Evangelical Theology – “Commentary”


So a while back, I talked about reading through one of Barth’s more accessible books with some folks. I think a few people picked up the book, but we never really figured out a way to generate a meaningful conversation over it. In my own re-reading of it, I started feeling bad about the recommendation. “Accessible” may not be the first word that comes to mind for my friends who are reading it. So in lieu of a legitimate reading group, and in a spirit of wanting to honor the folks who actually spent some cold hard cash on the book, I’m going to blog my way through it in the the hopes that one or two of my reflections will help others to make some sense of what’s going on there. That is, of course, assuming that I’ll be able to make any sense of it myself.

In the introduction (which is oddly called, “Commentary”), Barth sets out to define what he means by the terms “Evangelical” and “Theology”. While there is some overlap between Barth’s use of the word “evangelical” and more current uses of the word to describe a conservative movement within the larger Church, Barth isn’t caught up in quite the same turf battles of recent American church history. Importing our meaning onto his meaning will be more frustrating than helpful. That said, Barth did write in response to the liberal Protestant theology of his own place and time. This is an over-simplification for sure, but liberal Protestantism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought to reinterpret Christianity in terms of universal human experience, thereby removing any of its particularity. Once Christian faith has been reduced to vague spirituality, then faith becomes a matter of religious feelings or “consciousness”. In as much as there are parallels between early 20th century liberal Protestantism and early 21st century (post-)evangelicalism, Barth’s critique is as relevant today as it was in his day. I’ll leave it to you (or we can take it up in the comments) to make the connections.

So when Barth wants to define theology, he is blatantly affirming that the object of study is God. “Evangelical” theology goes one or two steps further to say that God has revealed himself as not simply a divine being, but specifically a triune God, and one discovers this trinatarian God in the pages of scripture. I realize for some reading that this shouldn’t need to be spelled out in any detail. In most people’s mind Christian theology tries to makes sense of the God of the Bible, but in Barth’s day (and perhaps ours) this is not what theology had become. Theology for some is not study of God, but a study of man’s experience of God or religious feelings or intuitions. I’m not suggesting that those aren’t important subjects worthy of study, but they aren’t necessarily theology proper. One can (and many have) responded that all we are able to study is man’s experience of God. This isn’t necessarily the place to rehash a whole long history of epistemology and religious experience. Instead, I’ll simply make the somewhat naive suggestion that if we make it our goal to start with humanity and our experience of God, then we are committing ourselves to a never ending game of navel gazing. On the other hand, if we take the scriptures at their word that God has revealed himself and we set our sights on describing that self-revelation, then even while acknowledging all the limitations of human creatureliness, Barth suggests we are at least aiming at the right target. I understand that some would see any and all talk of God as the ultimate game of navel gazing, and that the whole theological enterprise is predictably circular. My sense is that any discourse on reality in general has a certain element of circularity to it, which is exactly why we need a Word from without to save us from that fate. Anyway, this line of reasoning could go on and on. Eventually, one simply has to acknowledge all the complexities and then define what one is going to attempt and then go from there. That is more or less what Barth is doing in this opening section.

There is much more that Barth can and will say about this act of God’s self-revelation. My insanely brief commentary on Barth’s “commentary” in Evangelical Theology doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, but hopefully these thoughts can help you to begin to make sense of the context in which Barth is carrying out his theological vision.



I’m still neck-deep in my reading of Barth. There has been so much that I’ve wanted to share, but I haven’t been able to come up for air long enough to do so. I stumbled across this paragraph today and was impressed by a number of things. I’ll save my thoughts for after the quote, but first a couple quick mentions to help guide you through. One, this is following a discussion concerning the lack (but not absence) of straight-forward statements concerning Christ’s deity in the New Testament. Two, “dogmatics” is sadly a word freighted with baggage. Barth worked in a different time and place. Maybe substituting “theology” will help to avoid some of negative associations with dogma. Ok, go…

As a rule [affirmation of Jesus’ divnity] is to be found between the lines and inferred by the reader or hearer from what is otherwise said directly or indirectly about the name Jesus Christ. It awaits, as it were, the reader’s or hearer’s own confession. These facts might weigh heavily upon a dogmatics especially eager for as clear, comprehensive and precise an answer to its questions as possible. They cannot surprise us. The New Testament is the instrument of proclamation and witness; it is neither a historical exposition nor a systematic treatise. The modest task of dogmatics it has left to the Church, to us. But it is possible that by the very reserve with which it handles the confession at this central point, it might direct us more forcibly to the twofold statement [that Jesus is the Son of God and the Word of God] as being well-nigh the final import of its utterances. Church Dogmatics (II/1, p.14)

