Author Archives: christa

Choosing Resilience by Hannah Fytche

The deep purple oil pastel was soft and warm in my hand. It crumbled as I pressed it across the paper, upon which were words written in evaluation of me. I had chosen purple because those particular words bruised me: they were critical, and some of them were untrue. On other parts of the paper, there were words coloured over with gold: these were encouraging, affirming, and true. The purple and gold ran alongside each other. Bruises and affirmations.  

Once the whole paper was coloured over, I folded it into a flower. I placed it onto a river I’d painted on some cardboard. Alongside the river I had written: ‘See, I am making all things new’.

I did this as a way of integrating and processing those words and my experience of them, and working out how to respond to them. The context and particular content of the words don’t matter for our purposes here – rather, what I am hoping to communicate is the process of my response to them. It was an act of hope and prayer: an act of resilience.

Resilience is the ability to persist and grow through change or adversity. Resilience is what allows us to keep going and stay true to who we are, even when times are tough. Resilience is something we’ve all needed and grown in through these last few years of pandemic, recovery, and other global changes and crises. It’s something that we need for all sorts of personal circumstances, and something that we need in the context of our academic work.

***

I am a PhD student at Clare College, Cambridge, researching Paul’s use of the ‘body of Christ’ metaphor in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. I’m questioning how this metaphor forms identity: the identity of individual bodies in Christ, in all their diversity; and the identity of the unified corporate ‘body’ in Christ. It’s fascinating, relevant to present-day conversations, and I really am enjoying my time inhabiting this question.

Yet, as I’m sure will be familiar to many researchers, this work takes resilience.

It takes resilience in the day-to-day, at-the-desk work. Even when enjoying research there are those unsettling moments when the concepts aren’t quite coming together, or when you’re staring at a blank page for the third day running, or when you come across that article or chapter which says what you want to say (but better).

The moments that really get under my skin are the ones in which I have started writing something new – but progress is stilted and slow, because I can’t quite hear my own voice in the words that I’m stringing together. It takes resilience to keep returning to the page, and to keep stepping up to the task of reading texts and working out how to say what I want to say about them.

It takes resilience to stay committed to seeking out and trusting my own voice in this process. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if my voice were different – if it were more like the voices of scholars that I admire, or if it had more in common with my colleagues (I am currently the one woman PhD candidate in New Testament in my University). Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if I were less concerned with how my research speaks to wider pastoral and ecclesiological settings, and focused instead on something that was firmly within the academic sphere.

When I encounter these moments, I always circle back through them to the conclusion that if my voice were different than it is, I wouldn’t be me – and the writing I produced wouldn’t be mine, and it wouldn’t be committed to the values that I hold. I remind myself that the question I’m asking through my research is deeply invested in seeking ways to value diverse voices, and to see how we find corporate unity through diversity. I remind myself that just as I value the voices of others, so my voice has value too.

When I remind myself of this, often by taking a long “thinking/praying walk” into the fields near where I live, I find the motivation to return to the blank page and keep listening. I keep listening for how the concepts are actually coming together; how the blank page offers itself to my imagination; how the article or chapter I found doesn’t actually say it better – it says it differently. My own voice has another perspective to offer.

All of this adds up to new resilience: a refreshed resolution to keep going and growing even when I question my voice and my work. It takes the questions, and the critiques implicit in them, and it folds them into something new. I am enabled to grow through the challenge, and to recommit to the research – both day-by-day at my desk, and as I engage with wider academic communities.

***

I wonder if any of this resonates. If so, I want to offer an invitation – a kind of guided imagination, based on my story at the start, to give you space to notice the moments in your research life through which you’d like to grow resilient. Give yourself five minutes to imagine with me.

Picture your own piece of paper, like the one in my story. As you imagine that piece of paper, you could fill it in with anything: descriptions of experiences in academic life; words people have written or said of or to you, both affirming and critical; words you have thought, as you’ve rewritten that chapter for the fifth time; stories you have encountered of (in)equality or (in)justice or [fill in the blank] in the academy. You can fill that piece of paper with anything that you need to process and work out. Give yourself space to recognise these things, and to feel how you feel about them.

As you imagine that paper, I wonder what colours you choose to respond to it. Are there colours of encouragement or affirmation? Colours of hopefulness and joy? Colours that represent how you feel when critiqued? Colours of anger, fear, compassion?

Once you’ve coloured your paper, imagine folding it into something new. I folded mine into a flower and placed it on a river. For me this is a helpful metaphor: like a seed buried and breaking open to put down roots, I could take the words written on my paper, and the experiences connected to them, and break them open to new life.

