The Almons are Moving to Edinburgh (and you can help)!

UofEdinburghI think most people we know are aware that C.C., Damaris, and I are headed to Edinburgh, Scotland near the beginning of September where I will be studying at the University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, for a PhD in Theology with Paul Nimmo listed as my doctoral supervisor. Now, before moving on I’d like to point you to a website that we have put together (the creative genius of C.C. and Damaris) that gives some information about our move – including some of the expenses involved. Just to state it bluntly, to say a move of this sort is costly would be very much an understatement.

So, one of the admitted purposes of the website is as a fundraising effort. And one of the purposes of this particular blog post is to say we are in need of whatever help you are able and/or inclined to give … whether it be $5, $50, $500, or $5000 (I’m confessedly not particularly good at this sort of thing so I’ll stop there. I think you probably get the idea. It was either this or an infomercial. :-)) Not only will you have our tremendous gratitude but there is the chance to win a book bundle or a hand knitted (or otherwise crafty) item or several other items as one way for us to say thanks. We’d appreciate your consideration of a donation to aid in our efforts and passing this along if know of someone who might like to help fund my research.

You can find the website here: Scotland or Bust.

Moving on now, pursing a PhD has been an aspiration for quite some time now (it seems life kept getting in the way), but it’s not something that simply dreamt up on my own. The call (and for me it really is a calling) to pursue a PhD has been confirmed over the course of many years in community with professors, pastors, and the churches of which we have been a part. For this reason, we believe this is what the next season in our service to the Kingdom of God and our liberating King Jesus holds for us. Truthfully, we aren’t quite sure exactly what to expect, but we are quite sure it will be an adventure. I can say though that I am very humbled to have received an offer from Edinburgh and am eager to get started. Just briefly I would like to give a few reasons why I am excited to be moving to Scotland and studying at Edinburgh.

edinburgh-castle-hdrFirstly, I look forward to opportunity to focus and hone my calling and vocation as a theologian, in which the theologian understands that he or she must first of all pray well, that the discipline of theology belongs to the church as Christ’s body in the world, and that the work of the theologian is in humble service to the church and her participation in the mission of God. I move forward into my PhD studies with the full conviction that my proposed research holds importance not only for myself as a theologian, but for the church’s participation in the mission of triune God as well, especially as we move further into a post-Christendom context.

Secondly, C.C. and I come from a Baptist tradition in Texas and New Mexico which generally frowns on women in ministry and leadership roles – particularly the ordination of women in the church. C.C. and I were fortune to attend a seminary that was not only supportive but also nurtures women called to ministry, as well as be a part of a church that ordained us both C.C. and I in a joint ceremony – something that still carries its own unique challenges and consequences, but which is a very intimate part of our life together. We look forward to joining in with our Scottish Baptist family for whom women in ministry and the ordination of women is more generally accepted and encouraged.

Thirdly, C.C. has a very painful and debilitating chronic illness called fibromyalgia, which for a time was manageable. However, she experienced a very sharp downturn in her health while we were working as hospital chaplains in Houston, Texas – known for its terrible heat and humidity. As a result, we not only had to leave Houston but we lost our health insurance as well. Plus, those who come from Texas know that Texas doesn’t really have seasons and the weather can change wildly – changes that C.C.’s body can’t keep up with. We look forward to the much cooler, more temperate climate in Scotland, with actual seasons, which will go a long way on its own to helping C.C. feel better – as well the availability of health coverage and medical services that we simply haven’t had access to the last couple of years here in the States. Ultimately, on the most personal of levels, one of my foremost goals is to get C.C. healthy enough so she can once again pursue her calling to ministry and chaplaincy. Our move to Scotland will help with this.

New College SnowAnd finally, for my dissertation I will be researching on my favorite theologian Stanley Grenz and favorite philosopher Paul Ricoeur – two scholars who have influenced me the most not only academically but also in my own faith and spirituality, and who have helped me to weave these threads together. Utilizing my research into the trinitarian and narrative ecclesiology and anthropology of Stanley Grenz along with the narrative and hermeneutical philosophy of Paul Ricoeur I will be writing on the subject of Church, Gender, and Mission. My aim is to develop what I am calling a ‘hermeneutical ecclesiology’ in trinitarian, narrative, and missional perspectives. I’ll avoid being any more longwinded about this here and now. At present, I’ll simply say that my one main purpose in life is to spend myself on behalf of the gospel in service to my liberating King Jesus in such a way that my life is intelligible apart from the God that Christians name as the communion of Father, Son, and Spirit … and that Grenz and Ricoeur have been instrumental in helping me find my way in this. In my view, my proposed research simply flows from a natural extension of this aim in life. I plan on saying more on all this and future plans in upcoming posts; for now I’ll direct you to the ‘thesis proposal’ link on the aforementioned website.

Before I go, as several have asked how they can help us make our move to Scotland, allow me to point you back to my comments at the beginning of this post and offer a reminder that information on the financial expenses involved with our move along with a Paypal button where you can make a donation if you so desire can be found here: Scotland or Bust. Also, if you know of any others who may have interest in my research or in making a donation, please feel free to pass this along.

Many thanks for your generosity, and support, and prayers as we make arrangements for our visas and plane tickets.

Until later, peace and blessings.