So much goodness here. Both ‘what’ he says and ‘how’ he says it demonstrate why he is so highly regarded. “It awaits, as it were, the reader’s or hearer’s own confession.” Beautiful. Barth is suggesting that the Bible isn’t more explicit concerning Jesus’ divinity because it is meant to be read as an invitation to faith and not simply a book from which we marshal enough evidence to convince ourselves and others of the “facts” about Jesus. At yet, Scripture isn’t left wide open for us to construct our own portrait of Jesus (no matter how much we remain committed to doing so). It is rather by its very “reserve” that one is strongly led to the conclusion that the New Testament writers themselves had. One might complain that if the Author had really wanted to be clear with us, then he should have been more forthright. Barth seems to suggest that the Author was as clear as he needed and wanted to be.

By the way, this isn’t all that uncommon a thing to come across in theological writing today, but this was written over seventy years ago. A man ahead of his time.

Time to dive back in.

The Handmaiden of Theology?

Yesterday, I attended a theology seminar in which a presentation of analytic and natural theologies were front and center. It was a fairly dense discussion (in more ways than one), but later I came across a video that helped to give a bit better lay of the land. I offer this as a help to anyone who might be unclear of the on the ways in which theology and philosophy intersect.

One of the interviewees calls philosophy a “handmaiden” to theology. In principle, I would agree. However, the concern would be that the handmaiden might not be content to serve, and instead seeks to become the overlord. I suppose it is more or less unavoidable. One’s philosophical presuppositions (known or unknown) determine how we will do theology. No one does “pure” theology. I suppose it is better to understand what that philosophical framework is and be upfront about it.

Believing the Bible


“What are you studying?” or some variation of this question is something I am asked fairly often. I wish I had a better response than “I don’t know” or “if I could tell you in two minutes, I wouldn’t need to write a dissertation.” While both responses have an element of truth to them, neither answer is helpful for the person asking. So in an effort to help friends, family, colleagues, and innocent by-standers understand more of what I’m giving the better part of three years to, here’s my attempt at a brief account.

First, I’m pursuing a doctorate in Systematic Theology. I know that for many, neither the word ‘systematic’ nor its counterpart ‘theology’ does much to stoke your passions, or even your curiosity. Understandably so. However, I would argue that all of us ‘do’ theology, and to a greater or lesser extent we do so systematically. Perhaps if you replace the prosaic sounding terms with ‘organized beliefs’ then maybe you’ll begin to see that this is something that all of us do. Not that organized beliefs is much of an improvement. Anyway, Systematic Theology is a discipline that is distinct from Biblical Studies, or Church History, or Practical Theology, or Biblical Theology, and so on. It is unfortunate that the turf is marked out in this way, but it isn’t entirely unjustified. In other fields of study, we are happy to have various specializations. We like that there are heart doctors and brain surgeons and psychiatrists, and that they all carry out their narrowly prescribed thing well. Or that there are electrical engineers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers… you get it.

Within the field of Systematic Theology, I am looking more specifically at the Doctrine of Scripture. Generally speaking, most of us hold certain understandings about what kind of book the Bible is. Is it inspired? Are certain parts more relevant for people than others? Does it contain errors? What kind of role is it meant to have in a person’s/church’s life? For Christians, what we believe about Scripture is one of the most fundamental doctrines upon which the rest of our theologizing is built. It is the book that in one way or another communicates who God is, his activity in the world, and how we are meant to live in light of that. There are maybe one or two other doctrines that have a more far reaching impact on our understanding of God and faith, but this one is way up there. The inherent significance of this particular doctrine may explain why there seems to be perennial interest in the topic. As a case in point, Rob Bell has been tumbling his way though some kind of answer to this question. And in characteristic ‘robelling’ (its a word, look it up) fashion, he’s promoting a fairly healthy conversation, and his reflections are mostly good. Nothing earth-shattering, but good. Or at least thought-provoking.

So back to my project. In thinking through what the Bible is, two theologians in particular have exerted considerable influence on Christian understandings of the Bible. One guy is Benjamin Warfield. He was an American Princeton theologian who lived during the late 19th/early 20th century. He is most famous for his vigorous defense of the authority of Scripture against various secularizing impulses in the Academy and the Church. It was Warfield who popularized the term ‘inerrancy’ that many (mostly American) church’s and religious organizations have in their statements of faith. The phrase ‘Bible-believing’ also probably has some pretty organic links to the kind of thing Warfield was trying to promote.

