Author Archives: christa

Bi-National, Interdisciplinary Biblical Scholar, Wife/Mother, and Community Advocate by Beth M. Stovell

When someone asks who I am and what I research, I have a diverse range of things I say. Sometimes I start by saying that at the core of my research and scholarly life is the belief that metaphors and justice matter. Specifically, I study biblical metaphors and biblical justice while working as a professor at Ambrose Seminary and as an advocate in my city for poverty alleviation and for truth and reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples.

Other times I talk about how being a wife to my systematic theologian husband Jon Stovell and a mother to my two adventurous, compassionate, and highly observant kids has influenced me as a biblical scholar.

I also might describe myself as a potential scientist turned literature student turned biblical scholar and advocate. My academic life started by studying Bio-Chemistry because of my deep love of science until I realized that I was a more natural English student. I then studied English literature for my first two degrees (B.A. University of Texas, M.C.S. Regent College). Gradually I added Classics and New Testament to my studies and eventually got my Ph.D. in Christian Theology with a Biblical Studies concentration (McMaster Divinity College). Along the way, I moved from my hometown of Austin, Texas in the United States to Canada, becoming a bi-national person. My literary way of thinking and passion for figurative language stuck with me, informing my research and writing. My love for science also lingered. I remain interdisciplinary in my depths.

Alongside my academic journey, I was also experiencing a religious journey. I grew up within the U.S. Bible Belt within nondenominational conservative/fundamentalist evangelicalism. As an adult I joined the Association of Vineyard Churches and have remained there ever since. Now I work at the national level for Vineyard Canada alongside my husband Jon Stovell as a theological consultant. The Vineyard emerged as part of a neo-charismatic renewal movement that sits between several historical traditions and blends them: Protestantism and Quakerism, Pentecostal/Charismatic and Evangelical. I find myself part of each of these streams and yet different than each. Being Vineyard spurs my heart to understand metaphors of God’s kingdom and God’s desire for justice in the world (two core Vineyard values).

Because I teach at a Christian seminary embedded in a Christian university, my work locates itself at the crossroads of the Academy and the Church. For this reason, my research spans strictly academic writing to my peers (e.g., Brill and T&T Clark) to writing for classrooms (e.g., IVP Academic and Baker) to writing for the public (e.g., Cascade Companions and Christianity Today). I appreciate speaking across different audiences to share the value of biblical metaphors and their ability to impact not only our understanding of Scripture, but also move us towards action in making a better world.

This has shaped the centrality of metaphors in my research and how I share my research with the world. I’ve seen the power of metaphors to hurt and to help. I have seen them abused by Christians for the purposes of domination and consumption of other cultures. For example, Europeans Christians twisted the metaphors of Exodus and the notion of the Promised Land with imagery in the New Testament to claim North America and beyond as theirs by God’s will through the “Doctrine of Discovery,” claiming God’s permission to act violently against the Indigenous peoples there. This Christian tradition of abuse haunts my work as an advocate who builds relationships with Indigenous peoples and works with them to change their treatment in my city. Recently in Canada, the bodies of over 1000 children have been found under Christian residential schools theoretically intended to teach Indigenous children. The stories of the abuse these children suffered has been detailed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (https://nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports). The continuing impacts of this colonial violence is found in the large number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls today in Canada (https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/MMIWG-Executive-Summary-ENG.pdf). Years ago I felt the strong pull to work towards change in my city and my country by learning from Indigenous peoples and working alongside them towards the changes they saw as essential. Thus, part of my scholarly life involves working with organizations in my city to call our leaders to account to transform this place. In this work, I meet with our Mayor regularly, I meet with our Chief of Police. I work to educate and to move others towards actions to change policies, to transform policing, and to make spaces for our Indigenous peoples. My hope is to be part of the journey towards healing.

And metaphors have the power to heal. My own journey with mothering metaphors for God has transformed my views about women’s bodies in the sight of God. My study of kingship metaphors in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament drew me to ask questions about Jesus’s kingship in comparison to the rulers of his time and our governments today, serving as a countercultural example. My study of metaphors has led me to co-write on a theology of poverty alleviation as part of a vision for human flourishing. My love for science led me to head up two grants with the American Association for the Advancement of Science Dialogue on Science, Religion, and Ethics (AAAS DoSER) and co-write an article with a biologist. I help students understand the wide spectrum of Christian beliefs around the interactions of science and faith. These transforming possibilities for metaphor are central to my research and writing.

As a woman in biblical studies, these passions have led me to a different way of thinking of my academic work. Rather than living with the model of competition and scarcity that says I will only win in the academy if I fight others for the scarce opportunities available, I have leaned into collaboration and compassion. I believe we are more when we work together and are kind to one another. Through this, everyone wins. This has enriched my scholarship and me personally.

Beth Stovell was born in Italy, grew up in Austin, Texas, and has studied the ancient world, the Bible, Christian Spirituality, and English Literature in the United States and Canada. Prior to teaching at Ambrose, Beth taught at St. Thomas University in Miami, FL for 3 years. Beth specializes in biblical Hebrew poetry, biblical hermeneutics, the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and the use of biblical metaphors, particularly in Prophetic Literature (esp. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets) and in John’s Gospel, John’s Letters, and Revelation. She cares about bridging the gap between the academy and the Church. For this reason, she writes for scholarly journals and books, for commentaries, and for popular magazines such as Faith TodayChristianity Today, and Bible Study Magazine.

Living in the In-Between

By Dr. Kathy Maxwell

Increasingly, I find that students think of their time at a university as a time “between”. They are between adolescence and adulthood.  Between secondary education and career. Between living with parents and starting their own families. They have just enough responsibility, moving into a dormitory, but not quite the responsibility of paying a mortgage. 

Perhaps one of the most significant elements of this time between is the formation of students’ spirituality. I teach at a Protestant liberal arts university in the United States, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Many of our students come from Christian backgrounds, though their commitment to faith traditions vary. They find themselves “between” the faith of their parents and a carefully considered faith of their own.

As an instructor of biblical studies courses, I often find that even students who have been in worshipping communities their whole lives read the Bible for the first time in college. For many, this is a life-giving experience. Students find points of unexpected connection and direction from scripture that they thought they knew inside and out.  Other times, though, students struggle with reconciling past perceptions of “what the Bible says” with a close reading of the text. Suddenly, they learn that there are two creation accounts sitting side by side in Genesis 1 and 2, that David’s character was far from untarnished, and that the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) is not included in the most ancient manuscripts of John’s gospel. In addition to new factual information about the Bible, students also begin to learn the art of interpretation and the challenge – and gift – of critical reading of scripture. For many, the university classroom is the first time they are invited to think critically about the Bible and matters of faith, and this can be a daunting task.

