox News and MSNBC. In a world of uncommon divisions, the Bible gives us something in common. I teach a required Old Testament course with 35 students, and they have had lively, honest and intelligent discussions. That’s thrilling. Heller: The gratification is seeing people actively engage the text with their imaginations, their questions, their wonderings … and to see how the text positively affects them. The challenge is precisely what it always has been: to cajole people into seeing the familiar stories and poems of the Bible in new ways.
from left to right:
John R. (Jack) Levison
Roy L. Heller
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