Hannah is a 2nd-year PhD candidate (in New Testament/Paul) at Clare College, Cambridge, where she is also the Decani Scholar (which means she practically supports the life and ministry of Clare College Chapel). When she’s not at Chapel or in the library, you can find her on a long walk through the Cambridgeshire fields, crafting or cooking great food with friends, or planning her next travel adventure! 

A Journey Toward Becoming Myself by Brittany Kim

When you engage in graduate education, your learning extends far beyond what’s in your textbooks. You also learn what’s in the unwritten syllabus—the unstated expectations of your classrooms and the larger guild. And you learn about yourself, about your hopes and fears, strengths and limitations. When I started my journey in theological education, it didn’t take long for my fears and limitations to come knocking at my door. And they haunted me as I began to imbibe various impressions of what a scholar is supposed to be, magnifying the gaps between my own abilities and the image I sought to realize.

As I sat down to write my papers, I was paralyzed by the fear of failure. I couldn’t write much of anything without the adrenaline rush sparked by an impending deadline. As the deadline loomed, jaws outstretched, I would write in a mad feverish dash toward the safety of the finish line before the beast swallowed me whole. And then as I turned in my work, I would wallow in shame and embarrassment, dreading to hear that all my weaknesses had been exposed.

And I worried that I didn’t have the dedication to be a “real” scholar. My mind often balked at the long hours of reading, wandering off again and again as I struggled to force my attention back to the page. And when I collapsed on breaks or couldn’t stand the sight of my dissertation anymore, all I wanted to do was escape into Jane Austen or Harry Potter. “Real” scholars dove into massive tomes about Assyrian iconography in their spare time.

And I doubted that I could ever enjoy scholarly success because I wasn’t prepared to follow the “standard academic path.” When people asked what I was going to do when I finished my PhD, I would say “have babies.” I wasn’t joking. (Actually, since it took me so long to complete my dissertation, I decided not to wait until I finished, defending 2-months pregnant with a 19-month-old in tow.) Even if I could have landed one of the few coveted tenure-track positions after graduation, I didn’t want to try to navigate all of the attendant expectations during my baby years. So I chose to adjunct and write part-time while serving as the primary caretaker for my three kids. And then our family discerned God calling us to our current church in Chicago, where my husband serves as a pastor. So now we’re geographically rooted, and nine years after graduating, I’ve still never applied for a full-time job.

I haven’t needed a full-time job to immerse myself in the things that drew me to this field. I’ve always loved that moment of discovery when I find a Hebrew wordplay or trace a key word through a passage or explore an intertextual parallel. And I experience deep joy in sharing those insights with my students and walking alongside them as they begin their own adventures of discovery. But in so many ways, I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in the academic world.

I wish I’d known earlier that God called me into this work so that I could bring my whole self to it, not so that I could contort myself into some scholarly mold.[i] I wish I’d known that the mastery I felt pressure to demonstrate but could never achieve was only an illusion anyway and that the fragments of knowledge I had were enough.[ii] I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to construct an artistic masterpiece on my own but could simply offer my fragments as beautiful gifts to form part of a communal mosaic. I wish I’d known that all the things I engaged in that seemed like “distractions” from “important scholarly work” were deeply significant and that they would actually feed my interpretive imagination. I wish I’d known that imagination was a key component in scholarly work.

It’s been a long journey of realizing these things and growing into an understanding of who God created me to be as a scholar—a woman–spiritual director–pastor’s wife–mother–Jane Austen- loving–teacher–writer—because all of those things are deeply interconnected. What’s made that growth possible are the friends I’ve journeyed with, friends I enjoy long conversations with at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and friends I’ve only ever met in print.

The “canon” of biblical studies research has largely been dominated by white Euro-American males, and for many years they were the primary voices I read. I’m so grateful for the countless things I learned from them, but I often felt some degree of disconnection. It wasn’t until more recently that I began to realize that I had different patterns of thinking than many of the white male scholars I’d been reading. When I came across essays on cultural ways of thinking, the words jumped off the page. The authors explained that academic theological discourse has largely been shaped by rational, linear, and individualistic ways of thinking but that many women and non-white scholars tend toward more holistic, relational, and experiential thinking.[iii] By feeding myself chiefly with scholarship in the former vein, I’d developed a limited vision for what scholarly discourse looked like and trained myself to speak in a language that never quite felt natural.