And then I’ll be looking at another fella named Karl Barth. I gave a bit of background on him in my last post. When I tell people that I’m interested in Barth’s doctrine of Scripture, I sometimes get a raised eyebrow. Some of my friends are a little suspicious of Barth, precisely because he isn’t fond of the term ‘inerrancy.’ However, to suggest that Barth didn’t hold an extremely high view of the authority of Scripture because he didn’t affirm inerrancy simply reveals that Barth hasn’t been read. In fact, I think one could make a pretty strong case that Barth understood the authority of Scripture in a way that has more weight than many within ‘Bible-believing’ churches today. I realize that for most, it is impossible to hold together a high view of Scripture without also affirming inerrancy, but theology can be complicated. Now there are aspects of what he believes concerning the Bible that deserve some critical evaluation, but whether or not he placed a high value on the scriptures is undeniable. Ok, I realize that I haven’t really told you what Barth believes about Scripture, but that is what justifies a thesis length treatment.

So that’s more than most care to know, but less than others might want. In summary, I’m basically looking at the doctrine of Scripture through the lenses of two paradigm-defining theologians and trying to make some good sense out of the two. This doesn’t even touch what Jesus, Paul, Moses, David, or Isaiah believed about the sacred writings. Some people might go out on a limb and suggest that their beliefs matter too.

In case you’re wondering, I’m the life of the party.


Karl who?

Most of you reading this are aware that I am currently working towards a degree in theology at the University of Aberdeen, but you probably don’t have a clue what I’m actually studying here. When I’ve talked about it in the past, I’ve been fairly brief – Barth and Warfield on the doctrine of scripture. I’ve come to realize the error of my ways and I recognize that this doesn’t actually mean much to most people. If I took some creative license and went with “What do Rob Bell and John Piper believe about the Bible and why does it matter?” then I would be speaking in terms that get closer to what the majority of my readers (North American Christians) would more readily understand. Which perhaps begs the question, why am I not writing on what Rob Bell and John Piper believe about the Bible? A question for a another time.

The main reason I’m taking the time to post is to invite you to read Karl Barth along with me. Tempting, I know. Let me give you a short sell on why you should consider reading Barth.

He is often described as the most influential theologian of the 20th century.
He is both revered and reviled.
He has had a profound impact on my thinking about God, the Bible, the Church, and the world.
He is Swiss.
He will at time leave you perplexed while also leading you to worship. He might even go so far as to say that your state of perplexity is an act of worship.

I’ve never been much of a salesman. Anyway, I’m planning on reading some ‘easy’ Barth with some friends, and if you want to get in on the conversation consider this your invitation. We are planning to work through his book “Evangelical Theology: An Introduction.” By way of full-disclosure, ‘Evangelical’ and perhaps even ‘Theology’ don’t mean entirely the same thing that most of us are accustomed to. This probably has to do with his being Swiss and working during the mid-20th century. It is a book that emerged from a series of lectures that he delivered late in his career during his only trip to America. So I guess one could think of it as his attempt to introduce his thinking to an American audience after a lifetime of scholarship.
51rhmRn9O6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Ok, so clicking the cover or HERE gets you to where you can buy the book. Or if you don’t mind reading online, you can find it HERE for free. (Sorry. I didn’t realize that this is a university resource. Bummer.)

Not sure how fast we’ll read or what venue we’ll use to discuss, but we’ll get it sorted out. This is just the sort of thing you want to be reading while recovering from the Turkey coma that many of you will slip into over the next few days.

Chinos to Scotland


You’ve probably landed here to find out what in the world is going on with the Chinos. Likely, you have heard a crazy rumor that my family and I are hoping to take up residence in Scotland in a few short months.

Well, it’s true.

It is a very long story, but the shorter version of it (as I recently shared in church) is that I have been admitted into PhD programs at the universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Both schools have a rich history of solid Christian scholarship, and it would be a privilege to study at either place. This opportunity comes as the culmination of a long academic journey and an equally long-standing dream of making a theological contribution that benefits both the Academy and the Church. I intend to take some time in future posts to explain my research and writing, but I hope it goes without saying that I wouldn’t be undertaking such a huge endeavor if I didn’t think it was work worth doing.

edinburgh new college

However, I don’t plan on spending three years of our lives there with only a degree to show for it. I’m convinced that God has other purposes beyond the academic for our time in Scotland. It is probably a little premature to say exactly how we are going to serve the people of Scotland, but it is certain that we will be actively serving the church and community there.