I recently came across the emerging field of liminal theology, which, as described by Jonathan Best,  “explores God’s work within the transitional and in-between” (https://liminaltheology.org/whatisliminaltheology/). This theological project calls to mind literary insights of Umberto Eco, Wolfgang Iser, and others, who propose that literature’s meaning is found not in the text and not in the reader, but in the gap – the “in-between-ness” – between the two. In settings that prioritize the objective and the “right” answers, this liminal space is a problem to be solved. We do not want to be in-between; we want to arrive at one place, or another.

Yet being students of ancient texts invites us into many in-between spaces. While an undergraduate student, I learned in a missiology class the term “third culture”, which refers to children of missionaries.  The child’s family originated in one culture, but the child grew up in a different culture. When returning to her family’s culture of origin, the child finds that she is not fully a member of one culture or the other – her culture is at the intersection of the two. We find ourselves at a similar intersection when experiencing the biblical text. As 21st century readers of ancient text, we are in-between time, culture, and language. We necessarily read from our own position, simultaneously valuing the ancient horizon of the text. Our experience of Christian scripture is in-between in terms of media: compositions originally experienced orally come to us most often in the form of printed texts. Paul Ricoeur’s work delves into the process of moving from speech to text, but what happens when we move in the other direction?  When we take printed (and translated) forms of ancient oral compositions and put the words back into our mouths and ears and bodies, we have entered another space of transition. The questions suddenly multiply. What tone did Jesus use when addressing the Syrophonecian Woman (Mark 7:27)? What gesture did Paul use when wishing that the false teachers in Galatia would be “cut off” (Gal. 5:12)? How do we tell the story of the whispers that follow Naomi when she returns to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19)?

Far from being problems to overcome, each of these liminal experiences is a challenge – and an opportunity. 

But standing in this intersection can be disorienting, especially if we assumed that everything was situated along one straight, well-defined path. Modern sensibilities in western society have taught us to prefer such a path and to move from point A to point B efficiently. Yet the application of critical thinking to matters of faith disrupts linear, measurable movement. Questions often evolve into doubt, even rejection of faith. Those who have nurtured students’ faith are understandably alarmed by this development, and the natural reaction is to limit these questions.

Last year, I encountered a student in the midst of struggling with her faith and in particular, with Christian scripture. She was angry and felt betrayed by those who had assured her of “what the Bible says”. As a senior in college, she was for the first time reading the Bible for herself, and much of what she read did not seem to match what she had been taught. After reading the Bible carefully, she decided that she could no longer identify with the Christian faith.

We connected rather randomly when I was a guest lecture for a colleague’s class, and I had the privilege of meeting weekly with this student during her last semester. We didn’t really have a goal, but each week, the student came with lists of questions. We talked about reading Scripture in context. The polyphonic voice of Scripture. How to ask constructive questions about the Bible and faith. After a couple of months, the student found a church home and a community that supported her exploration. By the time she graduated, she had recommitted herself to faith – though she still wrestles with it, and she is committed to a close reading of Scripture – even when it is hard. 

When students begin to question their faith, those who care for them worry. But questions are a necessary part of the process of growing into faith, and with support, one emerges with a stronger and more reasoned faith – one that she can call her own. As a faculty member, students have taught me the value of the in-between-ness. Through honest questions and challenging perspectives, I have learned to honor the reality that there are often more questions than answers. 

Rainer Marie Rilke challenges us in Letters to a Young Poet, “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Dr. Kathy Maxwell is Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs in the School of Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where she teaches New Testament.  Her current research focuses on rhetorical and performance criticism of the Bible.  She is fascinated by the transformative power of engaged storytelling and is a certified storyteller through the Network of Biblical Storytellers, Int.

Logia Profile: Melissa J. Barciela Mandala

By: Melissa J. Barciela Mandala

My road to academics began in my teenage years. Though I would often say, “I want to be a veterinarian” and “I want to be a nurse,” I eventually returned to a fundamental sense that biblical studies is what I love and had always loved as a young person. I completed my undergraduate degree at Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBAU) in Biblical and Theological Studies to enter full-time ministerial work. Toward the end of my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to do a study abroad program at the University of Oxford. Through my tutorial experiences and interaction with scholars in New Testament studies, I quickly realized that I enjoyed rigorous academic study much more than one might say is “normal.” I took that passion as indicating that I ought to shift onto a more academic path while still maintaining my involvement in church ministry. I went on to complete a Master of Divinity at PBAU, but I was determined that I would one day return to the U.K. for doctoral studies. Alas, in 2020, my husband Ryan and I moved to Dundee, Scotland, and I completed a Master of Letters in Biblical Languages and Literature at the University of St Andrews. I am now a first-year Ph.D. student at St Andrews.

My research focus is on New Testament/Pauline studies, and my doctoral thesis is a comparative study of the conceptions of the suffering body and its relation to virtue formation in the writings of Paul and Seneca. I am interested in the ways the body is depicted in pain, particularly in Paul’s context, which includes the writings of Second Temple Judaism and the broader Greco-Roman context, and how this informs the way we understand Paul’s body language as it is applied to suffering and participation in Christ’s sufferings. I am also intrigued by what happens when we take this particular first-century conception of the body and place it in dialogue with one of Paul’s contemporaries, the Stoic philosopher, Seneca. 

This research interest arose from both academic intrigue and personal interest. Multiple family members of mine have faced bodily suffering and chronic pain in ways that made me especially aware of how body metaphors are used in the biblical text. Additionally, as I sought to understand the bodily pain experienced among those in my family and my own body, I recognized the need for theological conversation around chronic bodily ailment within the local church. Though I am not working on a theology of pain, my project is a New Testament contribution to these important questions. I am grateful that the St Mary’s College at the University of St Andrews offered me a space to pursue these interests and develop as a young scholar in the field. 

Additionally, I currently serve as co-director of a global organization called Logia. Based in St Andrews, our main purpose is to highlight and develop women’s excellence within the discipline of Divinity. Our core belief is that “You can be what you can see.” This expresses the idea that women in academics need to see examples of women’s excellence and success in their field of study in order to envision their own place at the table. An important part of my own journey as a young academic is that I could see what I wanted to be. Though I had many men serve as influential mentors and guides, there were also several women who modeled women’s excellence in biblical studies through skilled teaching and significant scholarship. I recognize that I was very fortunate to have women in my field as mentors when my own female mentors and many of my female peers did not have the same opportunities. I was given a vision for academic life as a woman, a future mother, and a spouse; I am indebted to their legacy and investment. In my role at Logia, I hope to provide a means by which women here at St Andrews can be what they see.

For these reasons, and in light of my own story, I am more convinced than ever that women’s excellence in biblical and theological studies must be highlighted and developed. There is yet a long distance to travel when it comes to women’s voices being welcomed and academic spaces becoming accessible to women at all levels. Within my own academic journey, I am committed to pursuing excellence in teaching and research so that I might enable the next generation of women in my field to envision their own place at the table. 