As I branched out and read more work by women and ethnic minority scholars, it began to quench the desperate thirst I didn’t even realize I had. I drank from the buckets of anger at injustice and hope in the God who makes all things right, drawn from the deep wells of the African American church by Dennis Edwards and Esau McCaulley.[iv] I sat at Wilda Gafney’s table and savored the feast of her “sanctified imagination.”[v] I rejoiced in the many ‘ezerim (“helpers,” see Gen 2:18) who supported Nancy deClaissé-Walford and thanked God for my own.[vi] I saw Hagar, perhaps for the first time, as I experienced her through Asian American and Egyptian Christian eyes in essays by Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan and Safwat Marzouk.[vii] I mourned with Rizpah (see 2 Sam 21) and marveled at the courage, faith, and theological insight of the abuelitas whose stories are told by Kat Armas.[viii] And I was challenged to broaden my understanding of “neighbor” as I read Palestinian Christian scholar Naim Ateek’s reflections on the parable of the Good Samaritan from the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[ix] I resonate deeply with the ways these authors integrate the biblical text with their life experience, even when my own experiences are significantly different. Though I haven’t met most of them, these friends have become a lifeline, tethering me to a scholarly world where I can flourish and keeping my soul from withering under the unrelenting pressure to conform.

I’m still in the process of disentangling myself from all the (real or imagined) academic expectations that have kept me bound, but I have high hopes for the future. My hope is that every student and scholar in theological education, especially those on the margins, would be set free from the pressure to conform and from the expectation that they have to prove themselves by mastering their field. My hope is that there would always be room at the table for rational, linear, and individualistic thinkers and for those who think in more relational, holistic, and experiential ways. My hope is that we would all lift up our voices and sing in gloriously complex harmony rather than straining to hit the same note. My hope is that we would develop deep friendships of love and support and that we would challenge each other “as iron sharpens iron” (Prov 27:17), not to question anyone’s scholarly worth but to help us grow into all that God has called us to be. And my hope is that together we would forge a multitude of creative pathways for scholars to find success in using their gifts and skills to serve people in a variety of contexts.


[i] See further Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, Theological Education Between the Times (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020), 6.

[ii] Ibid., 23–46.

[iii] Perry Shaw, “Culture, Gender, and Diversity in Advanced Theological Studies,” in Challenging Tradition: Innovation in Advanced Theological Education, ed. Perry Shaw and Havilah Dharamraj (Carlisle, UK: Langham, 2018], 89–90; Xiaoli Yang, “Poetry as Theology,” in Challenging Tradition, 432.

[iv] Dennis R. Edwards, Might from the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald, 2020); Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).

[v] Wilda Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Louisville: Westminster: John Knox, 2017), 1–3.

[vi] Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford, “Genesis 2: ‘It Is Not Good for the Human to Be Alone,’” Review and Expositor 103 (2006): 343–58.

[vii] Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan, “Neither Here nor There: Boundary and Identity in the Hagar Story,” in Ways of Being, Ways of Reading: Asian American Biblical Interpretation, ed. Mary F. Foskett and Jeffrey Kah-Jin Kuan (St. Louis: Chalice, 2006), 70–83; Safwat Marzouk, “Interrogating Identity: A Christian Egyptian Reading of the Hagar-Ishmael Traditions,” in Colonialism and the Bible: Contemporary Reflections from the Global South, ed. Tat-siong Benny Liew and Fernando F. Segovia (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2018), 3–30.

[viii] Kat Armas, Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2021).

[ix] Naim Ateek, “Who Is My Neighbor?” Interpretation 62 (2008): 156–65.

Brittany Kim (PhD, Wheaton College) is an adjunct professor at North Park Theological Seminary, director of Every Voice: A Center for Kingdom Diversity in Christian Theological Education, spiritual director, pastor’s wife, and mother of three. She is also the author of “Lengthen Your Tent-Cords”: The Metaphorical World of Israel’s Household in the Book of Isaiah (Eisenbrauns) and co-author (with Charlie Trimm) of Understanding Old Testament Theology: Mapping the Terrain of Recent Approaches (Zondervan).

“A Journey through the Wilderness: A Story of Academic Trauma” by Madison N. Pierce

In the summer we completed our fourth major move in five years—and in those five years I have already experienced a career’s worth of academic trauma.

But is this the best place to begin? It’s not like I didn’t have bumps in the road prior to employment, especially in light of my conservative evangelical church background. In fact, the response that I received when I first articulated a call to teach in the church was: “You can marry a teacher, but you can’t be one.”

In the years that followed, I dreamed about what it would look like for me to be a theologian. Should I publish under a pseudonym? Could I teach theology through music?

As the years passed, I found myself asking God: “Why did you make me like this?” I saw my female body as a burden, an obstacle.

And in the contexts that I was in, my leaders supposedly were doing the “Lord’s work” in tamping down my fanciful dreams of doing ministry and having a career in theology.

By 2016, when I entered the job market, I was used to questions, and I was used to doubt. I also was used to comments about how “easy” it would be for me as a woman in the academy. I heard this refrain as I entered my job interviews that year at the Annual Meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature. I thought: I guess, if I don’t get hired, then I’m remarkably incompetent.  My female body was a token—sometimes of progress but more often of threat. When the winds of change blow, some are knocked out of the way.