Fellowship North (our church for the last eleven years) has a mission to make disciples of all people, and vision to mobilize a racially-unified family of God, called out as the presence of Jesus in our world, to pursue His mission: all people reconciled to God. Honestly, as I think about what our family is called to while we are in Scotland, it would be difficult to improve on that.

Over the last year, I have become increasingly interested in the two-word phrase “make disciples.” A ministry called DownLine was recently launched in our community, and I have had the opportunity to teach some of the sessions and get to know the people involved with this organization.


DownLine exists for the purpose of equipping Christ followers to make disciples. Sound familiar? I hope that all of us realize that neither Fellowship North nor DownLine thought up this stuff on their own. Both organizations simply read Matthew 28:19-20 and come away convinced that the mission is pretty straightforward.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

I consider it a providential blessing that I was able to become familiar with DownLine over the past year, because it has given both a model and a strategy for how this work can be initiated in other communities. My hope would be to launch a similar disciple-making movement during my time in Scotland. I have a few other ideas about how to go about making disciples while we are there, but I think there is wisdom in waiting to get over there, get settled in, and then begin to explore how the church needs to be strengthened and ways the community can be impacted.

Lots is still unknown for us. Where we’ll live? Where the kids will go to school? What life will look like for us there? What friends we will make? Where we’ll go to church?

But one thing is abundantly clear. We won’t be able to do this alone. If this vision is going to become reality, then we’ll need people who would be willing to partner with us in this venture. Fellowship North has agreed to receive funds on our behalf during the next three years. We’ll need a considerable amount of funds to get established in a new city, and we’ll need monthly support as well. We would consider it an honor if you would prayerfully consider supporting us through a one-time donation and/or monthly support. For those of you who are comfortable with online-type financial transactions, the easiest way to get started is to click the following link…


Once there, you can setup an online account and establish recurring scheduled giving. Or you can use “quick give” for a one-time donation. Either way, be sure to find “Seminary Scholarship Fund” in the drop-down menu choices, in order for the funds to be designated towards our work.

You are also welcome to give on Sundays, setup your own bank’s online bill pay, or mail a check to the church. For general information about giving in these ways, visit… http://www.fellowshipnorth.net/give/

As before, while the check is made out to Fellowship North, you will need to note “Seminary Scholarship Fund” on your check if would like to support us.

We consider it an honor and a privilege to be going on this journey, and we would love for you to partner with us financially and prayerfully. You can keep up to date with how to pray for us in a few different ways. You can email me at tjchino at gmail dot com, and I will include you on a monthly email update.


For much more regular updates on what is going on with us, you can go to Alison’s blog (alisonchino.com) and become an email subscriber. By email subscribing, you’ll also get plenty of Chino recipes to boot.


For you Facebook-ers, find her at Chino House, and click “like.”

Of course, I’ll occasionally be sharing my two-cents right here at Square Pegs. How ever you choose to stay in touch with us, we are grateful that you want to join us in this journey. Your love and support mean more to us than you can ever know.

If you have any questions or would like to talk to me about any of this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Much love,

Taido (for the Chinos)

dreams revisited

University of Edinburgh

Have you ever noticed how pursuing one dream can give rise to about a half-dozen others? How reaching one summit provides the opportunity to set your sights (and those of others) on three or four more? This inherent desire for “more” rides a fine line between an unhealthy appetite fueled by malcontent and a (hopefully) more admirable passion to do as much as possible to benefit the world. I’m pretty sure I have no idea where that boundary is and your guess is as good as mine which side I’m on at any given point in time.

Case in point, it only took a couple of days for the initial surprise and excitement of being admitted into Aberdeen and Edinburgh to wear off. When it did, I pretty quickly turned to the following inner dialogue. “Ok, so now what? So you made it into two highly respected schools for theology. What’s the big deal? So you go get a fancy degree. Big whoop.”

Why do we do this to ourselves? What is it inside of us that causes us to denigrate and belittle most anything we accomplish in life? Or maybe it is just me and my own particular brand of neuroses. I could get elected president and still ask myself the question, “Is that all you’ve got?” My need for therapy is duly noted.

