Author Archives: David Rathel

Pastor or Theologian? Rejecting the False Dichotomy

Gerald Hiestand. Photo courtesy of CPT website.

This post is authored by Gerald Hiestand. Gerald is Senior Associate Pastor at Calvary Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, and co-founder and executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan), and Becoming a Pastor Theologians: New Possibilities for Church Leadership (IVP Academic). His most recent edited volume is Beauty, Order and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality (IVP Academic).

St. Mary’s College is grateful for its connections with the Center for Pastor Theologians. Dr. Scott Hafemann, Reader in New Testament at St. Mary’s, is a Senior Mentor at the Center. The following St. Mary’s graduates and current students are active participants in the Center’s fellowships: Dr. Tim Fox, Dr. Trygve Johnson, Dr. Mickey Klink, Dr. Joey Sherrard, and Matt Ketterling.


I’ve been asked to contribute an essay here in light of my work as executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians—a network of broadly evangelical clergy committed to ongoing theological scholarship on behalf of the church. But in order to introduce the CPT, let me first say a word about the times in which we live.

There are Christians in every generation who rather forlornly assume that their generation, beyond any previous generation, has at last hit bottom. For my part, I’m not certain our generation is really any better or worse than the ones that have gone before. But I am certain that our generation faces intellectual challenges never before encountered by our forefathers in the faith. The waters we sail are uniquely choppy.

Questions related to human cloning, new definitions of marriage, gender reassignment, the advent of social media, computers in our pockets more powerful than what NASA used to put the first man on the moon, religious relativism juxtapositioned against militant Islam, an ever shrinking social and economic global community, an increasingly post-Christian western culture, the rise of the ‘new atheists’, global warming, and more. If ever there was an age that called for careful, theological, and intellectual leadership, it is surely our age.

In past generations, such leadership was primarily the domain of the Church’s bishops and pastors. But since the Enlightenment, the pastoral community has increasingly (and now almost universally) quit the field. The university professor has replaced the pastor as the assumed theological leader of the church. Pastors, we are told, care for people, preach sermons, visit the sick and provide spiritual counsel. Professors, on the other hand, stay above the fray so they can have time and space to think deeply and write penetratingly about the pressing intellectual questions of the day.

The primary problem with this division of labor, of course, is that pastors remain the theological leaders of the church, however much they might wish to delegate this responsibility to the academy.

The capacity of the people of God to think theologically and Christianly about immigration, ISIS, transgenderism, gay marriage, the possibilities and perils of social media, human cloning, and global warming, does not come from what the professors in the universities are saying, but from what their pastors are (or are not) saying. This is not to minimize the important work being done by academics in the universities and colleges. But the burden of leading the church theologically (with all the attending inevitable ethical implications) is a burden that rests squarely upon the shoulders of church’s pastors.

Theology, as a discipline, has the primary function of answering questions that the Church needs answering. The abdication by pastors of this responsibility has, in the main, resulted in a theologically anemic church, ill-equipped to face the brave new world in which we find ourselves. And insofar as post-Enlightenment theologians now reside almost exclusively in an academic social location, Christian theological reflection at the highest levels has tended to become ecclesially anemic, too often disconnected from the real concerns on the ground. We write deeply about interesting ideas, but we’ve forgotten why those ideas are, in the end, important.

But Christian theological reflection is meant to flourish within the ecclesial community precisely because it is the ecclesial community that theology is meant to serve. And it is the Church’s pastors who are tasked with thinking from within and for this community. The people of God will never rise above the theological leadership of her pastors, however theologically astute our Christian professors are in the academy.

Cue the Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT). The CPT is a broadly evangelical organization dedicated to recruiting, networking, and resourcing pastor theologians to provide faithful written, intellectual and theological leadership on behalf of the church, in light of the cultural challenges and opportunities of the late modern world.

The CPT operates with the guiding premise that pastors are indeed the theological leaders of the church, and that the pastoral community must once again self-consciously assume the burden of the Church’s intellectual and theological leadership. We at the CPT have in mind a vision of the pastor theologian that extends beyond pastors acting as mere theological middle-men—as though pastor theologians were simply pastors who translated academic theology into terms the laity can understand. Such a vision is helpful insofar as it goes, but sells short the vision of the pastor theologian in it most historic and robust conception. In every age, and most especially in ours, the Church needs pastors who not only translate theology, but who also construct theology. Or again, the Church needs pastors who are writing theology not just to their congregants, but to other ecclesially minded theologians and scholars (a genre of theological discourse that I have termed ‘ecclesial theology’, as distinct from academic theology). The Church needs pastors who operate at the highest intellectual levels, and who are able to tap deeply into the Church’s theological heritage and traditions, who are able to construct theological syntheses that answer the most pressing intellectual questions of the day. The Church needs pastors who do the kind of work done by previous generations of pastor theologians—pastors such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, the Cappadocians—bishops all.

Not every pastor is called to the highest levels of the theological task, of course. Just like not every professor in the academy is a prolific writer and scholar. Some pastors will discharge their theological leadership solely in the context of a local congregation. Well and good. But the time has come for the emerging generation of ecclesial leaders to press into a new future (which is really just a return to our past) where the pastoral community once again considers itself—collectively—to be a body of theologians.