So when I landed a tenure-track position out of my PhD, I knew—or at least I assumed—that I could no longer complain. Friends were staring into an unknown future, and I was waltzing into something stable. I had some concerns about things I experienced in the interview process, but I was lucky; I had a job.

A year later, back at SBL, I walked through the book exhibit, and I met faces from my past. “Wow. Congratulations. You’ve made it.” “You’re so lucky.” “We’re going to ride your coattails.”

I smiled. I nodded. I laughed. (That’s what women are supposed to do when they’re uncomfortable.)

Inside, however, I was replaying my most recent weeks. I thought back to the conversation where I was told that my job interview had been constructed in a way to ensure that I was never one-on-one with any men—“for my benefit.” I thought back to the lunch I’d had where I heard one of my supervisors sexually harass a student in a conversation that I was participating in.

According to my peers, I was lucky.

But a few days later, still in Boston for SBL, I received an email. The man that I had just reported for sexual harassment wanted to observe my class. He needed to come in the next week. I sat on the edge of a crowded room in the convention center in Boston—overwhelmed by the conversations that blended together into a chaotic form of white noise.

When I gained the strength, I protested his visit. I spoke up that time and the next time that he caused me harm. Simultaneously, I began to look for a way out, a new job.

That same semester, though, I began to see how my own “femaleness” could somehow be beneficial to others. One day I felt this acutely when a female student training for pastoral ministry said to me, “I haven’t taken your classes, but it’s so good for me to see you.” My female body represented her potential.

In late January, I learned that I was pregnant. I was overjoyed. But sadly, in that season, it felt that my potential happiness was a mirage. My husband and I would attend doctor’s appointments together, and we would plan and rejoice in our baby’s health (and my own). But I would step back on campus and feel an immediate sense of dread. As I turned every corner, I prayed that I would not meet my supervisor (or several others) in the halls.

My health began to deteriorate in the wake of anxiety and depression, resulting from various traumatic experiences that year. Knowing that I needed to care for our baby, I tried to get help on campus again. I trusted someone with a note from my doctor that revealed that I was pregnant. (This was someone whose job it was to receive notes of this kind.)

They went directly to my supervisor. They gave him my doctor’s note. He copied it. He shared it. He complained about my new (and still very fragile) pregnancy to anyone who would listen. Now my female body was a source of contention. I was a stereotype, a woman who caused problems because of her ticking biological clock.

About a week after I found out my supervisor knew, my husband and I decided that, even if I was unable to procure another job, I would not return in the fall. After my teaching finished, I left town. I waddled back into my mother’s house—pregnant with no firm prospects.

As I left town, I began to think about my colleagues who remained. They were traumatized too, they said. How could they stay? I couldn’t stay. I felt isolated, and I began to wonder if the messages I had heard from my supervisor’s supporters were true. Was I too sensitive? Was this just a personality conflict? Did I have a problem with authority?

These were the questions that I carried into my next job.

These were the questions that I asked myself when I complained about a student stalking me and received no practical support. (To be fair, I did receive a hearty laugh about how he was “crazy” when I said I was terrified to come on campus.) I asked myself these questions again when beloved students who were harassed and exploited filed a complaint and were continually re-traumatized in the course of the investigation. I asked again when I was cut off in the middle of my sentence in a faculty meeting and told that the experiences of women on campus were “irrelevant” to discussions of faculty hiring and “fit.” I asked each time a leader spiritually abused us in meetings with faculty and staff. I asked again and again. Over time, the questions merged into just one: “Madison, what is wrong with you?”

Thankfully, I knew that, as flawed as I may be, my experience was still horrible. I might be sensitive, and I might be “difficult,” but I was in a wicked system where predators thrived. So yet again, I left.

This version of my story is sad and infuriating. But something that I have learned is stories (and people) are more than just one thing. One of my favorite sets of narratives in biblical literature is the story of God’s people in the wilderness. These stories show so many examples of God’s people rebelling, seeking their own gain, but simultaneously, and I think more importantly, these stories show God’s gracious provision. My story, similarly, has many villains, but I could tell another version that highlights only the incredible gifts and people that God has provided in my life. Both would be true, and both make me the woman that I am.

Through these stories and countless others that perhaps I will tell another day, the one thing that presses me onward is the truth that God is just and merciful. In the last five years, I have fought hard—for myself and for others. I have made formal complaints. I have pushed for policy changes. I have spoken up in faculty meetings at times when tenured (i.e., secure) faculty were silent.

But I did not achieve the results that I wanted. Perhaps you would say that I failed.