It won’t come as a surprise then that my one-time dream of studying at the highest level in one of the world’s finest schools already looks a bit shabby. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still planning to go. And I still think the work I hope to do is much needed for both the Academy and the Church. I truly believe that solid Christian scholarship (in any field) is one of the many ways a person can be faithful to their calling.

However, I’m coming to the realization that our purpose in going to Scotland can hardly be for the education alone. Even less so for the cross-cultural experience my family will have. Certainly not for the oft maligned haggis. No, it seems much more likely that what is waiting for us in the UK is ministry – in the fullest sense of the word. It would be difficult to imagine a life there in which my twenty-plus years of working with a wide range of people in various kinds of ministry settings didn’t somehow come into play. People are people no matter where they are, and my guess is that people in Scotland have similar spiritual needs to those in the good ole US of A.

I even have a few ideas of what I would like to see happen over there. In the last year or so, through a number of converging influences, I’ve been challenged to rethink the importance of discipleship. You wouldn’t think that this should be much of a paradigm shift for a pastor, but the truth is that despite our best efforts at ‘ministry,’ sometimes discipleship ends up being a happy by-product and not the main thing. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that the methods most churches go about ‘discipling’ people (sermons and Sunday school/small groups) are only partially effective. They are necessary and important, but it is misguided to think that simply preaching and teaching results in discipleship.

With this in mind, I have high hopes of discipling a handful of people during our time in Scotland. Sounds strange to say that. Counter-intuitive even. Normally, people like me would want to reach the masses. But what if instead of teaching and preaching to a few hundred people with marginal results, I was able to have a deep and lasting impact on 3-12 people. What if the legacy I was able to leave in Scotland was a dozen people committed to a life-time of disciple-making? Jesus had three years of public ministry. I’ll be working with a similar time-frame. He had a deep impact on a dozen. He showed what could happen when a comparatively small group of people have their lives turned upside down by him. Let’s be clear, I’m no Jesus. Not by a long shot. But that shouldn’t necessarily keep one from adopting a similar approach. Like I said, I’ve got a few ideas about what this could look like, but in many ways it is going to have to be one of those ‘wait and see’ kind of things.

Ok, well I’ve pretty much brought you up to speed on everything I know of the story right now. Everything that is, save one. The next step in the journey isn’t going to be a solo endeavor. It won’t even be a Chino thing. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. What has happened in my life has been the result of people showing up at just the right time and place with exactly the kind support and encouragement that was needed. If this dream is going to become reality, it will result from the community of God’s people wanting it to happen. There is a near crippling sense of embarrassment that comes from having to be so openly dependent on others.

I suppose that this is exactly as it should be. If it was a dream that I could accomplish on my own, then it would most certainly be too small a dream. My sense is that the dreams really worth accomplishing are those that can’t be done solo. My coming to this realization over the last few years has been a long and often painful process. However, I can finally and truthfully say, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

more to tell

view from CALS

A week or so ago, I shared the semi-epic journey of bringing my Master of Theology degree to completion. It was a wild ride and I am happy to have it behind me. For whatever reason, more than a few people have asked if they can read the finished product. I can’t figure out if they have a deep and abiding interest in how 1 Peter makes use of Isaiah, or if (more likely) they are battling chronic insomnia.

Either way, HAVE AT IT. This is just the intro, but I’ll send you the rest if your interest holds.

And yet, as I was bringing the tale to a close, I suggested that there was more to the story. Indeed, finishing the ThM was only the beginning. Working on the thesis revived a long-time dream of going on to pursue doctoral study in theology. This dream dates back at least fifteen years to when I was living in Seattle, and in many ways it was the catalyst for embarking on the ThM in the first place. My previous master’s degree was demanding and rewarding, but it left a gap in my academic work that the ThM was designed to fill – rigorous original research. Had I been gifted with greater foresight, I could have navigated my MDiv in such a way that would have positioned me better for a PhD, but I was young and dumb.

Now much older and only marginally wiser, I am able to recognize the tremendous value of my time at Regent. While I may have bemoaned the exceedingly high demands placed on my research and writing, their turning up the scholastic heat really did seem to pay off. At least, that was my hope six months ago.

Around the holidays, shortly after my master’s proposal was approved and I was about to throw myself into the furnace (so to speak), I asked my supervisor what she thought of my prospects for study beyond the ThM. She had been nothing but honest with me in the past, so I had no reason to think she would pull any punches. Her reply was something along the lines of “you seem well-suited for this sort of work.” Which I think means, “you’re not completely incompetent, give it a go.”