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N.T. Wright on ‘The Whole Sweep of Scripture’

“Until we wrestle with Scripture like that we are not really honoring it. If this is the book God meant us to have by the Spirit, then it is important we actually take that seriously instead of just snipping it down to make it digestible; like somebody with a huge banquet in front of them who insists on going to the back room and just making a peanut butter sandwich instead.” N.T. Wright

Below is a really great video from ‘The Work of the People’ with N.T. Wright on how to read the Bible. In it he touches on a problem that I take to be rather rampant in North American Christianity – that of picking and choosing verses here and there to the neglect of the whole story.

The holes in North American hermeneutics are revealed in the pursuit of agendas (whether consciously or unconsciously) of making the Bible merely into a source of raw data and proof texts for personal systematic theologies and apologetics (like the HCSB Apologetics Study Bible), a ‘life application’ instruction book (a la the Life Application Study Bible), or a self-help manual (have you seen the Joel Osteen Hope for Today or Joyce Meyer Everyday Life Bibles?). [Yes, I realize I probably just picked on some people’s favorite ‘study helps’ in this paragraph.]

Americans love control and I personally believe these (again, whether consciously or unconsciously) are ways that Scripture is held a bay and at a safe distance … one verse at a time.

Instead Wright encourages us to get swept up in the ‘whole sweep of Scripture’ and compares reading the Bible to listening to a symphony. One of the points of course is that one doesn’t merely listen to a symphony ‘one note at a time’ – one necessarily listens to and experiences the whole thing. To do otherwise simply doesn’t make sense and is to miss the point of the symphony itself. And it also occurs to me that the thought of a ‘note of the day’ devotional is rather odd; its inconceivable that one would think they can get swept up in the symphony in this way. Yet ‘verse of the day’ devotionals seem to be the steady diet of a great many North American Christians.  Are we settling for peanut butter sandwiches when there is a banquet available?

I say let’s put away the daily verse approach and really ‘press our noses against the window’ of Scripture.

The Whole Sweep Of Scripture from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

N.T. Wright on ‘The Shape of Paul’s Theology’

Below is a very good video in which N.T. Wright gives a fifteen minute introduction to the shape of the Apostle Paul’s theology. There are some things, I think, of particular note as you watch.

First, there is what Wright does not mention – in this case neither Paul’s theology of justification or the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith (and no, the two are not coterminous as some assume). This will be troubling to a great many evangelicals who consider justification in some form to be the epicenter of Paul’s theology. On this we should remember however, that even the conservative Reformed theologian Thomas Schreiner does not think justification is Paul’s theological center. Schreiner says that what God has done in Christ and Jesus himself is Paul’s center. (See for instance his chapter in Four Views on the Apostle Paul and his interview with Credo magazine.)

Second, Wright does us a great service by placing Paul in his first century context as the Jewish theologian he was. Too much of Paul talk has simply read Martin Luther’s problems with personal guilt and his issues with the medieval Catholic church back onto PauI. I think this sort of anachronism has overdetermined how Reformed and Evangelical theology since has treated ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel’ and ‘justification’ – these things being stripped from their narrative context and ‘systematized’ as it were, such that the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith became basic shorthand for and equated with the gospel. (For more on this see Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.)

The problem here, of course is that Paul was not a first century Martin Luther and the Judaism of Paul’s day was not the first century equivalent of the medieval Catholic church. Now, Paul surely does have a theology of justification by faith and the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith does say some things that are true. However, I would still say that 1) we get justification in Paul wrong when it is simply equated with the Reformation doctrine of justification and 2) we get the gospel itself wrong when it is simply equated with the Reformation doctrine of justification (which in American evangelicalism becomes further reduced to something like the ‘plan of individual salvation’).

Third, Wright’s mention for Christians to speak truth to power is instructive for the church in the U.S. during an election year when too many Christians are content to be pandered too with superficial God talk and do not have the wherewithal to avoid being used as pawns in American politics (left, right, and in between). Pay special attention here to Wright’s comments with Romans 1:14-16 in the background. I think here we get some important background that informs as to precisely what ‘gospel’ Paul was not ashamed of in Romans (and it has very little to do with our modern plan of salvation). Wright’s comments on I Thessalonians 5:2 concerning ‘peace and security’ as a Roman state slogan and a ‘giant con’ and a ‘protection racket’ I think has an important parallel for present day American Christians who embrace too readily the peace, security, prosperity, success, or happiness of the civil religion of Americanism or one’s political platform. As Wright states, ‘Jesus is the reality of which Caesar [and the Democrats, Republicans, or any other political ideology] is the parody.’ The gospel of the cruciform King Jesus should call into question ALL other political ideologies. ‘Jesus is Lord [King], Caesar is not’ forms the basic identity forming ‘politics’ and paradigmatic narrative for God’s people in Paul’s thought.

Fourth, in the second half of the video Wright sums up the three big themes of Paul’s theology as monotheism (or one God), election (or one people of God), and eschatology (or one future for God’s world). Each of these Wright emphasizes, gains a trinitarian focus as they have been rethought and reworked by Paul in light of the faithfulness of Jesus as the Messiah and the experience of the Spirit. With all this, Wright is summarizing the thrust of much of the argument in his book, Paul: In Fresh Perspective which has been instrumental in helping me to grasp Paul’s thought here and the integrating my own focus on trinitarian theology with narrative (and even missional) theology. I highly recommend it.

(HT: —of Paper, Pints, and Tweed)