The Move, the Diss., the Book

I’ve been pretty well off the radar for a while—not that anyone would accuse me of being a regular blogger. Reason #1 is our recent move to Murfreesboro, TN. Later this month I begin teaching as an adjunct professor in Lipscomb University’s College of Bible and Ministry.

To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I’ll be teaching two online courses and one on-campus course for the Fall semester: the Story of Israel, Biblical Ethics, and a third TBD course.

Let me address the obvious: it’s a little crazy to move across the country for an adjunct faculty position. (In academia, adjunct means part-time, paid per class.) It was time to get away from the cost of living in Pasadena, however, and, after almost seven years in Peru and another four in California, it was time to be closer to family. We landed in Murfreesboro because rent is more affordable here than in Nashville, and it’s exactly half way between LU and “the farm” (what we call my in-laws’ place, because it’s an angus beef farm…). The added bonus is that I’m able to do on-campus courses and get more involved in the school.

All the while, the dissertation writing continues. I’ve completed a draft of one chapter and part of two more. My outline is seven chapters plus the intro. and conclusion, but my mentors were pretty sure it would get reduced in the end. It turns out, not only do I outline long, I also draft long. So the whole process will be one of writing and reducing. Fuller’s dissertation guidelines stipulate a maximum of 100,000 words. Let’s just say I won’t have trouble maxing out.

Perhaps you’re wondering what my dissertation topic is. Here’s the working title: The Hermeneutics of Participation: Missional Interpretation of Scripture and Readerly Formation. That doesn’t mean much by itself, of course, but, apart from my mentors, everyone who has read my thesis statement seems to go cross-eyed and change the subject, so I’ll (try to) avoid jargon. Here’s the gist:

There is an interdisciplinary project among biblical scholars and theologians known as Theological Interpretation of Scripture. It advocates an approach to reading the Bible that sees the church’s theological commitments as making a positive, even essential, contribution to the interpretive process.

This is, in large part, an alternative to the viewpoint that has been dominant in modernity, even in seminaries and schools of theology, which assumes that theological commitments (traditions, doctrines, etc.) function only as biases, prejudices, agendas, and so forth that corrupt the interpretation of what the biblical text “really meant” historically.

In contrast, Theological Interpretation of Scripture assumes, like other critical perspectives, that commitments allow us to see what we cannot in their absence. An important dimension of this discussion is about how theological commitments function to give us “eyes to see” Scripture, and one of the key claims is that our commitments are lived out in practices that shape us as readers. In the church, some core practices are quite obvious: prayer, worship, communion, liturgy, and fellowship. The idea is that participation in these practices shapes us into better readers, readers more capable of interpreting faithfully, wisely, spiritually, and so on.

In some ways, this seems obvious, especially from the church’s standpoint. For example, we normally expect prayerful, worshipful, mature church leaders to be wiser interpreters of Scripture. At the same time, it is also easy to see how such a perspective could be labeled “biased.” For example, we expect readers who come to the Bible from a tradition often to find confirmation of their traditional conclusions and to be resistant to nontraditional interpretations. Postmodernity has occasioned new ways of thinking about these dynamics, however, and Theological Interpretation is part of that shift.

In any case, what the Theological Interpretation of Scripture literature largely lacks is an understanding of mission as one of the church’s essential formative practices. For the same reason that missional church literature has needed to make the argument that the whole church is called to participate in God’s mission—namely, the virtually universal assumption that mission is not the whole church’s calling—the advocates of Theological Interpretation regularly overlook mission. My argument starts from the assumption that “participation in God’s mission” represents a normal and normative set of church commitments and practices and should, therefore, be understood as an indispensable dimension of the church’s interpretive formation. The argument I’m writing is limited to a theological explanation of why it is the case that participation in God’s mission is vitally formative for readers of Scripture.

In other news, the book I’ve been co-authoring for a number of years with my former professors Mark Powell and John Mark Hicks has finally gone to the publisher. Its title is Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for Churches of Christ. I’m not sure exactly when, but it is slated for a 2020 release. It’s written for a wide audience, and it includes some insightful response chapters. I’m eager to see what sort of conversation it sparks and, above all, whether it proves helpful to congregations grappling with the what it means to be a part of the Churches of Christ stream of the Restoration tradition going forward.

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