Some days it feels like the person punished the most for my advocacy is me because the people who caused my students, my colleagues and me harm remain in their positions of power, and for my own health and wellbeing, I chose to leave and to find a place that is healthy where I can find a sense of belonging as myself.

So what does my story mean for you if, God forbid, you find yourself in an unhealthy or abusive environment? Is my story a cautionary tale for survivors and advocates to stay silent?

What I have learned through all of this is not that the fight is not worth it; I think it is our call. But it is costly, and we must pursue justice in ways that allow us to preserve our own wellbeing. This work is slow, and it has many layers. For me, some days the work looks like prayer, other days it looks like researching Title IX, and others like confronting someone directly. But knowing what we can do in the strength that we have today is important.

What has changed for me in the last five years is the outcome that I expect. I still fight with the hope that even the most wicked of systems can be changed completely—because I do believe in extraordinary things—but I fight with the knowledge that I likely won’t see the change that I desire.

And this is where the character of God comes back in for me. Even though I feel that I cannot trust (most) people to make the right decisions when they are called to stand up to power, I trust someday I will see true justice and restoration.

Madison N. Pierce (PhD, Durham University) is associate professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary. She has written Divine Discourse in the Epistle to the Hebrews (CUP, 2020) and has co-edited Gospel Reading and Reception in Early Christian Literature (CUP, 2022) and Muted Voices of the New Testament (2017).

Knowing and Loving Your People and Your Place By Christa L. McKirland

After completing my doctorate, I searched for over a year for a teaching role in the United States—however, finding a place where I could teach Christian systematic theology, as a woman and a mutualist, was no small feat.[1] Schools that might hire me because of doctrinal alignment often had statements of belief that ruled out my teaching either because of being a woman or because I wouldn’t hold to a hierarchical understanding of men’s and women’s roles. Schools that might hire me despite, or even because of, being a woman, were often not a good fit doctrinally. I’ve always had a love for the local church and wanted to do theology from a confessional positionality and to equip students within Christian theology. Add to that the general lack of jobs in higher education, especially within the humanities, and even more so in theology, and my search necessarily became global.

While these reasons were more negative for my enlarged search, there was also a positive pull to a specific school in Aotearoa New Zealand. There, I found a small Baptist college that was (and is) committed to supporting women in theology and in the local church. We discerned strong alignment in my interview process, and I remember sensing that there was just as much that I could learn from this community as I could possibly hope to teach. So, at the beginning of 2020, my family and I moved to Auckland so that I could teach systematic theology at Carey Baptist College.

Since that time, I have been deeply impacted by my time here. I have been exposed to different value systems and worldviews. From my Māori (the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) friends, students, and colleagues, I have learned the importance of knowing and acknowledging the people from whom you come.[2] For instance, while I was used to weighing out a publication output based on what it would add to my CV, my friends here think of it in terms of how it will honour their community and their grandparents, and create a better world for their grandchildren (potential though they may be). I didn’t realise how much these values had affected me until my recent trip back to the United States for conferences in Denver and to see my family in Georgia.

Much to the dismay of many of my academic friends whom I met up with at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) meeting, the first conference I attended was the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting. I believe the dismay is for a few reasons. First, the highly conservative nature of some members of this community—what I would call “culturally evangelical”—tend to subordinate women to men, are blind to systemic injustice, are uncritical (and unaware) of power imbalances, and are funding the “Conservative Resurgence” as a cultural war against liberal agendas.[3] To my friends and concerned colleagues, this is unsalvageable. However, my solace is that the society is not predominantly evangelical in a cultural sense. Instead, they are evangelical in the sense of foregrounding (making primary) the good news, “gospel”—the euangelion—which is where “evangelical” comes from. Such a form of evangelicalism is definitely shaped by culture and wants to be a positive influence within culture, but it is not seeking to save culture.

So, while ETS has “Evangelical” in the very title, this is a term appropriated differently by individual members. However, my friends might still balk, especially when they see that members must affirm inerrancy (and the Trinity, but that causes less of a reaction). Yet, even on inerrancy I’ve found the term understood more and less rigidly among ETS’s members. Personally, I’ve found Mike Bird’s article on inerrancy to be quite helpful given the culture wars around this concept, and to help Americans zoom out from our parochial mindsets. Looking at a brief history of this concept, he notes “while many American evangelicals preached the inerrancy of the text, what they often practiced was the inerrancy of their interpretation and the hegemony of their tribe in certain denominations.” Again, within ETS there are those who wield inerrancy as a weapon (the Bible says it so we can take a “plain reading” of the text without an interpretation) and those who believe that God has not erred in communicating what God wants to communicate through Scripture (our methods and communities of interpretation are important, while not undermining inspiration). So, my conversations with AAR friends after the ETS conference were ongoing defences of this society—that there is still a lot of good happening in this space: scholarship that foregrounds the gospel as the good news that it is.