My congregation is the appropriate soil out of which my research projects have grown; their fears, concerns, doubts, joys, and sufferings inevitably become my own, shaping the questions I ask, the way I read Scripture and how I access the rich textual tradition of the church. The books and articles I write, while not always written directly to my congregation, always have my congregation in view. I have found few things more satisfying than seeing the fruit of my theological reflection winding its way into the lives of those whom I love and serve—bolstering faith, steadying weak knees, encouraging love for God and neighbor, and inspiring hope.

I’ll not pretend. Being a theologian in a local church is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been hacking away at it for a decade now, and it is not all rainbows and rose petals. Local churches very frequently lack the institutional infrastructure so crucial to the theologian’s task. Access to scholarly resources is often a challenge. The relational remove from a community of like-minded scholars can be isolating. And many congregants look with suspicion on a pastor who spends time reading and writing about things that congregants themselves don’t understand. But pressing through and beyond such obstacles is worth it. Being a productive theologian in a local church is indeed possible. It won’t look quite the same as being a theologian in the academy. (I’ve written about that here). But for those so called and gifted, I can’t think of a more fulfilling vocation.

For too long now those with intellectual and theological capacities have not considered the pastorate to be a viable vocational home for a theologian or scholar. This false choice has impoverished (indeed imperiled) the church. The nearly sixty fellows of the CPT are evidence that such a vision can succeed. Not every theologian is called to be a pastor. And not every pastor is called to be a theologian (in the most robust sense the term implies). But some pastors are called and gifted to be theologians, and some theologians are called and gifted to be pastors. If such is the reader of this essay, then reject the false division and embrace the historic vision of the pastor theologian.

Nobody is Hiring, So What Can I Do with My PhD in Theology?

Nathan A. Finn. Photo courtesy of Union University.

Dr. Nathan A. Finn contributed today’s post. Dr. Finn is Dean of the School of Theology and Missions and Professor of Theological Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, USA. We are grateful for his contribution.


For eight years, I served on the faculty at a large theological seminary, where I was part of a committee that redesigned our PhD programs in Historical Theology and Systematic Theology. I continue to teach and supervise several students studying historical theology. For the past two years, I’ve served as the dean of a college that focuses on theological education within the context of a Christian liberal arts university. One of my responsibilities as dean is hiring new faculty in my school.

As both a supervising professor and an academic dean, I spend a fair amount of my time talking to men and women who are pursuing advanced studies in theological disciplines. Almost all of them want to know what they can do with their PhD, especially in a job market where few schools are expanding the size of the faculties. I believe there are several ways a PhD in a theological discipline can be useful, even if you can’t find a permanent teaching post in a traditional university or seminary.

First, you can pursue ordination to the clergy and serve in a local congregation. A growing number of clergy, especially those of evangelical sentiments, have become interested in the “pastor-theologian” model that blends advanced theological studies with pastoral ministry. Like some of the faculty members who are or have been a part of St. Mary’s College, these pastor-theologians believe that theology is a discipline from and for the church, not just the academy. But they also believe that full-time pastors who are able to should write academic theology that contributes to the guild, and not simply pastoral theology that is geared for laypersons (though the latter is also really important). If you’ve sensed some sort of call to pastoral ministry alongside your desire to pursue advanced theological studies, then perhaps the latter should be put in service to the former. (A similar argument could be made for parachurch work rather than ordained ministry.)

Second, you can pursue adjunct teaching opportunities in addition to working full-time in a non-academic field. To be clear, there isn’t an endless supply of adjunct opportunities, either—but there are far more of these positions than there are permanent teaching posts. Furthermore, with the proliferation of extension and online programs, there are ways to serve as an adjunct professor without having to live physically close to a university or seminary. I’m increasingly seeing bi-lines on the back of books that say something like “Jehoshaphat Jones is pastor of Calvary Church in Eden Prairie, MN and serves as an online adjunct professor of Old Testament at Freedom Christian University” or “Talitha Tuttle is a systems analyst for Major Corporation and teaches biblical studies at Evangelical Bible College.” Perhaps you would find personal fulfillment and be able to use your training in a meaningful way by teaching part-time, but also having a full-time career outside the academy.

Third, you can teach in the majority world. Thanks to scholars such as Andrew Walls and Philip Jenkins, most of us now know that most of the Christian growth of the past century is in the Global South rather than North America, Europe, and Australia. In many of these contexts, theological education is a growing priority. With a PhD in a theological discipline, you might be able to secure a permanent teaching post in a university in parts of Asia, Africa, or South America. Or you might be able to teach in a seminary or theological college that focuses on ministerial training. Or you might be able to be a part of a ministerial training initiative that isn’t tied to a brick-and-mortar institution, but takes theological education to indigenous pastors and evangelists. Some positions require relocation to a new country, while others are roving positions that enable you to live wherever you wish. The sky really is the limit if you have a PhD and feel a sense of calling to advance theological education in non-Western contexts.

You’ve spent a lot of time working on that PhD, and hopefully you began the program “eyes wide open” when it comes to job prospects in the academy. Keep writing. Keep accepting short-term teaching assignments. Keep attending professional conferences. Keep networking. Keep sending people like me your updated Curriculum Vitae! But as you do these things, be open to other opportunities and even vocations where you can use your training to advance Christ’s kingdom, serve his church, and contribute to human flourishing.

Reflecting on The Spring 2017 Theology Seminars

This past semester’s theology seminars featured quality speakers who addressed interesting topics. Together we examined everything from the ethics of eating animals to theology’s relationship with science. The students of St. Mary’s College are grateful to Dr. Judith Wolfe, Dr. Tim Baylor, and Dr. Stephen Holmes for organizing these meetings.