This little nudge was all I needed to begin putting together applications to four different schools. By itself, the thought my returning in full-force to the world of academia teeters on the brink of madness. The fact that all four schools are located in the United Kingdom lands us right in the dead center of crazy. There are various reasons why the UK is the preferred route for me, but most important is the duration of the program. Because they don’t require any additional course-work (research and writing only), I would theoretically be able to complete the degree in a mere three years.

Let me go ahead and cut to the chase, I’ve been admitted to PhD programs at the universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen for study in Systematic Theology. Both schools have a rich history of solid Christian scholarship and are first-rate places to pursue the sort of work I would like to do. While I haven’t quite reached a decision regarding which offer to accept, it looks as if the Chino clan may very well be packing their bags for a three-year stint “across the pond.”

I wish I had time to go into all the details of the application process and how I was providentially met every step of the way, but that could easily turn this into a thesis of its own. Instead, there may be some value in simply making a list…

  • Arriving at an initial idea for a PhD proposal
  • Jumping from an emphasis in New Testament to Systematic Theology
  • Securing two academic references
  • The exact order in which I applied to the schools
  • Highly unusual words of encouragement along the way
  • Overcoming a less than stellar academic record
  • Receiving exactly the grade I needed for admission

Each of these bullet-points has a wonderful story behind it, but we need to move along. The take-away is that a several mountains needed moving in order for me to both persevere in the lengthy application process and actually gain admittance. I’m not sure I would have charted the course for myself this way, but it has been great to look back and see that more than mere happenstance has been carrying this thing forward.

If you reading all of this and are feeling a disorienting sense of shock and disbelief, rest assured that you are not alone. It is exactly the way we feel. When we got started on this some months back, we knew it was a possibility. The way winning the lottery is a possibility. When it actually happened, we were more than a little caught by surprise.

Speaking of winning the lottery, we will likely need to win an actual lottery to make the dream become reality. But judging from the mountains that have moved so far, what is another Everest or two?

I wish I could tell you that this is the end of the story, but (as you guessed) there is even more to tell.



an academic fairy tale

I realize that “academic” and “fairy tale” really don’t belong together. Other possible titles could have been, “There and back again, a graduate student’s tale.” Or “How to turn a one-year degree into fourteen.” Maybe slightly more inspiring, “How big a dream can you dream? Part 1.”

For the past six months, I’ve been working on it. And now, I’m done. Really, done.

thesis conclusion

By ‘it’, I mean my thesis for a Master of Theology degree. Finishing this has been nothing short of a miracle, and the back story on getting to ‘done’ deserves recording for the sake of posterity.

Fourteen years ago – that’s right FOUR-TEEN years ago – while living in Seattle, I enrolled in a Master of Theology (ThM) program at Regent College, “an innovative graduate school of theology” in Vancouver, British Columbia. Had I known the journey that lay ahead, I’m not sure I would have ever ventured an application. But ignorance is bliss, so I applied and was admitted.

One thing I was aware of at the time of enrollment, Seattle and Vancouver are separated by a two-and-a-half hour drive (not to mention a national border), so I knew going in that I would be spending lots of time and gas (i.e. money) traveling back and forth between home and school. What seemed like a perfectly reasonable decision back then sounds like shear madness now. Who in their right mind would travel FIVE HOURS to attend a two hour class once a week? This idiot, that’s who.

At any rate, over the next few years, I faithfully covered the miles and more or less knocked out all the coursework. During those repeated trips to Regent, I fell in love with the school. Everything about it is just right. Where it is. What it is. Why it is. Who it is. All perfect. When people ask me what seminaries to consider, and I get asked pretty frequently, Regent is always at the top of the list.

Regent College

The classes and the faculty who taught them helped me become a better theologian, pastor, and person. I already had my Master of Divinity, which was its own grueling labor of love, but for whatever reason my time at Regent was both demanding and life-giving in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Despite the long hours driving in the car, sitting in the classroom, toiling over books and research papers, being there was a good thing for me.

Here’s what I didn’t know going in. Since the ThM is the highest degree offered at Regent, the school takes it very seriously. I have no idea what the expectations are for completing a ThM at any other school, but I’m painfully aware of what they are at Regent. High. Insanely so. I seem to recall one professor saying that since Regent didn’t offer a PhD, they more or less felt like it was their responsibility to hold students working towards their highest degree to doctoral research standards.