I was privileged to hear this scholarship on: a feminist reading of Luke’s parable of the persistent widow (along with the recognition that there are feminisms and that these are often misunderstood in Christian theology); an exposition of Mary’s song as prophetic discourse and its relation to women’s full inclusion in ministry roles; a response paper enlisting Willie Jennings and Edward Said to critique the empire building of American Evangelicals; and a dogmatic ecclesiology that understands sacraments as important ordinances but in a way that de-centres church polities which exclude women from administering them, to name but a few. As a society, ETS has influence far beyond its annual meeting, and these papers gave me hope for ways that evangelicalism, especially in America, might again be a movement about the good news of Jesus Christ.

At the same time, this is not a blind hope, especially for women and ethnic minorities who are still in this society. This remains a very challenging space to exist in, let alone, to be active in.

To illustrate, the first session of papers that I went to (the second paper up was a friend of mine, whom I wanted to support) was given by a former professor of mine. I had run into him the night before at registration and re-introduced myself in case he’d forgotten my name. He commented, “you’ve come a long way to be here.” I was initially struck by this since, at his first glance around the room, he didn’t seem to recognise me, but then his comment indicated that he remembered me and knew that I was not geographically nearby. While not wanting to read too much into his comment, my sense that it was odd that he did know who I was and where I had come from made more sense as I sat in that first session. Most of his essay’s content was critiquing a chapter I had recently written in a book defending men and women’s equality.[4] Unfortunately, he did not characterise my argument accurately or charitably and explained my theology of the body as the opposite of what I argued.

Fortunately, after each paper there is time for interaction, and I couldn’t raise my hand fast enough. He called on me, and as I stood, he explained to the standing-room only audience that “this is the Christa from the paper.” I then had a chance to find our points of commonality (and there was one!) and briefly our points of difference—primarily how he had misunderstood and mischaracterised my chapter. While he didn’t address my concerns I raised or the objections in the chapter itself, I had a chance to clarify for the audience where our disagreements actually lay. This is what academic discussion is meant to do: to provide a place for us to have read and listened carefully and charitably to others so we can engage each other’s strongest arguments and make them better or find them too lacking and change our own views. Scholarly communities are thus critical for our thinking to grow. However, if we provide a strawman (or strawwoman, in my case) of a person’s argument, this undermines the effectiveness of the scholarly community. Further, when essays are used to undermine scholar’s credibility by misrepresenting their arguments, this is a misuse of power and needs to be held to account.

I don’t think this former professor wanted me in that room. If he had, he could have easily invited me to the paper the night before when he saw me. He could have emailed me the paper before the conference to make sure he’d understood me correctly. As my brother in Christ, he could have treated me with the dignity of his sister.

But what surprised me was my takeaway from that experience.

I realised: These are my people.

I’m the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist Reverend. The daughter of a Southern Baptist Minister. I grew up Southern Baptist, and those roots have given me a love for the Bible and Jesus, even if this is also enmeshed with cultural evangelicalism. While I have distanced myself from Southern Baptists, I am still Baptist through and through. And one of the best ways I can serve my people is to show up, think well, work hard, speak out, and also write about these experiences.

I do wish this had been my only negative experience. Unfortunately, there was also a business meeting wherein an amendment to a bylaw regarding the roles of members of the executive committee of ETS was introduced that would change all instances of “he” to “he or she,” and I (along with others) had to argue for this amendment to pass. I was called “overly sensitive” and a “product of wokeness” for arguing in favour of this amendment. Fortunately, only 11 people voted against the amendment out of a business meeting of roughly 120 voting members. Such a vote revealed not only the vocal nature of the group that opposed the amendment, but also their minority status in the broader society (and how few voting members attend these meetings!). Separately, women recounted being asked whose wife they were, not being looked in the eyes, or being called “girls.” In terms of ideology, one presenter compared egalitarianism to ebola and the way it is killing the church. Such experiences affect women differently from men, which is why we need more men to be advocates in these spaces.  

However, I am in a position of privilege that affords me the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical stamina to be in these places. I have an institution that supports me wholeheartedly. I have a partner who believes in me and will do whatever it takes for me to be in these spaces. I do not depend on the men in this society for my career’s success.

This is the place I am meant to be.