Melissa J. Barciela Mandala is a Ph.D. student in New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews. She serves as co-director of Logia St Andrews.

Photo by Meg MacDonald on Unsplash

April Logia Profile: God is For Women

By: Lynn H. Cohick

There is a reason I like doing podcasts rather than writing blogs – I often don’t know what I think until I hear myself say it! (Paraphrased from a quote by Flannery O’Connor).

But the discipline of writing down ideas and shaping arguments is a necessary one for me, as it helps me process the world around me. I slow down enough to type, and I have to think sequentially, sentence by sentence, rather than the pinball approach that sometimes happens as ideas spill out of my mouth.

The discipline of writing also forces me to engage with wider conversations, and move out of my own head and comfort zone to be a part of a community discussion. It gives me space for reflection, weighing arguments, and observing trends.

Last year with much help from my terrific colleagues at Northern Seminary, I started a podcast, the Alabaster Jar, dedicated to promoting women’s voices in the church and academy. We launched the Center for Women in Leadership, with the hope of creating a community for women and men to thrive in their calling (https://www.cwlnorthern.com/). We held a conference in October 2021 called “Tov for Women,” based on the book, A Church Called Tov, co-authored by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer. We have plans for a second “Tov for Women” conference in October 2022! We also started an MA in Women and Theology, and I taught two courses: Women in the Early Church and Women in the New Testament, to both men and women. These three things – the classes, the conference, and the podcast – have brought me into a thriving community of women pastors, educators, ministry leaders, and authors. I’ve been inspired by their transparency, resiliency, passion, and conviction that sets out to make a positive difference.

I have also been struck by several encouraging trends.

First, women are hungry for change. They are non-apologetic about the insufficiency of the status quo and ready to move out of toxic spaces and into life-giving places. This takes tremendous courage, and a community of support – and women are showing up for each other and encouraging each other. Women are challenging their denominations to do better by them, and if the request goes unheeded, they are more than prepared to head out the door. Women are well aware of the cost in terms of broken relationships and rejection, but they move ahead. As one of my students, Caryn Rivadeneira, affirmed, they believe that God is for them.

Second, women are looking at Scripture closely, and are calling out bad exegesis. Bad exegesis uses one or two passages (you know which ones I’m talking about!) as bludgeons to silence women and gaslight them. Women are tired of the worn-out tropes that label and marginalize women of the Bible: prostitute, sexually suspicious, uppity. Even Mary the mother of Jesus, does not escape; poor exegesis over-emphasizes the possible moment of social shame as Mary could be labeled an unwed, teenage mom. Behind this argument lurks a veiled threat to all women that social ruin is a mere accusation away, while men like King David can overcome their stain of adultery and murder to be role models. David’s actions, clearly condemned by the prophet Nathan, reveal a man with absolute power who used it against Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:1–12:13). Today David’s deed would be classified as rape. Women (and some men) are challenging the exegetical obsession with sexuality around women in the Bible. They rightly protest assumptions about Bathsheba’s flirtation (she was performing a menstrual purity rite, not splashing about in a jacuzzi). They allow Mary to be the prophet she is, letting her Magnificat ring out. (Don’t get me started with the Samaritan woman!) Exegetes are now seeing that God is for women.

Third, women are correcting sexist history and retelling the church’s story with clear-eyed attention to the sexism and misogyny (I don’t use that term lightly) that has infected church leadership across time and denominations. These new histories expose the way women’s leadership has been ignored or downplayed. They highlight the modern cultural embeddedness of claims that relegate women to the margins in church leadership structures. These challenges to the hierarchical status quo demand that the church behaves according to the biblical truth that God is for women.

Fourth, women are speaking up, and taking responsibility for their voice in their community. For example, white women are leaning in to hear from women of color, to stand together in common struggles, and to support each other in struggles that are unique to a given community. This is not merely strength in numbers, this is strength in stories that demonstrate the power to change their spaces of influence. Women are for other women because God is for women.

I’m going to add a fifth point – women are now able to talk about failures, about fighting against perfectionism, about being OK with being OK. Women face overwhelming pressure to be extraordinary so they can have a seat at the table. This unfair and unsustainable burden is recognized for what it is and is challenged. This is great news: it means we are living into our authentic selves. It means we can challenge social (and ecclesiastical) stereotypes that drain away our energy, minimize our competency, and mute our unique voices. It means we are confident that God is for women.

I want to keep the momentum going. Women must be vigilant against sexism in the workplace, the home, and the church. Those with privilege, such as myself, must work for change for all women. The efforts are worth it because God is for women.

Lynn H. Cohick (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is Provost/Dean of Academic Affairs at Northern Seminary. Prior to coming to Northern Seminary, Lynn served as Provost of Denver Seminary. She was Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and taught at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya. She serves as President of the Institute for Biblical Research. Her books include The Letter to the Ephesians in NICNT (2020); Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through the Fifth Centuries (co-authored with Amy Brown Hughes (2017); Philippians in the Story of God Commentary (2013); Ephesians in New Covenant Commentary (2010); Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (2009).

Photo by Kevin Mueller on Unsplash

Logia Post: Taking Church Online, and Leaving it There?

By: Dr. Lynne Taylor

I have a post-it note on my computer monitor with the word “flourishing” on it. It’s a reminder of why I do what I do, and it helps provide a grounding or focus when I’m feeling overwhelmed by workload or possibilities. My focus on human flourishing has always been central to my work and research interests, although how that has been expressed has changed over time. As a Christian, I see the potential that churches have to help support the holistic wellbeing (flourishing) of their congregations, as well as the wider communities that surround them. Therefore, most of the work and study I have engaged in over the years has been motivated by a desire to help Christians and churches live into that potential.

I’ve worked and volunteered in various pastoral ministry roles, seeking to help people flourish in their everyday lives. I’ve engaged in a range of research tasks including exploring how churches can support the wellbeing of older adults, providing community demographics to help hundreds of churches better understand their local contexts, and learning from the experiences of churches that were given funding to engage in new and innovative ministries. It’s been varied, which I love, but has largely been held by that desire to see people flourish.

I had always wanted to pursue further study in practical theology and seized the opportunity to do so when we lived for six years in Adelaide, South Australia. In 2017, I completed my PhD exploring why previously unchurched Australians become Christians today and was awarded the Flinders University of South Australia Vice Chancellor’s Prize for Doctoral Excellence. I began as Jack Somerville Lecturer in Pastoral Theology at the University of Otago (in my home country of Aotearoa New Zealand) in 2018.