Just great. Not only did I have the challenges of family (I don’t think I mentioned that two of our four children were born during this time) and work to deal with, not to mention the ridiculously long commute, now I’ve got people expecting research and writing from me that I wasn’t even sure I was capable of.

I’m not sure how to describe the next several years as it relates to work on the thesis. “A wash” is probably most appropriate. I had an idea of what I wanted to write on – “1 Peter’s Use of the Old Testament” – but I discovered that it was far too broad a research topic. Now I realize that for most, this doesn’t appear to lack specificity, but alas it was indeed too vague.

Meanwhile, life is changing – more kids, moving across the country, new home, new work – and as you might guess, the thesis (that I didn’t really have a clear idea of how to finish) fell effortlessly to the bottom of the ‘do do’ list. Even though it didn’t command my attention, I knew it was there. Most days, weeks, and months would pass without even giving it a passing thought. At other times, its unfinished state was akin to Paul’s famous thorn in the flesh.

Then came the summer of 2008. I was due for a sabbatical and I had the brilliant idea of trying to combine writing a thesis and a once in a lifetime adventure for my family of six in the Pacific Northwest. Once again, sounds reasonable enough, right? Yeah, right.


The summer is well chronicled by my beloved, and I highly encourage you to spend some time reminiscing on the madness that we fondly called “living the dream.” But it didn’t take me long to realize that I wouldn’t be finishing that summer. Honestly, I would do good to come to the end of the sabbatical with a decent proposal. Humbled, but not deterred, I chipped away at the thesis while moving our make-shift home (a pop-up camper pulled by an aging 15-passenger van) from one place to the next, holing up in whatever library or coffee-shop I could find wherever we happened to be. And as expected, I walked away from the summer having made some progress on the thesis, but not much.

Returning home, the thesis returned back to the back burner. And to give the metaphor some sense of scale, it was on the very back burner of a friend’s house who lived across town that I didn’t see but a few times a year. I would wave at it every now and then, just often enough to remember it was still there. And the stove was off.

Once again, weeks, months, and years rolled by. Same ole, same ole.

Until something changed. And that something was a willingness to ask for help. On February 23, 2012, the day after Ash Wednesday, I awkwardly asked a group of men to pray with me during Lent concerning what the future held. There are a couple of pretty incredible stories there that I’ll have to go into at another time, but the short version is that at the end of Lent, we all regrouped and they affirmed that I should do whatever it took to finish the thesis. And their words of encouragement and prayers were exactly what I needed to face the challenges that lay ahead.

You see, in order for this to happen, at least four things would need to fall into place. First, the leadership at church would need to be willing to let me take the time to do the research and writing. Second, I would need to seek and be granted an extension from Regent. Third, I would need to secure a new thesis supervisor from among the faculty at Regent (by this time, my previous supervisor had left the school). And fourth, I would need to find a way to have access to highly specialized theological books and articles, which I knew would prove difficult because Central Arkansas doesn’t boast much in the way of theological libraries.

I honestly wasn’t sure that any of these things would come to pass. The only hope I was going on was that a group of four friends were convinced that this was the course I needed to take. And so one step at a time, I walked through the process. And one by one, the mountains moved. The church made it possible for me to devote a significant amount of time each week to thesis work. Regent was gracious enough to grant the necessary program extension. Two down, two to go.

Securing a thesis supervisor was going to be a little tricky. The most likely candidate for supervising was a New Testament professor who is something of an expert in the New Testament’s use of the Old. However, he was on study leave and therefore unavailable. Enter Mariam Kamell, a recent addition to Regent’s faculty who had recently finished her PhD work in New Testament. After a round of emails and a phone call or two, she agreed to supervise my work. More on Mariam later, but for now just ‘one’ to go.

I was fully prepared to make regular trips to Regent (at no small expense), in order to have access to the library, which is one of the finest theological libraries in North America. Then Alison suggested that I at least check with our local library to see what they might be able to do for me. My acting on her suggestion (and Lord knows that I don’t always take her advice to heart) was the difference maker. I discovered a little thing called ILLIAD. I don’t know exactly what it stands for, but the words “inter-library” and “loan” are somewhere in there, and basically what it means is that any book or article on the planet can find its way into my hands within a week or two. And I mean… any book. FOR FREE! My friends, the world had just opened up to me. I don’t know how many requests I’ve made in the last six months, but I would venture to guess somewhere approaching one-hundred.