Reading group

Student Discussion in College Hall, the Site of our Weekly Seminars

We are also grateful to Rebekah Earnshaw for her tireless work of documenting many of our sessions together. Rebekah posted blog updates on this website that provided detailed accounts of the paper presentations we heard and even the discussion questions that they engendered.

I provide below links to Rebekah’s posts. I hope that they help students who were interested in this semester’s discussions. Students who could not attend the theology seminar may also find them useful. Readers will find a schedule for the Spring 2017 theology seminars here: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/current/pg/seminars/theol/

Christa McKirland, a Ph.D. candidate with the Logos Institute, also composed a quality post for us in which she offered her reflections on Seminar Four: https://theology.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/2017/02/26/how-did-this-get-on-my-plate/

Book Review: The Freedom of God for Us—Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity

Today’s post features a book review by Jared Michelson, a postgraduate research student in St. Mary’s College. We are grateful to Jared for his contribution.


The Freedom of God for Us: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity, Brian D. Asbill, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-5675-2071-5), pp. 240.

In The Freedom of God for Us: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity, Brian Asbill undertakes a dogmatic and genealogical sketch of Barth’s evolving account of divine aseity. This essay, which began as a dissertation under John Webster, succeeds with impressive brevity in accomplishing three tasks. First, Asbill carefully excavates the development of Barth’s doctrine of divine aseity with special focus on the evolution of the doctrine from the Göttingen Dogmatics (GD) to Church Dogmatics (CD) II/1, without neglecting the breadth of Barth’s career. Second, Asbill situates the doctrine of divine aseity within the larger setting of Barth’s doctrine of God. Third, Asbill locates Barth’s account of aseity in, and puts it in conversation with, the development of the doctrine in the western tradition—his brief but helpful narration of the doctrine’s evolution stretches from Anselm to Pannenberg—and contemporary debates in Barth studies.

Let me briefly summarise the argument. Chapter one identifies the historical antecedents of Barth’s doctrine of aseity, identifying the key dogmatic functions of aseity in the tradition. He concludes the chapter by identifying four dogmatic questions in contemporary Barth studies which Asbill hopes his retrieval of Barth’s doctrine of divine aseity will clarify. Chapter two outlines Barth’s evolving account of aseity. Asbill largely accepts McCormack’s portrait of Barth as an enduringly dialectical theologian, and intriguingly contends that corresponding to this dialectical consistency there exists an ongoing commitment to divine aseity. Chapter three is a description of Barth’s revelational objectivism and actualism. Chapter four discusses the employment of noetic and ontic dialectics in the GD and CD. Asbill likewise distinguishes between a complementary dialectic characterised by ongoing polarity and tension, which he associates with Hermann, with Barth’s supplementary dialectic, in which the divine No and veiling is teleologically ordered to be sublimated by the divine yes and unveiling. Chapter five argues that in the GD, Barth employs the dialectic between personality and aseity in order to identify the inherent insufficiency of creaturely concepts to denote divine perfection. Asbill likewise contends that at this stage, Barth is in danger of projecting the Realdialektik, which characterises divine revelation to creatures, into the divine being itself. Barth’s struggle at this stage to adequately affirm the undialectical peace of God’s life in se sets the groundwork for CD II/1. Asbill outlines the resolution of this tension in chapter six, as he argues that in CD II/1, divine veiling is Christologically ordered to unveiling and the dialectical denkform between love and freedom is employed not to create tension with God’s life, but to emphasise the final unity and compatibility of the divine perfections. Chapter seven provides an anatomy of the fundamental features of Barth’s account of aseity, as Asbill contends that Barth’s account of aseity grounds revelation in God’s self-demonstration and self-movement, affirms God as this particular triune God rather than generic deity, binds creaturely knowledge of God to God’s self-interpretation, and ensures that divine aseity denotes God’s readiness for movement towards the creature. In chapter eight, Asbill explicates the dogmatic functions of aseity in the CD. The weight of the chapter distinguishes Barth’s account of aseity as the self-sufficient readiness of God to be ‘with us’ in Jesus Christ, from abstract accounts of aseity which threaten to undermine the dignity and integrity of creaturely existence. Asbill closes the volume in chapter nine offering a few critical questions of Barth, wondering whether Bath’s account of aseity, despite his stated aim of rendering a trinitarian account of the doctrine, pays sufficient attention to the operations of Father, Son, and Spirit. Additionally, Asbill questions Barth’s dialectical ordering of love and freedom, negatively evaluating its serviceability for Barth’s aim of articulating the unity and peace of the immanent divine life. Asbill concludes by reassessing the four debates within contemporary Barth studies which he introduced in chapter one.