The next two years were challenging and fulfilling, as I balanced this part-time academic role alongside my pastoral ministry role co-leading a student congregation. In 2020, I was able to increase my hours at the university and while it was a sad farewell to the ministry role and all it entailed, I have appreciated being able to narrow my focus to teaching, research, and writing. I teach courses in pastoral and practical theology, including on pastoral care, contemporary faith formation, and mission. I continue to publish articles based on the work I did for my PhD, as well as researching and writing in new areas. This new research was both a requirement of my academic confirmation and an exciting opportunity to explore topics of interest. I now supervise several postgraduate students (from honours to PhD level) and I enjoy supporting their research and watching them learn and develop as academics.

When Covid-19 hit I was beginning to plan my first research leave. I shelved dreams of overseas travel (including to visit our daughter who is studying in the UK) and wondered what research I might helpfully engage in that learned from and supported churches at this particular time. Watching the unfolding situation and the massive changes that Covid-19 responses were necessitating locally and overseas, I was curious about how churches would respond. What adaptations would they make? What would motivate those responses? How would their actions support the holistic wellbeing of people in their churches and wider communities? What changes to worship and ministry would be retained post-Covid?.

This became the subject of my 2021 research leave. I started to gather data on New Zealand and Australian churches via an online questionnaire, before selecting three churches for detailed case studies. Each of these churches had continued to offer an online worship option after a return to onsite worship was possible, and each reported seeing positive aspects of their online experiences. In addition to questionnaire data on those churches, I engaged in interviews and/or focus groups with leaders, participant focus groups, and content analysis and participation in online worship services.

Of course, online church wasn’t new in 2020. In fact, Tim Hutchings traces the history of online churches as far back as the 1980s.[1] Back then though, and through until March 2020, online was optional: religious communities chose to embrace these platforms. Hutchings theorises three motivations for why such choices were made: amplification, connection, and experimentation. Simply put, those motivated by amplification used broadcast technologies to extend the reach of a preacher. Those motivated by a desire for connection sought to provide ways for genuine community to flourish online, perhaps between people who were otherwise isolated due to ideology, distance, or disability. Those motivated by experimentation explored the possibilities that new technologies might provide and (hopefully, at least) reflected theologically on those technologies and experiments.

Once Covid-19 hit, ministers didn’t have many offline options for communicating to, and remaining connected with, their congregations. Previously unimagined adaptations were readily recognised by church leaders as necessary responses to the pandemic. While for many this was purely pragmatic, others saw such change as not only a necessity but also an opportunity to reimagine the church’s form. Churches found that they were able to amplify a message of hope through online weekly worship and regular check-ins from pastoral leaders. These messages provided permission to be honest about the difficult time being faced, as well as offer a sense of stability, comfort, and hope. The broadcasts had a by-product of fostering a sense of connection and other informal and formal means of connection and care were also encouraged and enacted. Practical support was provided as needed. Despite the challenges, church members and the wider community were helped to flourish, even in the midst of struggle. 

As I write this blog post, the omicron variant is spreading vigorously. Late last year, vaccination rates in many parts of the world had given a sense of hope that perhaps things could return to normal. However, this was a short-lived hope. While vaccination helps protect against serious illness, the pandemic is not over. Physical distancing, mask-wearing, capacity limits, and contact tracing are all helpful and necessary as we seek to control the disease’s spread. If onsite gatherings are possible, people who are vulnerable due to age or health issues are likely to continue to need online options for worship and connection.

There is certainly an opportunity for ongoing experimentation, to create places of genuine connection, amplifying a message of hope. At the same time, there is also the opportunity for a deeper reformation, beyond a simple transplanting of onsite worship online. The online space invites deep listening to both gospel and context, in order to shape a church that proclaims the good news, disciples believers, meets human needs, acts in the face of injustice, and seeks to sustain and renew the earth. I’m planning to keep an eye on what develops over the coming months and years, wondering how it (and I) can contribute to the flourishing of our world and its inhabitants.

[1] Timothy Hutchings, Creating Church Online: An Ethnographic Study of Five Internet-Based Christian Communities (Durham University, 2010), 10.

Dr Lynne Taylor is Jack Somerville Lecturer in Pastoral Theology at the University of Otago in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Director and Researcher for AngelWings Ltd.

Her current research is on how churches are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, including how they support the wellbeing of their members and wider communities. Lynne teaches courses relating to church and society. She blogs at www.lynnetaylor.nz and her other writing can be found via https://linktr.ee/lynnetaylor

Feature Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

Logia Post for December: Wishing Life on You All

By: Christa L. McKirland

Kia ora koutou! 

This is the greeting I have learned since moving to Aotearoa New Zealand in January of 2020. Literally, this greeting means “Wishing life on you all” in te Reo Māori (the language of Indigenous New Zealanders). Little did I know that seven weeks after arriving in this new land we would all be in lock-down and my first class to teach as a gainfully employed theologian would be online. This was not the life-giving start to teaching I had hoped for! However, in spite of all of the challenges that the global pandemic has created, I have also been deeply enriched by living in this place and learning how to do theology in a radically different context from anywhere I’ve ever been. I am learning what it means to do theology in a nation (in which many are) keenly grappling with its colonised and colonising history.[1] I am learning how patriarchy is so often an outworking of colonialism and that to tackle the former without tackling the latter will simply reinforce my own colonising tendencies. This has been a tough pill to swallow. At the same time, it’s been liberating.

Willie Jenning’s groundbreaking work, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, explains how theological educational systems are intrinsically formational. However, who they are intended to produce is the “white self-sufficient man.”[2] We see this especially outworked in western theological educational systems which reinforce the idea that mastery over one’s subject area is the primary goal of theological education. The process of such formation instills a deep fear of the scholar ever answering a question with “I don’t know.” As such, it works against vulnerability—of un-mastery. I have found this even more pronounced as a woman who perpetually feels the weight of perfectly representing half the population in historically male-dominated spaces. However, I am learning the freedom of un-mastery and the joy of not knowing.

I am genuinely learning with my students. My view of God has expanded. My understanding of the significance of land for identity (both individual and corporate) has deepened. My valuation of and accountability to those who have come before me and who will come after me is now frequently on my mind. All of this is shaping me as the person that I am and the scholar that I am continually becoming.

It is within this context that Logia is also continuing to thrive. We have focused on hearing from women in the Southern Hemisphere over these past two years through our blog series. And even with lockdowns and travel restrictions, relationships are developing globally through scholarly networks and our new mentoring programme. Logia is also thriving in its original context and we are excited to see a new season of leadership at the University of St Andrews (our birthplace) with Joanna Leidenhag and Hannah Craven passing the baton to Dani Ross and Melissa Barciela Mandala. Within our Advisory Board, Eric Stoddart, Joanna Leidenhag, and Sofanit Ababe are joining our team to continue to give guidance and support to our global efforts. We are so grateful for the service of Madhavi Nevader, Andrea White, Natalia Marandiuc, and Seblewengel Daniel for their wisdom over these past two years.

