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 Today, Christianity Today, and Bible Study Magazine.