Given that Asbill does not hesitate to address himself to some of the most controversial debates within contemporary Barth studies, and equally, is not reticent to offer some critical corrections of Barth’s account, it would be impossible for him to please all readers. However, his synoptic approach, which always keeps an eye on Barth’s broader dogmatic aims, makes Asbill’s portrait of Barth’s account of divine aseity difficult to dismiss. Asbill addresses four contemporary debates: assessing whether God’s pronobeity is contingent or necessary in light of divine aseity; evaluating accusations that Barth’s account of aseity is a reversal and extension of modern conceptions of the autonomous subject; determining whether the dogmatic function of aseity is to establish the divine presence with creatures or to safeguard the integrity of God’s immanent life in his revelatory acts; and finally, appraising the debate between traditionalism and revisionism with reference to trinity and election. Of these I was surprised to find that I was least satisfied by Asbill’s answer to the question of whether Barth’s account of divine aseity is overly determined by modern notions of autonomous subjectivity. Asbill responds to this charge by contending that such a reading of Barth only succeeds by falsely substituting an abstract voluntarism in the place of Christology. However, one need not have reached a decision on the question of whether Barth’s doctrine of God is overly determined by this modern vision of the autonomous subject to wonder if mere recourse to Barth’s Christological determination of the divine will is sufficient to settle the question. One might wonder whether Barth’s portrait of God as a self-positing being, of the trinity as an I-Thou relation, and of God’s self-determination and self-affirmation through the language of ‘decision,’ are sufficiently serviceable concepts for safeguarding Barth’s affirmation that God is utterly a se in his condescension pro nobis. A stronger version of this worry concerning the relation of Barth’s doctrine of God to modern conceptions of autonomous subjectivity, would not straightforwardly (and incorrectly) insist that Barth inserts indifferent voluntarism in the place of a willed determination to be pro nobis in Christ, but might wonder about the fittingness and serviceably of Barth’s portrait of the divine being-in-act which undergirds and explicates the Christological determination of the divine will. This should not be read as a criticism of Asbill, but a testament to the insightful and pressing questions which are raised in this impressive book. The Freedom of God for Us is an indispensable entry, not merely into discussions surrounding divine aseity, but to the wider field of studies concerning Barth’s doctrine of God, and likewise, to the most heated debates in contemporary systematic theology ‘after Barth.’

Book Review: The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea

Today’s post features a book review by Adam Renberg, a postgraduate research student in St. Mary’s College. We are grateful to Adam for his contribution.


Johannessen, Hazel. The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016. Hardback. 272 pgs. $91/£71. ISBN: 9780198787242.

The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea by Hazel Johannessen serves “to explore the ways in which Eusebius’ ideas about the demonic influenced and interacted with his thinking on a range of other subjects that comprised his political ideas” (203). Johannessen’s main emphasis focuses on correcting (in her view) the unfair assessment of Eusebius as a naïve triumphalist by arguing that Eusebius’ conception of the demonic suggests “doubts, fears, and hesitations” (16) concerning the state of the Church and the world in the Constantinian Empire.

In the first chapter, ‘Eusebius’ Works,’ Johannessen discusses the Eusebian corpus, including questions of genre, dating, and composition. She reviews the relevant debates for these issues with focus on Historia Ecclesiastica, Praeparatio Evangelica, Demonstratio Evangelica, De Laudibus Constantini, Vita Constantini, and Contra Hieroclem—the works most relevant to her study. Lastly, she considers methodology, identifying the potential pitfalls of surveying a scholar’s works and forcing them into a philosophy or theory. This chapter introduces readers to the political thought of Eusebius, arguing that he remained largely consistent, despite living in turbulent political times.

Chapter two, ‘The Nature of Demonic Threats,’ provides the foundation for Eusebius’ understanding of the demonic in its various facets. While Johannessen notes similarities with Neoplatonic conceptions of demons, especially in Porphyry, she argues that Eusebius primarily follows Origen’s conception of the demonic in a characteristically Christian cosmology. Demons, for Eusebius, are physical, present, and external beings who hate goodness and use their status above humans to lead them astray. Demonic beings (demons and Satan) led primitive humanity away from God and are likewise seeking to do so in the present age.

‘A Divided Universe,’ the next chapter of this book, sketches out Eusebius’ cosmology. Johannessen argues that his conception of the universe is “fundamentally divided between hostile spiritual opponents” (74). She notes that Eusebius speaks of angels and demons in opposites: rational vs. irrational, light vs. darkness, good vs. tyrannical. Then, she discussed Eusebius’ dualistic tendencies, emphasizing his view of the division between the spiritual and physical realms. Ultimately, she clears Eusebius of proper dualism as God maintains complete control throughout Eusebius’ oeuvre and theological system, despite his discomfort with and sidestepping of the implications of God creating and using evil. Demons, then, are a real presence who seek to deride God’s plan, but ultimately serve his purposes.

After surveying Eusebius’ cosmology, Johannessen moves onto the demonic in other facets of his thought. Chapter four, ‘Demonic Influence and Human Responsibility,’ surveys demonic influence on humankind. To do this, she discusses an important word for Eusebius’ conception of free will, προαίρεσις, which becomes the foundation for her discussion. Johannessen argues that Eusebius is positing an understanding of free will as a deliberate choice between good or evil. Demons do not impede this decision (Eusebius leaves little room for demon possession), but they do seek to deceive human beings. Johannessen then writes about the nature of moral character, noting a person’s ability to succumb to or escape from demonic influence. In other words, Johannessen traces the implications of the demonic for an individual who has changed their moral behavior, from immoral to moral and vice versa. Then, she makes certain claims about Eusebius’ soteriology founded on his conception of free will and the demonic.

Chapter five, ‘Demonic Activity and Historical Progress,’ argues that Eusebius does not see the Roman empire as the triumphal end of history, directly challenging scholarly consensus that Eusebius was a political optimist. She does this by showing how demons interacted in history before and after the incarnation. This includes demons leading people into polytheistic worship before Christ, while after the incarnation engaging in persecution and heresy. She briefly engages with Christology in this section, yet emphasizes the role of bishops as the present (intellectual) key to salvation.