There is still much to do to encourage women to pursue postgraduate study in the divinity disciplines around the world. There is much to unlearn and we continue to need brave partners who will dare query established modes of theological discourse and institutional goals of formation. We look forward to 2022 and encouraging women to be what they want to see, Logia’s small way of wishing life on you all.

[1] I’m very grateful to be at a theological institution that is not only a Logia Global Partner but is also working toward dismantling the effects of colonisation. See this summary from Dr. Sandy Kerr, our recent Kaiārahi-Rangahau Māori https://www.carey.ac.nz/about-carey/carey-news/carey-a-forerunner-for-change/

[2] William James Jennings, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020), 6. Also, “whiteness” is not so much about the amount of melanin in one’s skin as much as it is a posture of control and domination over-against all that is deemed other to it.

Dr. Christa L. McKirland is the Executive Director of Logia International and a lecturer in systematic theology at Carey Baptist College in Aotearoa New Zealand. She is currently the Project Leader for a John Templeton grant on “Theological Anthropology, Fundamental Need, and Human Flourishing.” She is learning what flourishing does (and doesn’t) look like with a three and five-year-old while seeking to co-parent with her partner, Matt.

Photo by Jordan Steranka on Unsplash

Logia Profile for October: A Christian Calling of Creation Care

Featured Contributor: Rev. Silvia Purdie

The church is called by God to care for creation. This conviction motivates me to help people of faith to engage with environmental sustainability and climate change. But what do I mean by ‘called by God to care for creation’?

The gift of academic study, research, and writing is the space and discipline to push into our assumptions. After a decade as a parish minister, I have taken the last 18 months as an extended sabbatical to dig deeper and explore wider into creation care. Without the routines of church life, and within the vast strangeness of the ‘COVID-19 world’, I asked: How does God call the church to care for creation? What specifically does this look like? How do people experience this?

This work began within an academic frame: a dissertation to complete my Post Graduate Diploma in Theology through the University of Otago. My topic was ‘motivation for eco mission’, and my research involved interviews with local church groups who were engaged in environmental projects. I am currently collating a book, with interviews and contributions from Christian women around Aotearoa from a range of cultures. Writing this Logia blog is a good opportunity for me to reflect: what have I noticed about these stories?

What I notice depends on where I sit. I am a middle-class, middle-aged Pakeha (white NZer) woman. My perceptions filter through my reactions, which themselves are complex: my love for the natural world, especially the beauty of Aotearoa, and my love for God, nurtured in diverse Christian contexts. I am keenly aware of having benefited from a high carbon lifestyle, and my mix of gratitude, guilt, and fear for the future. I am pained by the multi-layered injustice of climate change, exacerbating inequality. As I choose the role of collator of the stories of others I run the risk of imposing my own agenda. I work to be open about where I come from and respectful of difference. In passionately promoting faith-based environmental action I seek to honour the experience of Christians who share a sense of calling to care for the natural world. I wish to highlight four threads that I hear coming through the interviews.

First I heard each person articulate a belief that God calls all Christians to care for the created world, and I heard them describe this call as a personal experience. There may be Christians out there who work to protect the natural environment from purely rational or financial reasons, but I have not met any. Those I know care deeply about the created world and talk about this as an integration of emotional, spiritual, biblical, moral, and practical elements.

Here are just a few of their responses:

“My motivation to get involved is because I do believe that it’s the right thing to do and a natural expression of faith in God.”

“The beauty of creation is something I just adore. I just can’t get over how absolutely incredible it all is!”

“This call for active involvement in conservation is actually not an option. It’s a command that God gave us. Our focus and our priority is sharing that concept and embodying that in our lives as a community.”

The second common thread I noticed was the conviction that caring for creation is also caring for people. Faith-based eco mission strongly connects environment and justice issues. The interviewees were all keenly aware that how we live in New Zealand has a direct impact on vulnerable communities. They challenge their churches to be proactive in preventing poverty caused by climate change rather than just responding to disasters.

At a local level, growing food together is one way to meet human need as well as care for the environment. One woman shared a story of two young brothers coming to the community garden in a small town impacted by methamphetamine addiction:

 “Because their grandfather had shown them how to garden, that was for them the start of their journey to give up meth, and we supported them. That was two years ago, and they have both been meth-free. And now they tell their stories, share and help people, and dig the garden! Thank you God!”

Third, I was struck by the diversity of eco mission. Even within the small local groups here in Christchurch there is an astonishing range of projects. Environmental mission can look like: weeding around native plantings in a public reserve and children’s craft activities; taking young people rafting and setting predator traps; writing reports and bike rides; global mission partnerships and prayer vigils before a climate march; writing worship resources or church picnics. These are merely a few of so many ways to participate in environmental mission. Creation care is not a set programme. Each person’s unique gifts enable opportunities to care for the environment as an expression of faith. This was described by those I interviewed as a vital component of church mission.

 “Environmental concern and a more responsible attitude to looking after the earth has got to be one of our new modern tools in the church for engaging with our society. This is a perfect opportunity for the church to show that we care.”

Finally, I noticed the interviewees crediting God with sustaining their motivation through challenges. In each interview I heard both ‘fire in the belly’ energy, but I also heard struggle and disappointment. I share a similar experience, in that creation care is often a ‘2-steps-forward-1-step-back’ process, of making progress and having setbacks—especially with a global pandemic. Lockdowns have forced us all to sit more lightly with our plans! Those I interviewed described having hope not in their own actions but in God.

“There is a lot of hopelessness about the environment, but we do have hope, because we have an all powerful God, that it can actually make a difference. Jesus is going to redeem everything.”

Some described experiences they interpreted as hearing God’s voice.

“I go through moments of incredible doubt: should I still be doing this? I was out surfing and I felt God say “It matters to me.” What I am doing matters to God. But also beyond me, this creation matters to God. That word kept me going.”

Sadly, Christians are not well-known for environmental action. However, what I see is a growing movement of people of faith who believe that God is calling them personally and collectively to care for creation. I interpret this as God at work raising people up to care for the world, both the natural environment and human community. I am inspired by how individual Christians experience this, how it sparks motivation and sustains effort across a surprising diversity of projects. My own testimony is of God stirring my heart and pushing me into wide-open spaces. I sense the Spirit throwing me crazy questions such as “What if all our Christian academic institutions integrated environmental sustainability into every department?”, or “How could social service agencies be encouraged to develop their own green practice?” These are far too big for me, but that is how I believe God works. As we respond to God’s call to care for creation motivation grows and fresh opportunities emerge. The world’s problems seem to multiply, but faith and hope and love rise to meet the challenge.