So with the obstacles (and excuses) out of the way, the only thing left keeping me from getting it done was me. Literally, everything had fallen into place and now I had to face the unfortunate truth that I am my own biggest obstacle to getting most anything done. However, having reached the proverbial point-of-no-return, stopping now was not option. It helped that there were four guys who would have taken me to task if I gave any indication at all of not moving forward. And so, I took the next step.

It is now May of 2012, I send off the proposal that I had thought was in pretty good shape to my recently acquired supervisor. At this point, I should clarify what the “proposal” stage is all about. In most peoples’ minds, a proposal is a few paragraphs – a page at best – describing what you think you would like to write about. Someone signs off on that and then you get to go write your thing. At Regent, a proposal is a carefully researched, fully annotated, highly scrutinized, twenty-five page document detailing what you plan to argue as original research. This ain’t no book report folks. It isn’t even a summary of what you’ve learned after reading a couple hundred books and articles. It is you saying something that has never been said before about the Bible. The B-I-B-L-E. Only the most studied piece of literature in the history of the planet.

Mariam has many wonderful qualities that make her an ideal supervisor, and none more important than her honesty. After having read through the proposal, her candid (yet gracious) reply was along the lines of “you’re going to have to do better than that.” This was right before summer hit, and so her reply coupled with the irregularity of summer schedule set me back over two months. When August rolled around, I knew that unless I jumped back in now, I would probably be looking at another multi-year stand still. So I took the next step. Dove back in. Did more research. Carefully considered her feedback. And began to re-work the proposal.

I barely make a deadline for turning in my proposal to an approval committee. That’s right, a committee approves whether or not your proposal has any merit. No pressure. It came back and the hard work paid off. I was given the ‘green light’ to get moving. That happens at the end of November. The agreed upon due date is March 25th. I’ve got just under four months to produce one hundred and twenty-five carefully researched, well-argued, pages of fresh research on 1 Peter’s Use of Isaiah (yes, the Old Testament was too broad, so it got narrowed down to just the Isaiah references).

And that’s when things shifted into high gear. For four months, every week, I churned out page after page. Once a chapter was done, I sent it off to my supervisor and she would take it to task. Comments regularly came back, “not sure what you’re arguing here,” “awkward sentence,” “where are you going with this.” I would revise. All the while, keeping moving forward. And slowly, chapters were finishing and an argument was coming together. I would stare at my laptop until it felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head. But finally, one day, I was done. Just like that. And not only done, but done with a piece of well-researched, carefully argued, and I think, important contribution to the field of biblical studies.


Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend convocation in Vancouver. I’ve never been one given to ceremony, fanfare, or sentimentality. However, walking across that stage brought to conclusion something that was definitely worth marking and celebrating. It was a watershed moment that I’ll always look back on to remember that sometimes the faithfulness of God takes many, many years to recognize. In our “on-demand” culture, I feel like this is a much needed reminder.

Like I said at the outset, it is nothing short of a miracle. And by and large, the miracle came in the form of people. People who gave exactly the sort of support and encouragement that I needed at exactly the right time and place. Maybe one day, I’ll learn that lesson for good.

And yet, my friends, getting to ‘done’ is not even half of the story.

love and wrath

As I was preparing for some teaching I’ll be doing this Sunday, I came across this great quote in Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. I can’t believe that I didn’t include it a few months ago when I was doing my round-up of Volf-isms.

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.

Once we accept the appropriateness of God’s wrath, condemnation, and judgement, there is no way of keeping it out there, reserved for others. We have to bring it home as well. I originally resisted the notion of a wrathful God because I dreaded being that wrath’s target; I still do. I knew I couldn’t just direct God’s wrath against others, as if it were a weapon I could aim at targets I particularly detested. It’s God’s wrath, not mine, the wrath of the one and impartial God, lover of all humanity. If I want it to fall on evildoers, I must let it fall on myself – when I deserve it.

Also, once we affirm that God’s condemnation of wrongdoing is appropriate, we cannot reserve God’s condemnation for heinous crimes. Where would the line be drawn? On what grounds could it be drawn? Everything that deserves to be condemned should be condemned in proportion to its weight as an offense – from a single slight to a murder, from indolence to idolatry, from lust to rape. To condemn heinous offenses but not light ones would be manifestly unfair. An offense is an offense and deserves condemnation.

Nice cheery thoughts to get you ready for a Happy Thanksgiving!