The final body chapter, ‘Demonic Tyranny and Virtuous Kingship,’ discusses Eusebius’ political conceptions. Here, Johannessen examines Eusebius’ conception of virtuous kingship through the negative: by his understanding of tyrants. Johannessen argues that readers gain a stronger understanding of virtuous kingship by showing what poor kingship looks like. She discusses broader non-Eusebian conceptions of tyrants and what constitutes a ruler being labelled as such. Then, she argues these tyrants were enslaved to demons in Eusebius’ thought and therefore were unfit to rule. This unqualified rule is not based on a king’s vices but on the ruler’s relationship to demons. The following section places significant importance on μίμησις (imitation), as leaders imitated either the divine or the demonic and their subjects followed suit. A virtuous king imitates God, while tyrants imitate the devil and the demonic.

Johannessen writes succinctly and clearly, but this work contains significant shortcomings. Like many other monographs adapted from PhD theses, this book is at times redundant, overly-qualified, and oversteps the boundaries of what she is able to say about Eusebius’ thought. While focused on the demonic, she flattens other facets of Eusebius’ thought, such as soteriology and Christology, to serve her purposes. While she rightly seeks to push scholarship towards a healthier understanding of Eusebius’ political theory, she reduces the political to the demonic alone. In other words, the demonic becomes the primary source for understanding Eusebius political theory and cosmology, which neglects other aspects of his thought that are more prominent throughout his work. She also tends to read the demonic into texts that are not immediately relevant.

Johannessen succeeds at her goal to discuss facets of Eusebius’ thought in relationship to the demonic, but she places the demonic as the key to understanding Eusebius correctly. She thereby reduces broader facets of his thought into oversimplified argument which better accommodates her non-triumphalist reading of Eusebius. More positively, she evens out an area of Eusebius’ thought which was largely ignored, opening up further research and understanding of Eusebius’ theology. This monograph also provides an interesting window into Neoplatonic and Christian conceptions of angels and demons in the fourth century, containing quality word studies and insights into this turbulent time. Despite the pitfalls in Hazel Johannessen’s The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea, the study is enjoyable, fresh, and well worth a read.

The Theology of Professor John Webster

Prof Webster. Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s College.

In this week’s post, we are grateful to offer a contribution from Dr Darren Sarisky, Tutor in Doctrine and Ministry at Wycliffe Hall in the University of Oxford. Dr Sarisky served alongside R. David Nelson and Justin Stratis as a co-editor of a festschrift in honour of Prof Webster entitled Theological Theology: Essays in Honour of John B. Webster (T. & T. Clark, 2015).

For an overview of Prof Webster’s legacy, consider starting with this official press release from St. Mary’s College and this remembrance piece from the Rev Dr Stephen R. Holmes.


Almost a year after his sudden death at age 60, I am still getting used to writing about Professor John Webster in the past tense.  Not long before he died, I had been in touch with him to see if he was interested in doing an interview with an online publication once he had completed a miniature systematic theology he was trying to finalize.  John was known to have rewritten the material several times, trying to get it right, and I was under the impression that he was nearing the point where he was happy with the text and could hand it over to the eager publisher.  I wondered if he would like doing an interview to bring some attention to this work on which he had labored for so long.  John’s response, for which I was not totally prepared, was to say he was unsure whether he would live to bring even his brief systematic theology to completion.  I was uncertain whether he was being entirely serious: would anyone really say something like that about himself except in jest?  In hindsight, I can see that he probably was serious, as he died not long after that.  He passed away before he could finish this preview of his larger theological project, and before he could complete even one volume of the multi-volume work that he had imagined as the culmination of his career.  Those of us who knew John personally cannot help but feel a sense of loss at his passing, as do those in the field of Christian systematic theology who were anticipating being able to read and ponder his presentation of Christian doctrine.

John was never one to seek the spotlight (so perhaps I should have known he would not have been keen to do an interview), and even in his death he would not want too much attention directed to him.  Ultimately, the reason John did not seek attention for himself is that he saw himself as a witness.  What is a witness?  In Karl Barth’s lectures on the prologue to John’s Gospel, entitled Witness to the Word, Barth writes the following, quoting Augustine, “‘Direct your eyes to me and your hearts to him [i.e., God].  … See, you lift your eyes and your bodily senses to us, and yet not to us …, but to the Gospel, to the Evangelist, and your heart, that is to be filled, to the Lord.’  Let us each see to the heart and whither it is lifted up.”  The witness proclaiming the Word directs his hearers’ attention to the text of the Bible, and via it, to that to which Scripture offers testimony, that is, God.  This is what it means for a theologian to be a witness, to direct the gaze of one’s audience to God as he is revealed by the biblical text.  John saw this as his role.

In this post, I want to commemorate his life by sketching out a few of the guiding principles of his theological thinking.  Though he did not live to complete the constructive project toward which his prior work had all been leading, John was so prolific in his short life that it is sufficiently clear what some of the main themes of his synthesis of Christian doctrine would have been.  With full awareness of the irony John would have seen in distilling this into a blog post, I summarize some of the key themes of his theology as follows.