Silvia is a counsellor, supervisor, sustainability consultant and ordained Presbyterian minister. She convenes the Christchurch group of A Rocha Aotearoa New Zealand (link: www.arocha.org.nz ). She currently lives on the Burnham army base, with her army chaplain husband. Her resources for sustainability, faith, and worship include Psalms reimagined in contemporary terms and a Bible study on waste: www.conversations.net.nz. ‘Let’s Say A Psalm’ is her published collection for children and all-age worship (link: https://pgpl.co.nz/ebooks/lets-say-a-psalm-ebooks). Current writing projects include a book on ministry transitions and grief, studies for Christian young people on climate change, and celebrating Kiwi women active in creation care. She has established Place Consultancy to resource the community sector in environmental sustainability: www.place.net.nz.

Feature photo by Davide Pietralunga on Unsplash

Logia Profile for September: Existent Endurance, Vulnerability, and Future Joy

by Dr Jacqueline Service


Endurance, perseverance, vulnerability. Such words are far from summarising the appetite of our modern era. The dominant anthem of our age extols the way of the ‘immediate’, the ‘now’ of instant gratification, and, preferably, at no personal cost. The Christian tradition has, however, contemplated a pilgrimage of life via a different way: a way of waiting. This waiting is, though, not a static stagnancy; an interval without movement. The faithful waiting of the Christian life should rather be distinguished as an active hope. Jürgen Moltmann clarified that “hastening” accompanies the wait:

We wait and hasten, we hope and endure, we pray and watch, we are both patient and curious. That makes the Christian life exciting and alive.[1]

For Moltmann, the Christian life encompassed both a patient and active anticipation of the future in the present. This concept is what theologians refer to as ‘proleptic eschatology’. Here, Christian theology posits a future certainty of the Divine purpose, plan, and promise of Shalom (abundant life[2]) that simultaneously propels the present whilst awaiting fulfilment. In other words, the vision of the future shapes the choices of the present and determines the content of the hastening.

Scripture attests such a structure to the life of faith. The Old Testament patriarch, Joseph, over a 20-year period, waited (and suffered) for the sure fulfilment of his divinely descended dream (Gen 37, 42). Joseph did not passively wait for his promised future, but he waited in active anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan revealed to him in his dream. Mary, theotokos, would wait over 30 years for the fulfilment of the promise announced to her (Lk 1:26-38), that her son, Jesus, would be a salvific balm for Israel. Mary though, knowing the promise of the future, did not succumb to lazy lingering, but surely hastened the day by teaching her son the content of his future ministry. Her Magnificat prophetically announced God’s impending action: the divine scattering of the proud, the bringing down of the powerful, the lifting of the lowly, and filling of the hungry (Lk 1:51-53). In the shadow of his mother’s waiting faithfulness, the yet-to-be realised promises conferred on Jesus would be subject to active hastening.

As a woman called to the task of theological education, I too have discovered such a pattern of active-waiting in the expression of my life. Like many women called to serve the Church and society through the twin imperatives of theological contemplation and public engagement, I have found myself in an uneasy wrestle between waiting and hastening. For over 20 years, alongside a career in the Law and in International Aid and Development, I also trained myself to be proficient biblically and theologically – this was my hastening towards serving the Church and society. Yet, for over 20 years I also endured, and at times, suffered, in the uncertain wait for the fruit of the labour; not always knowing the ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’ of the walk I was on. The future remained as unseen potential. Now, as a lecturer in systematic theology, alongside continuing work for the alleviation of poverty, there is some realisation of that to which I have hastened. However, throughout my active-wait (that still continues), I have often needed the reminder of a verse from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews – “for the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). In this short phrase, the author connects Jesus’ anticipation of the future with a preceding endurance. The future was set before him. The joy was not the immediacy of the now, but rather the future vision of a secured truth sustaining his ‘now’. The immediacy for Jesus was the suffering of the cross. The joy of divine promise, whilst present as potentiality, would have to wait.

Hebrews 12:2 contains a nascent principle that is contrasted with our modern outlook. We live in a world that tends towards an aversion of the vicissitudes of life, preferring images of joy and flourishing through the filtered perfection of social media. Common truisms, both secular as well as Christian, also encourage us to hasten quickly to future joy, downplaying the value of waiting, endurance, or vulnerability. In my home country, Australia, a slang phrase – ‘she’ll be right’, is commonly used to glide over hardship, averting any hint of vulnerability. A similar aversion is found too among Christians. One is more likely to find an encouraging coffee-mug espousing – ‘they will soar on wings like eagles’ (Is 40:31) than the reminder to plod ‘through the darkest valley’ (Ps 23:4). Such truisms have correspondence with what Anglican theologian, Sarah Coakley, identifies as “repression of vulnerability.”[3] They place a higher value on restraining or avoiding fragility or endurance, hesitating at ascribing such aspects of human life with pivotal significance.

The Christian narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus, however, gives us theological pause to consider the interlaced importance of existent enduring and future joy for shaping human life. In theological discourse, however, the events of Christ’s passion are, to a degree, contemplated independently. Some scholars emphasise the Cross,[4] some Holy Saturday[5] while others highlight the Resurrection.[6] But perhaps these events may be more profitably interpreted as a whole; where Jesus’s passion is a union of equally contingent parts—Jesus went through (not around) the Friday of the Cross, through the silence of Saturday, and through to Sunday’s joy of resurrection. Whilst these events were distinct they should not be theologically dislocated. From the view of Christ prior to his crucifixion, Friday (enduring the cross) and Saturday (silence) were the sine qua non of Sunday’s potentiality (resurrection joy).

Such an understanding of the integral connection of endurance and future joy is also consistent with the reality of creaturely life. In contrast to divinity, temporal and finite creatures are subject to potentiality (a topic explored in my research regarding human well-being and triune ontology). Joy set before us is always subject to delay. For humans, there is an intervallic tension between the present ‘now’ and the future ‘not-yet’. Along this vein, Russian Orthodox theologian, Sergeĭ Bulgakov, argued, “creation is temporal, and the temporality of becoming is the very nature of creation.”[7] Human life is characterised by contingent ‘becoming’. Such is the nature of the human – we live in the interval between what is and what will be. This means that future possibility is inevitably infused with delay requiring endurance and vulnerability. This kind of temporal reality is in contradiction to the prevailing theme of Western life – that waiting, endurance or vulnerability is an interrupting hindrance merely to be overcome.