So, my reasons for staying at ETS are that there is hope that more scholarship that foregrounds Jesus will be researched and published, but also, in order to be in the room when arguments, positions, and people are being belittled. Of course, I do long for ETS to be a safe place for women, ethnic minorities, and frankly, anyone who wants to foreground Jesus in their scholarship. In my opinion, for now, choosing to be in this place, especially for these more vulnerable communities, is a matter of conviction and calling. Conversely, for those ETS members or affiliates who are not in these vulnerable communities, I do believe there is a responsibility to be in this place to advocate for change and ensure that ETS is the kind of scholarly community that causes growth instead of harm.

For my part, I am grateful to have a renewed understanding and sense of love for and calling to this people and this place, and I look forward with tempered hope for what is to come.


[1] I prefer the term mutualist to egalitarian given the baggage associated with egalitarianism and its focus on men and women having equal authority. Since I don’t believe that fellow Christians are meant to have authority over one another, I use mutualism to discuss the mutual submission of men and women to one another as this is the emphasis I see in the New Testament model of the church as siblings. Also, I recognise that being on the job market for only a year is remarkable.

[2] This would also include your land. As this is a journey I am very much still on, I don’t know enough about my ancestors to know all the lands from which we came, but enough to know that most of my ancestors were not indigenous to Turtle Island (North America).

[3] For a fascinating ethnographic sociology of the “Conservative Resurgence,” I would recommend Lisa Weaver Swartz, Stained Glass Ceilings: How Evangelicals do Gender and Practice Power, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2022.

[4]Imago Dei and Divine Presence: A Critique of Gender Essentialism,” in Discovering Biblical Equality. Revised and Expanded edition, edited by Ronald Pierce, Cynthia Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Christa L. McKirland is a lecturer in Systematic Theology at Carey Baptist College in Aotearoa New Zealand. She is also the Executive Director of Logia International. She loves working on theological anthropology and learning about this sub-discipline from her two children: Raya, six and Johnny, four.

Cognitive biases and thinking about God by Rebecca Webb


I’ve always enjoyed figuring out how things work. My background is in biomedical engineering, where I did my PhD in maternal vital sign monitoring and then worked in anaesthetic brainwave monitoring. I’ve observed first-hand the complexity of human bodies as I’ve analysed brainwaves to try and understand the neural mechanisms of consciousness. It is remarkable how much science has allowed us to discover and understand about the human body.

I’m currently working as a postdoc on the John Templeton Foundation grant on human flourishing and science-engaged theology at Carey Baptist College, New Zealand. I investigate ways that the cognitive sciences can partner with theology to help us understand how a human person can flourish. Part of my hope with this work is to exemplify the complementary relationship of science and theology, since I’ve found that, at the popular level, many people still think the two disciplines conflict with each other (and wonder why someone with a science background would become a theologian!). One topic I’ve become interested in is how cognition affects how people conceive of God, which is part of the discipline of Cognitive Science of Religion. I want to be aware of what biases might be influencing my relationship with God so that, if possible, I can overcome them to flourish and help others to flourish too. This blog post is a summary of what I’ve been learning in this domain.

A key concept in cognitive science is “cognitive biases” – an intuitive or default way of thinking when a person is processing and interpreting the world. Cognitive biases are not necessarily bad or faulty, but are about what happens naturally or automatically, such as the bias of a mother to love her child. One such cognitive bias is anthropomorphism, the tendency to attribute human features to nonhuman beings. Have you ever seen a face in the clouds? Or thought that your plant is looking sad? Anthropologist Stewart Guthrie proposes that our understanding of humans is so important to understanding the world around us, that people will find the anthropomorphism of God difficult to resist.[1] Studies have confirmed that, yes, adults intuitively attribute humanlike qualities to God.[2] For instance, humans tend to conceive of God needing to enter the room to be present with them, imagine that God has arms in which to hold them and a voice that can be heard. Indeed, anthropomorphic language for God is prolific in the Christian Scriptures and many other world religions.

Teleological reasoning is another cognitive bias. It’s the “Why, God?” question, the tendency to look for purpose in experiences or events, the insistence that it must have happened for a reason! For instance, after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Tokyo Governor Shinatro Ishihara told reporters that the disaster was “divine punishment” because the Japanese people had become egotistic and greedy.[3] He was looking for purpose in a devastating event. (However, later he retracted his remarks due to public criticism). A month later a Public Religions Research Institute poll reported that 38% of Americans surveyed believed that natural disasters, such as the Tsunami in Japan, were a sign from God. Humans tend to want events to have a purpose.

Although cognitive biases may be intuitive and natural, we must keep in mind the extent to which they are true and helpful. If, for those who believe in a God, we only conceive of God having human-like qualities, then we can limit our understanding and appreciation of God’s power. We need to be aware of our cognitive biases and proceed with caution when they are not true and helpful.