First, theology must begin with God.  As John says in his address Theological Theology, borrowing from a theologian who would be virtually unknown to many of his colleagues, “For theology as Wollebius envisions it, the being of God is not simply a hypothesis into which theology inquires, but rather the reality which actively constitutes and delimits the field of theological activity.”  This ultimately means that theology must offer a depiction of who God is in himself, as the triune Lord who subsists in utter perfection and graciously reveals himself within creation.  Basing all of theology’s talk of God on the fullness and perfection of the immanent Godhead meant that John held a more traditional view of God than many of the theologians who wrote so exuberantly of the economic Trinity in the twentieth century.  For John, the immanent Trinity was by no means to be reduced to the revelation of the divine persons in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the advent of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, that revelation was a function of the fullness of the immanent divine life itself.  John never weighed in formally and directly on the debate about the relationship between election and the Trinity that has exercised many of today’s best constructive theologians, but there was no question that he himself was not persuaded that an act of divine election constitutes God as triune.  As John saw it, because of divine aseity, God is fully himself apart from and prior to both his work in creation and even determinations made without any reference to the world.  Though John’s position was by no means unprecedented in the Christian tradition, his skill as a theologian allowed him to expound this view with insight, verve, and sparks of creativity.

Second, the final standard for what theology says about God is the testimony provided by the scriptural text.  The Bible directs its readers to the triune God and is the touchstone for whatever theologians say about him.  John’s monograph on the Bible, entitled Holy Scripture, is arguably the most important doctrinal work on Scripture since David Kelsey’s Providing Doctrine was published in 1975.  The most original part of John’s presentation is his application of the notion of sanctification, usually reserved for the domain of soteriology, to the text of the Bible, and indeed its entire process of formation prior to taking on its final canonical form.  There are many ways to make the point that the Bible is both a product of human activity and a field of divine speech, such as comparisons between the text and the two natures of Christ.  But the advantage of John’s development of sanctification is that it speaks not only of the final form of the text as one in which human authorial activity testifies to the reality of God, but of all the processes that led to the formation of the text in its received form—the editing of preexisting sources, the reliance on historical memory, and so on—as works that are both genuinely human and simultaneously actions caught up in the process by which God makes himself known.

Third, theology speaks of God, as was stated above, yet the Christian God brings contingent reality into existence with his act of creation, and thus theology must speak of God and all things as they relate to him.  In addition to depicting God in himself, theology should characterize the world sub specie divinitatis, in light of the God on whom it depends for its very existence, and toward whom it is oriented as its goal.  John derived this insight especially from Thomas Aquinas.  Though John made his mark with scholarship on Karl Barth, as he began to work quite directly toward writing his systematic theology late in his career, he tacked toward Thomas, who helped John to broaden his circle of dialogue partners beyond the Reformed tradition.  Just as John’s book on the Bible argues against a zero-sum relationship between God and created reality when it comes to saying what sort of work the Bible is, so also John’s work on creation stresses that the distinction between the transcendent God and the immanent world order is not one in which the two terms are in any tension with one another.  Creation’s dependence on the divine creator does not diminish its status, but invests it with being and orients it toward the fulfillment of that being.

Finally, the process by which human creatures come to know the God who is their creator is marked by dying to self and rising to new life in Christ.  Human beings are not spontaneous subjects, free to orient themselves according to sources of moral guidance that lie within themselves, rather than being external to them.  Instead, their choices ought to be responsive to God as he reveals himself and marks out determinatively that in which a good life consists.  This means that the dynamic of the entire Christian life will be one of letting go of lesser things and constantly reorienting oneself toward God.  This is the pattern that defines the way in which God comes to be known by rational creatures.

The above is a maximally brief listing of what would have been some of the leading themes of John’s systematic theology.  Though this text will never be written, it is possible to find anticipatory citations of it in recently published books.  That the project will never come to be is indeed a loss for the field about which John cared so deeply.  His systematics has the sad distinction, among all contemporary systematic theologies, of being the best that never was.  What Ivor Davidson wrote about John at the end of a biographical essay about him—ad multos annos (a wish that he might live many more years)—was said in vain.  John’s whole life seemed to run in fast forward.  He passed away before his time, but in his sixty years he gave all those interested in Christian theology quite a bit of food for thought.  Because of all that John was able to do in the time that he was given, we all have reason to be very thankful to him.  And so it is only fitting to close this post with an expression of gratitude for his influence on me personally as my doctoral supervisor, and for all the theological work that he produced and that we will have the opportunity to think through in the years to come.

Alfred Hitchcock and the Introduction to a Book

Dr. Carey Newman

This post is the second in a series from Dr. Carey Newman, the director of Baylor University Press. In each post, Dr. Newman offers helpful advice on the publication process for researchers who are starting their academic careers. Baylor University Press has experienced a remarkable transformation under Dr. Newman’s leadership; his efforts have received the attention of such outlets as Publisher’s Weekly. Dr. Newman is the recipient of a Ph.D. from Baylor University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of Paul’s Glory-Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric (Brill) and the editor of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel (IVP).


I am often asked about how to revise a thesis into a book.  I look blankly at my questioner and state baldly: it is not revision, it is exorcism.  You don’t revise a thesis; you turn it inside out, wash it, grind it, and reshape it.  Very, very few theses make it as books without such totalizing.  The amount of transformation needed can be best measured in voice – a thesis typically speaks in but one voice, while a book speaks in four distinct voices – that of the introduction, the prose, the notes and the conclusion.

I want to be clear and not misunderstood.  Nothing I say below should ever take precedence over what your thesis director (and any committee members) say to you about your thesis.  Job 1 is to please them, to write something that they endorse and approve.  THEN comes the consideration of a book – and only then.  The best thesis is a signed thesis.  Period.