Interestingly, not only the passion events, but a theology of Christ’s being also allows us to consider further the union of both temporal delay with the hope of divine potentiality. The Christian doctrine, espoused at the Council of Chalcedon (451), regarding the union of humanity and divinity in Christ, provides a further insight; that in assuming a human nature, God, in Christ Jesus, underscores a connection between the normalcy of uncertain human potency with the certainty of divine life. In Christ’s life and being, therefore, lies a depth of meaning often missed; the integral union between endurance to realise the joy set before us with the vision of divinely secured joy itself. Coakley articulates a similar view. She says, “the hiatus of expectant waiting” or “vulnerability” may, through Christian reconceptualization, be viewed as “power-in-vulnerability”, the place of the “self’s transformation and expansion into God.”[8] Instead of uncritical acquiescence to a common societal pattern that considers endurance, waiting, or vulnerability as something merely to mitigate or avoid, Christian theology offers a reconfiguration. This reconfiguration regards vulnerable uncertainty, delay, and enduring towards potentiality as essential contours on the road towards the future. When set in the horizon of Christ’s example, a Christian theology of hope “does not give faith only wings, as we say: it gives faith also the power to stand firm and to endure to the end.”[9]

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992), 97.

[2] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Justice as a Condition of Authentic Liturgy,” Theology Today, vol.48. no. 1 (1991), 16.

[3] Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Blackwell: Oxford, 2002), chapter 1. Coakley’s concern is primarily in relation to the danger of the repression in Christian feminism of “all forms of ‘vulnerability’, and in a concomitant failure to confront issues of fragility, suffering or ‘self-emptying’ except in terms of victimology.” Coakley ultimately articulates a position where forms of ‘waiting’, ‘bewilderment and pain’ are, for the Christian, ‘transformative and empowering’, an issue, she says, “that Christian feminism ignores at its peril.” pp.33, 39.

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, trans. R.A. Wilson and John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1974).

[5] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory – Vol IV The Action, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994).

[6] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theologyvol.1, The Triune God (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[7] Sergeĭ Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 58.

[8] Coakley, Powers and Submissions, 36.

[9] Jurgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 7.

Dr Jacqueline Service

B.A. Intercultural Studies (Tabor); LLB (Hons, ANU); GDLP (NSW College of Law); MTh (Distinction, CSU); PhD (University Medal, CSU).

Lecturer in Systematic Theology | School of Theology |

Charles Sturt University (St Mark’s National Theological Centre)

15 Blackall St, Barton, ACT 2600. Australia.

jservice@csu.edu.au | www.stmarks.edu.au

Jacqueline is Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Charles Sturt University (St Mark’s National Theological Centre), Australia. Her research focus is on Trinitarian Theology and Christian Metaphysics, Divine Ontology of Well-Being and Theology of Development and Social Justice. She is a Board Member of Micah Australia, a movement of Australian Christians advocating for political leaders to address poverty and injustice in our world.

Featured image by Nathan Dumlao

Logia Profile for August: How the Workplace Shapes Us

by Kara Martin

The field of faith and spirituality in the workplace is a burgeoning area of research and discussion. It includes terms such as “faith and work”, “religion and work”, “workplace spirituality”. It encompasses all faith traditions, as well as the non-religious, and is integrated with the field of management.

While there is nominalism in every religious tradition, Christianity perhaps more than others has had a custom of separating the sacred from the secular. This is because in other faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism, there are daily prayer rituals, washing practices, dress codes and/or food laws that seamlessly interweave religion into every waking hour.

Christianity, however, has always grappled with the Greek philosophical tradition that it was born into, which encouraged a divide between the soul/spirit and what was done with the body. Plato especially was strident on the body as being merely a vessel to hold the beauty of the soul. There are ancient cartoons that mock Christianity for worshipping a ‘god’ that had died on a cross. Early Christians argued over whether it was possible for Jesus to be fully god and fully human; until the creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 declared that Jesus was “begotten, not made”, not a mere creature, but “of one substance” with God.

Yet time and again, this soul/body separation has extended to a sacred/secular separation, where the church has seen itself (what happens in the building on a Sunday) as central to God’s work, separated out from the world. People’s ordinary work is seen as only having value in funding the ‘real’ work of God in the church.

This sacred-secular distortion impacts personal understanding of faith. As one Christian worker told me: “There is nothing on the outside that reveals the faith within.” There is a practice for many Christians of keeping their private faith separate from public life. Often this separation is reinforced in Australian society where it still is taboo to discuss politics, money, sex … and religion.

Yet, the Apostle Paul declares that the whole person is changed once they become a Christian: they are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), and the whole body is a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), and “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, not human masters” (Colossians 3:23). Thus, breaking down the sacred-secular divide for Christians offers exciting potential for seeing our daily work in a new light, as something of interest to God.

However, once the barrier between religious and mundane has been removed, we must progress from “Oh, wow!” to “So, how?” How can Christians be better equipped to link their faith with their ordinary work?

In the last four years, I have been investigating that ‘So, how?’ question. I had already published books covering a theology of work, spiritual disciplines for the workplace, practical wisdom for working, and how churches can equip workplace Christians. Now, I wanted to investigate beneath the surface.

There is a large range of training options that exist for workplace Christians. The question remains: what is the most effective teaching for Christians to receive to enable them to flourish in making faith–work connections? What knowledge, skills or values should they develop?

I surveyed all that was available from a variety of Christian organisations and churches and summarised 35 variables covering knowledge, skills and values. I then tested those variables with ten doctors and ten teachers who had been recommended by Christian professional organisations as being integrated Christian workers. The interviewees selected their top two choices in each section and were then asked to tell positive and negative stories about Christians in relation to those variables to draw out evidence of the constructs behind the variables. These vocations were chosen because they worked with other Christians and were able to tell stories about their work.

A clear top result in the knowledge category for both vocational groups was spiritual disciplines that deepen intimacy with God. Spiritual disciplines include practices such as reading the sacred text, prayer, meditation—not as ends in themselves, but as keys to developing a relationship with God.

Clearly in second place was the biblical narrative. One teacher noted, “You need to understand the big story [in the Bible], and the place of story, and the place of the discipline [you teach] in that story. For example, science is about understanding the world God has made, and worshipping [the creator]. We can use this world to benefit others. Science has purpose, it’s living out our calling as a human.”

Perhaps the surprising top result in the skills category was influence others through servant leadership. One doctor explained: “This is where you can really make a difference as a leader in the world. There are still many leaders who call the shots, and lead in a very autocratic manner; they don’t bring their teams along with them, and are still very patriarchal in their leadership models. You can really show difference, what we are doing is quite a different model of leadership; and servant-leadership is counter-cultural in an Australian hospital context.”

The second and third skill choices were very close. Teachers clearly preferred building authentic relationships, as one affirmed: “In the teaching profession, everything you do is relational: colleagues, students, parents… this is the binding skill in education. If you don’t have authentic relationship with children, they won’t learn. They don’t learn from people they don’t trust.”

Meanwhile, doctors were keen to transform working, working relationships, the workplace or work recipients through gospel renewal. One doctor described it as going, “Beyond the spiritual, by applying faith to the work.” Another said, “The [Christian story] is at the centre of transforming us and then flows through to everything.”