Another key concept in Cognitive Science of Religion is ‘mindreading’ or the Theory of Mind. Did you know that humans can mindread? Unfortunately, this isn’t the telepathic ability that features in many sci-fi movies (although that would be an interesting superpower!), but the ability to infer what others are thinking, feeling, or believing from their eye gaze, facial expressions, body language, gestures, or tone of voice. By the age of 5, children can predict what another is thinking. [4] The higher-order Theory of Mind adds another step and asks, “What do I think you think I’m thinking?” (instead of “What do I think you’re thinking?”). Mindreading is thought to have given an evolutionary social advantage because it allowed humans to know who had reliable information and could be trusted.[5] Neurotypical adult humans mindread constantly to communicate, cooperate, navigate social situations, and think morally. Even though this version of mindreading is far from paranormal, the extent that humans mindread is unique among the animal kingdom.

The Theory of Mind has been employed as one of the main psychological explanations for relationality in theological anthropology’s recent turn to relationality. For instance, Justin Barrett and Matthew Jarvinen argue that to be in the image of God is to have a higher-order Theory of Mind since this is what makes I-Thou relationships possible.[6] The caution here is to consider who may be excluded from this kind of relating. Autistic persons often have trouble anticipating what another is thinking, and thus could be excluded from normative theological statements based on the Theory of Mind.[7] Joanna Leidenhag reviews several theologians who exclude autistic persons, exposing that the “theological move from rationality to relationality does not escape the logic of exclusion, but only changes the group of human beings who are excluded.”[8] Autistic persons can have rich relationships with God, illustrating how caution needs to be had in bringing the Theory of Mind into divine-human relationships.

The Theory of Mind together with cognitive biases can tell us several things about how people might hear from/perceive God. Firstly, it is natural for neurotypical people to conceive of God as a humanlike agent and expect to hear from God as they would from a human. For people within church contexts, sermon illustrations that are metaphorical or use our imagination are therefore likely to be effective. However, we must keep in mind that it is humans that were made in God’s image, not the other way around, so we must not limit our understanding of God to our conceptions of him as a human, or limit hearing from God to the way we would mindread a human.

Secondly, if God exists, people have cognitive biases such as teleological reasoning that help them understand God’s mind. However, this also means people may infer purpose that is not true. Caution and testing are needed (such as, comparing these experiences to Scripture, Church teachings, and the local ecclesial body).

Thirdly, we must be wary of using a scientific theory to make normative theological statements. The Theory of Mind can help us understand how neurotypical people relate with each other and to God, but since it tends to exclude autistic persons, it cannot be the only explanator for human relationality. Instead, we need to ask how the Theory of Mind is not helpful, or could be nuanced, and develop other relational theories.

My hope is that by better understanding how humans tend to think will help us understand how many people conceive of God and to flourish more fully in this relationship as a result.

Rebecca is a postdoctoral researcher in science-engaged theology at Carey Baptist College, Aotearoa. Her background is in biomedical engineering and now she brings her love of the medical sciences into conversation with theology. She enjoys wrestling with how science can aid our understanding of who God is and who we are as human persons. She is passionate about journeying alongside people as they engage with theological ideas and making science accessible to the church.


[1] Stewart E Guthrie, “A Cognitive Theory of Religion,” Curr. Anthropol. 21.2 (1980): 181; D. Jason Slone and William W. McCorkle Jr., eds., The Cognitive Science of Religion: A Methodological Introduction to Key Empirical Studies (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 16.

[2] Justin L Barrett and Frank C Keil, “Conceptualizing a Nonnatural Entity: Anthropomorphism in God Concepts,” Cognit. Psychol. 31 (1996): 219–47.

[3] Devin Dwyer, “Divine Retribution? Japan Quake, Tsunami Resurface God Debate,” 19 March 2011, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/japan-earthquake-tsunami-divine-retribution-natural-disaster-religious/story?id=13167670.

[4] Justin L. Barrett, Rebekah A. Richert, and Amanda Driesenga, “God’s Beliefs versus Mother’s: The Development of Nonhuman Agent Concepts,” Child Dev. 72.1 (2001): 50–65, https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8624.00265.

[5] Justin L. Barrett and Pamela Ebstyne King, Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021), 61.

[6] Justin L. Barrett and Matthew Jarvinen, “Cognitive Evolution, Human Uniqueness, and the Imago Dei,” in The Emergence of Personhood: A Quantum Leap?, ed. Malcolm Jeeves (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2015), 171.

[7] Joanna Leidenhag, “The Challenge of Autism for Relational Approaches to Theological Anthropology,” Int. J. Syst. Theol. 23.1 (2021): 122, https://doi.org/10.1111/ijst.12453.

[8] Leidenhag, “The Challenge of Autism for Relational Approaches to Theological Anthropology,” 125.

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