The introduction, though, is a very good example of the difference between a thesis and a book. The introduction to a thesis, for better or worse, has been influenced by the way that research takes place on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) side of the ledger.  The introduction becomes a kind of kitchen drawer into which is placed the review of literature, hypothesis, method, limitations, definitions, scope, implications, and even the preview the whole of the work chapter by chapter.  By contrast, a book’s introduction has but one purpose – to get a reader to read.

Introductions to books are as movie trailers are to movies.  The whole purpose of a movie trailer, beyond that of giving late movie goers time to purchase the overpriced and sized snacks, is to get the public to come back, to spend money, on the next movie.  So, too, an introduction to a book.  The introduction to a book not only performs a logical function (what is the book about? what does it argue?; it also performs a psychological (what is really at stake? why does it matter?).  Analogous to the opening to any Hitchcock thriller, the reader must want to read on because of the first few pages.

On the wall of the far wing of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel – the glorious pink colossal that anchors Wai Kiki Beach – hangs travel posters from the 20s.  Minimalistic water colors of oversized ships creeping into the harbor.  Patrons leisurely sprawled on the clean sun swept beach.  Oh my.  Standing there, looking at the posters, it is so easy to see yourself (or what you wish might have been you): a world traveler before traveling was emptied of its romance.  Luxury, tranquility, sophistication, adventure.  You are tempted to dive into that poster and willingly be transported back to another, simpler world.

THAT is the function of an introduction to a book.  It leads the potential reader to want to read on.  The introduction puts in play what is really at stake regarding the subject and helps the potential reader to see why reading on is important.  Yes, true, something must be said about scope.  True, providing guard rails for misreading is important.  But, the purpose of the introduction to a book is to get a reader to read.  The voice entices, cryptically foreshadowing what journey is to come.  There will be time and space enough to drone on about this and that, to defend, deny and assert.  But, getting the reader to read on is task enough for an introduction.

 

The Value of a Writing Pipeline

 

Dr. Thomas S. Kidd, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, reflects in this post on how the use of a writing pipeline can increase one’s productivity. Dr. Kidd is a prolific author, having composed such works as American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths and George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father with Yale University Press and American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism with Princeton University Press. He frequently contributes to national media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal.

 


The writing and publishing process has lots of starts and stops. Say your first draft of your revised dissertation/book is done. Or maybe just your latest chapter. You submit the draft, and then you wait for feedback from readers, editors, or an advisor. Often you wait for weeks, or even months. What do you do during that time?

One of the keys to long-term productivity in writing is “pipelining” projects. That is, when you’re waiting for the next step on a completed manuscript, you should have an early-stage project you’re working on. This can be difficult when you’re suddenly required to drop everything and go back to the other project, giving you a bit of intellectual whiplash. But having at least two projects at different stages means that you’ll know intuitively how to fill the down time when you’re waiting on a response from a professor, editor, or commissioned reviewer. (I am definitely aware that here I am envisioning a work schedule, like mine at Baylor, that allows for – and even requires – ongoing writing.)

Maybe for you this is as simple as plowing ahead with your next dissertation chapter. Or maybe working on an article you’ve had on the back burner. One of my latest experiences in the writing pipeline involved the later stages of writing my religious biography of Benjamin Franklin. This book will be out with Yale University Press in May 2017. But in early 2016, I also signed with B&H Academic to write an American history textbook.

I delivered the Franklin manuscript to Yale in April 2016. Then I needed to wait to get a reader’s report back from them. It arrived at the beginning of July 2016. I had about two and a half months in between where I basically had nothing to do on the Franklin book, but to wait.

If I had nothing definite to work on book-wise, I could easily have found things to occupy time – blogging, prep for a new legal history course I was teaching at Baylor in the fall, etc. And I certainly did spend some time on those matters.

But I always want to be making progress on long-term projects, too. That requires consistent writing. I don’t have exact totals, but I am confident that I averaged at least 1000 words a day on the days I was working on the textbook. Let’s assume that was eight weeks, five days a week. That comes out to 40,000 words. That seems about right, since I finished five chapters on the textbook, at about 8000 words each.

Writing a textbook is pretty easy, as writing goes. Still, as a writer, grad student, or professor we often find ANYTHING else to work on besides actually writing, especially in those gap times when you’re waiting for someone else to do something. It is really helpful to me when I don’t have to wonder what else I should work on!

When the reader’s report came back in, I needed to shift gears and go back to the Franklin book for final revisions. It took a day or two to get back into the flow. And it took me another day or two to get back into the flow of the B&H textbook, once I was done with that latest phase of the Franklin book. But that is ok. It is far better than having just one project going at a time.

 

I am a Noun

Dr. Carey Newman

We are pleased to feature a new series of blog posts from Dr. Carey Newman, the director of Baylor University Press. In each post, Dr. Newman will offer helpful advice on the publication process for researchers who are starting their academic careers. Baylor University Press has experienced a remarkable transformation under Dr. Newman’s leadership; his efforts have received the attention of such outlets as Publisher’s Weekly. Dr. Newman is the recipient of a Ph.D. from Baylor University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of Paul’s Glory-Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric (Brill) and the editor of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel (IVP).


There are three—and only three—kinds of books in the world: nouns, verbs, and peanuts.  Nouns are academic books; they inform.  Verbs are professional books; they transform the practice of a profession.  Peanuts are trade books; they entertain.