In the values category, there were two choices that were very close. Intimacy with God as the basis for relationship with others and the world was slightly preferred as the number one variable by doctors over teachers. As one doctor said, “Without this, other things will not follow. This is the key, otherwise faith can be just theoretical.”

A close second overall was godly (good) character. As one teacher explained: “Part of good character is recognising that you want to do your best, and to use your talents for what you are called for. Kids observe character. As Christians we can preach and teach, but if we lack good character, they will see us as hypocrites. Faith should be transformative of character.”

What was surprising from the research was that the workplace was credited by interviewees as the place that had most shaped their faith, not church, not a spiritual retreat. These findings challenge prevailing thought and current practice about how religious people grow in faith—not just being equipped to make faith—work connections but seeing the workplace as an incubator for faith.

Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work and co-editor of Transforming Vocation: Connecting Theology, Church, and the Workplace for a Flourishing World. She is a lecturer with Alphacrucis College and Adjunct Professor with Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston. She is also on the Advisory Board for the Global Lausanne Movement Workplace Ministry and on the Board of the Karam Fellowship.

Feature photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Logia Profile for July: Falling into a Calling

by Rev Prof Jacqueline Grey

Growing up in a charismatic Uniting church in western Sydney, Australia, the only women I noticed who were active in professional ministry were missionaries. Sensing a call to God’s work, I subsequently (wrongly) assumed that missionary service was the only real avenue for women to be ministers. Yet, when reading the Bible, I encountered Spirit-empowered women in all kinds of roles and situations. Resolutely, I began to prepare for missionary vocation by enrolling in an undergraduate degree in linguistics at Sydney University. During my undergraduate years (1991-4), I became engaged in student ministry and moved into a pentecostal fellowship. I delighted in encouraging fellow students in their faith. I continued in university ministry for several years following graduation as the Campus Director for Students for Christ and AOG Chaplain at Sydney University (1995-8).

This involvement in university ministry reinforced my sense of calling and desire to help others navigate their own faith journey. I decided that if I was serious about this ministry business then I needed to attend bible college. So, I did. My intent was to quickly complete my studies then move overseas to finally begin “real” ministry work. Instead, as the world of the bible opened to me, I discovered a great passion for reading and interpreting the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I also discovered unknown doors of opportunity for women in the world of theological education. In 2002, I became the first female faculty member of Alphacrucis College (the Assemblies of God college in Australia) and one of the first faculty members to complete doctoral studies (2006). My doctoral thesis explored “pentecostal hermeneutics” of the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible using Isaiah as a case study. That is, I wanted to understand how everyday pentecostal and charismatic readers interpreted the bible in practise, not just theory. Fifteen years later, I am still serving in the same college. I have functioned in numerous roles during this time, including a part-time position while I fulfilled my desire to minister overseas in Izmir, Turkey (2015-8). Currently, I serve as Dean of Theology and Professor of Biblical Studies at Alphacrucis College, and also Research Fellow at the University of South Africa and the Centre for Pentecostal Theology.

This narrative of my personal journey into theological education is what pentecostals mostly call “testimony.” Sharing stories of God at work in our everyday lives is central to the identity and spirituality of the pentecostal community. As we “testify” we make sense of our experience by weaving it into the larger narrative of God’s redemption.[i] As I reflect on my own testimony, it seems that my stumbling into academia was accidental—as though I fell into this calling. I had not planned a career in academia. I am the only person in my wider family to complete post-graduate studies—I didn’t even know what a career in academia looked like! Yet, as I look back over my life so far, I see both God’s grace and guidance. For this, I am extremely thankful.

My location as both a member of the pentecostal community and researcher in pentecostal theology has been challenging. Pentecostalism has been wildly misunderstood and sometimes treated with suspicion by the wider academic community. Yet, it has also been the impetus for much renewed interest in theological matters such as pneumatology and ecclesiology. This accords with the origins of pentecostalism as a reform movement within Christianity. Today, pentecostals are the fastest growing segment of global Christianity. In 2020 Pentecostal/Charismatics make up over one quarter of all Christians. By 2050, this is expected to grow to 29.4 percent.[ii] Due to this growth, there is increased interest in the pentecostal community. One of my goals is to communicate the theological emphases of pentecostalism for Christian and wider communities and help locate it within ecumenical discussion. In this sense, my research and interests have a public function. Therefore, much of my research to date has been focused on understanding pentecostalism from academics (Three’s A Crowd: Pentecostalism, Hermeneutics and the Old Testament (2011)) to a popular audience (Them, Us & Me: How the Bible Speaks Today (2008), as well as co-edited volumes (Raising Women Leaders (2009), Pentecostalism in the Asia-Pacific (2019), Key Approaches to Biblical Ethics (2021)), and almost 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters (see here for a list of those publications).  

My current research continues to explore the intersections of pentecostal hermeneutics, ethics, pneumatology, and experience. These interests have led to engagement with academic communities within pentecostalism as well as with other ecumenical and inter-religious gatherings. In terms of the pentecostal academic community, I have benefitted greatly from my participation in the Society for Pentecostal Studies, including election to President of the Society in 2017. Within this group I have found deep friendships and encouragement. I have also found rich camaraderie among other academic societies, such as the Society of Biblical Literature, where I am co-chair of the Biblical Ethics section.

Like most academics navigating the world of theological education, I juggle teaching, supervision of research and doctoral students, academic administration, community engagement, and my own research. There are numerous research and scholarship projects in which I am currently absorbed, including: co-writing a textbook (Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Baker Academic)); writing a commentary on Isaiah 1-39 as part of the Pentecostal Commentary Series (Brill); and editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Australasian Pentecostal Studies.

My encouragement to other women and men pursuing a career in academia is to treasure the friendships along the way. My life has been enriched by the friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in my life, even those that were only for a season. Many of these friendships have grown out of small interactions and chance meetings. Most have come from attending gatherings and conferences. Such in-person attendance is, of course, highly problematic now and guaranteed to look different in the future. However, even some online interactions can plant the seed of a burgeoning relationship. If, like me, you are quite shy then my advice is to be brave and show up. Then, keep showing up. Slowly you get to know people, slowly you begin to feel like you belong, and slowly you do belong. Then you will have your own testimony to share of finding a home in the world of theological education.

[i] James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010) 51.

[ii] Johnson, Todd M., “Counting Pentecostals Worldwide”, in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of Global Pentecostalism Online, Edited by: Michael Wilkinson, Connie Au, Jörg Haustein, Todd M. Johnson. Consulted online on 14 June 2021 <http://dx.doi.org.alphacrucis.idm.oclc.org/10.1163/2589-3807_EGPO_COM_042780>

Rev Prof Jacqueline Grey is Dean of Theology at Alphacrucis College, and Research Fellow at the University of South Africa, and Centre for Pentecostal Studies (Cleveland, Tennessee USA).