I can’t count the number of proposals I receive that say this: “my book is intended for scholars, teachers, students, clergy, professionals, and general readers” (and I add in my mind, “small children and dogs”).  What I can safely say in response to projects that seek such a wide readership is this: a book intended for everyone reaches no one.

Years are spent becoming a scholar.  Heavy investments by family, friends, and self.  This process is not only necessary credentialing for a life in academics, it is also formative—scholarship is not what you do; you become a scholar.  You don’t just write nouns; you are a noun.

There is a deep yearning inside of a scholar to reach the world with her research.  In fact, there is a fair amount of chatter about the necessity of getting beyond the ivy to the city.  While I am, generally, in favor of such efforts, I do have some words of caution.  Scholars fantasize about obtaining such a wide readership, but have no idea the cost of climbing a second mountain.

Rule #14 in academic publishing runs like this: the same number of years, and the same amount of effort, required to become a scholar will be required to become a public writer.  Becoming a writer for a large general readership is not simply a matter of adverbs and adjectives.  Becoming a skilled and credentialed public writer means leaving the safe confines of the academy and learning to pay your bills by your writing.

There are ways to verb a noun and remain a scholar.  Yes.  There is also the process of making nuts out of nouns and still be a scholar.  True.  But the noun comes first.  Unless you have something to say you have nothing to say.  But having something to say does not mean you have learned to say it—and learning to make verbs and to shell nuts takes a lot of time and effort.

I say, be happy with being a noun.  Write them.  Love them.  Do not feel like you have to make an apology for writing, loving and being a noun.  You are a noun.  Your friends are all nouns.  You dream noun dreams.  When you drink beer with your friends, all you talk about are nouns.  Nouns are good.

In Appreciation for the Works of Prof. Mark Elliott

The St. Mary’s College community celebrated recently when Mark Elliott received the title Professor of Divinity. To express appreciation for him and his work, many St. Mary’s students and staff attended Prof. Elliott’s inaugural lecture. In the coming weeks, to honor Prof. Elliott for his achievement, we will offer posts that describe his contributions to the life of St. Mary’s College. We begin with this piece that introduces some of Prof. Elliott’s published works. It is written by Dr. Eric Covington, a student whom Prof. Elliott supervised.


On February 1, 2017, Mark W. Elliott, Professor of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, delivered his inaugural lecture as a professor entitled “Giving Providence a Chance.” The topic of the lecture—the notion of divine providence—is something that has been of particular interest in Prof Elliott’s recent research. While his publications range from the Patristic era to the Middle Ages and to the Reformation and all across the biblical canon, they all reflect a particular interest in biblical theology and the history of scriptural interpretation. Most recently, Prof Elliott has pursued both of these concentrations through the lens of the doctrine of providence.

Prof. Mark Elliott

His most recent monograph, Providence Perceived: Divine Action from a Human Point of View, Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 124 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015), is an overview of significant historical works and interpretations concerning the doctrine of providence ranging from the Patristic era to works published since 2010. As such, it provides an account of the ebbs and flows of the doctrine in theological works spanning 2,000 years.

His previous volume, The Heart of Biblical Theology: Providence Experienced (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012) surveys both modern and ancient approaches to the task of biblical theology and offers the suggestion that the doctrine of providence might be a profitable way forward in the task of constructing a biblical theology. Also released in 2012 was Prof Elliott’s book, Engaging Leviticus: Reading Leviticus Theologically with its Past Interpreters (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012). In this work, Prof Elliott surveys theological perspectives on the book of Leviticus from the first century to the twentieth.

In The Reality of Biblical Theology, Religions and Discourse 39 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2008) Prof Elliott examines different scholarly approaches to the question of the relationship between exegesis and dogmatics. This book pays particular attention to German scholarship and helpfully brings these discussions to light for an English speaking audience.

Prof Elliott’s first book, The Song of Songs and Christology in the Early Church, 381–451, Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 7 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000; Reprinted: The Song of Songs and Christology in the Early Church, 381–451. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011) is a published version of his Ph.D. thesis undertaken at the University of Cambridge. This work analyzes early Christian Christological interpretation of the Song of Songs and already reflects Prof Elliott’s particular interests in biblical theology and the history of scriptural interpretation.

In addition to these monographs, Prof Elliott has co-edited four books in the last ten years. Most recently published, Biblical Theology: Past, Present, and Future, edited with Carey Walsh (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2016) brings together a group of scholars who have examined particular aspects of biblical theology in a series of conference sessions at the International Society of Biblical Literature meetings from 2012–2014. Prof Elliott also contributed to the publications of volumes associated with the St Andrews conference on Scripture and Christian theology in 2009 and 2012. Papers from these two conferences were published as Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter, edited with Scott J. Hafemann, N.T. Wright, and John Frederick (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014) and Genesis and Christian Theology, edited with Nathan MacDonald and Grant Macaskill (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012). Prof Elliott has also edited Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Isaiah 40–66, Old Testament 11 (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), which provides excerpts of commentaries and interpretive passages from Patristic writers concerning Isaiah 40–66.

Prof Elliott’s wide-ranging interests and expertise in the Bible, theology, and church history and his humble friendship and mentorship are an important part of the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews and, in particular, the work of the Institute for Bible, Theology, & Hermeneutics (IBTH). We would like to extend sincere congratulations to Prof Mark W. Elliott on his inauguration to the post of Professor of Divinity, and we look forward to the continued results of his interests and research in the areas of divine providence, biblical theology, and the history of scriptural interpretation. —Dr. Eric Covington