Written by John Oliff Wednesday, 01 August 2012 00:00

Introduction: One of the purposes of the implied authors of the Gospels is to present Jesus Messiah as completing the mission YHWH began in the Former Testament. Having said that, it should not be assumed all the Evangelist’s tell their stories the same way, even while having a unified subject, Jesus Messiah.

A little theory never hurt anyone:The Gospels were written to preserve the memory of Jesus in the early church and for future generations. Because the Gospels are stories a word (a short word!) is needed about approaching them. The fact that the Gospels are stories is not new; since the emergence of Narrative Criticism in the 1970s (the child of The New Criticism of the 1950s), scholars have read the Gospels as stories – whole stories! Reading the individual stories is not easy, for we intuitively want to “fill in the gaps” with what we know from the other three witnesses to “complete” the story; the problem I see in this is that the other witnesses do not “complete” the story, they tell an altogether different story. When we allow information from the other Evangelists “fill in the gaps” we take away from the implied authors agenda, thus ending up with another, more dynamic, story. As readers of the biblical text we do not do justice to the Evangelist’s by performing such acts – let the story reign! Thus, one of my passions is to assist students to be hearers of the individual narratives, to let the story, its plot, characters, tension, reign supreme over my reading, thus, doing what it is designed to do.

Mission: The mission Yahweh as found in the Older Testament comes to its telos in the Incarnation where Yahweh not only continues his mission to Israel, but also extends it to the Gentiles – one people, one covenant, joined to Yahweh through the mission of victorious warrior Messiah, Jesus. This is the mission of Biblical Theological Seminary. We tell the story, reminding students that Jesus’ victorious mission is the mission of the body of Christ while we await the return of its King, Jesus (cf., Philippians 3:20-21, et al).

The following is an example of Jesus’ mission told through the eyes of the author of Mark:

The Gospels all have interesting starting points. Matthew begins with a genealogy tracing Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham; after Luke’s introduction in 1:1-4, the writer introduces the reader to John the Baptist and Jesus with poems reminiscent of Hannah’s Song and Old Testament oracles; John’s prologue sets the stage for the ensuing narrative by placing the Word at the beginning with God; Mark begins his interpretation of the Christ event by citing Scripture(s). It is the last of these that will occupy several essays.

“[The] consummation of the in-breaking of Jesus Messiah [Son of God], as it has been written in Isaiah the Prophet, “Behold I am sending my Messenger before your face who will prepare your way, a Voice of one crying in the wilderness[ish places] make ready the way of Yahweh, make his paths straight. (Translation mine)

The beginning of Mark is unique among the gospels. It begins with a conflated citation which forces the reader back to the books (I am hesitant to use the term book as it is an anachronism, but for our purposes we will retain it. Most scholars now understand the importance oration played in the years before the New Testament; Richard Horsley suggest less than 3% of the Roman Empire were literate [Hearing the Whole Story]) of Exodus, Isaiah, and Malachi. Markan scholars are divided as to whether or not Mark has the individual books in mind, or, whether he was summarizing the motifs from the various books in question. For the last 13 years I have reflected on this text and have concluded the following; I pass them on to you to encourage you to reflect, question, and as an aid in your journey through Mark’s wilderness.

(1) Mark’ story is primarily concerned with presenting the arrival of Yahweh’s (Warrior) Messenger in the midst of Israel’s present exile – Mark does this by showing and not telling (the power in narrative is the way the individual story tellers weave their pericopes together to show the meaning of their story – they are not primarily concerned with didactic formula – “hey, this means such-and-such,” but they are master shower”); (2) Mark is picking up on themes which resonate within the current socio-political-biblio-consciousnesses of his audience; thus, the implied author of the Gospel of Mark writes assuming his audience understanding of the literary past; (3) Mark’s conflated citation opens the door for Mark presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of the long awaited agent of the New Exodus, the Dominion of Yahweh; again, the implied author does this by retelling the Jesus story as an example of Yahweh’s “incarnational-kingdom-arrival-story;” (4) the conflated citation is best understood as an ancient epigraph; thus, everything in Mark’s story is to be filtered through it, as though it were translucently hovering over each section; (5) as the translation shows, Mark’s wilderness[ish] gloss is to be understood metaphorically – it is the wilderness of Isaiah, not Exodus, that the implied narrator has in view.

Thus, Mark’s Jesus is the long awaited Agent of Yahweh missioned to initiate and fulfill the dominion of Yahweh. Rhetorically, Mark invites his reader to enter into his story through the epigraph, to follow his clues and cues, and watch the story of what it looks like when Yahweh again breaks into humanity – the blind see, the deaf hear, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (cf., Isa. 35 echoed in Mark 7). This, and only this, is the dominion of Yahweh foretold by the story of the Hebrew Scriptures. Let the reader understand!

Further reading:

Janice C. Anderson & Stephen D. Moore. Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, 2nd edition. (Fortress, 2008).

Seymour Chatman. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. (Cornell University Press, 1978).

Ira B. Driggers. Following God Through Mark: Theological Tension in the Second Gospel. (WJK, 2007).

Mark A. Powell. What is Narrative Criticism?: A New Approach to the Bible. (SPCK, 1990, 1993).

Wolfgang Iser. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. (Johns Hopkins, 1978)

John Oliff is Adjunct professor at Biblical Seminary where he teaches NT Greek (I-III) and various other NT courses; John has 13 years teaching experience on both undergraduate and graduate levels; He is currently completing his Ph.D (ABD) on the Gospel of Mark (Remythologizing Mark: The Yahweh as A Warrior Motif with emphasis on the ANE Combat myth Motif in the Gospel of Mark) under William S. Campbell.  John is also an Adjunct faculty member at Eastern University where he teaches Old and New Testament. His passion is reading text within their socio-political-rhetorical-religio-context. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; visit his website @ johnoliff.com (merestudent.com).


Written by Charles Zimmerman Friday, 27 July 2012 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now? 

I have been contacting founding faculty members to see what they are up to these days and then posting that information to keep all of you updated on their whereabouts and activities.     

This post updates us with Tom Taylor – TVT. 

Tom was the first Biblical faculty member that I met when I visited a church history class while contemplating attending seminary.  I was surprised to discover that laughing was permitted in a seminary classroom and I thought, if this school can make church history fun, it’s the place for me. 

Who can forget Tom starting a morning class by explaining how he had driven all night from a speaking engagement so he wouldn’t miss our smiling faces and sleepy eyes.  And if Tom ever had to miss a class, he left a video complete with harmonica introduction. 

After coming on the faculty, Tom made faculty meetings bearable with his snide comments spoken as he raised his eyes over his reading glasses from his needlepoint. 

1. What years did you teach at Biblical?

When Dr. MacRae and others left Faith Seminary in 1971 lo launch Biblical, I was one of the “others.”  It fell to me – I was assigned by Dr. MacRae to teach some Old Testament courses and church history.  

 2.  Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days

It was a great delight to me to publish the “weakly,” that mighty paper that enabled me to publicly poke fun at fellow faculty and otherwise be the means of disseminating announcements to the student body.  

3.  What have you been doing since then? 

Since the end of my formal teaching days, I continue to preach in a lot of churches and speak at conferences, with some counseling thrown in for good measure.  I have also had a book published: Old Testament Toolbox

 4.  What has been happening with your family? 

Ruth is taking good care of me.  She continues with conducting ladies’ Bible studies, and giving lots of advice to our children (they really need it!).  Grandchildren and great-grandchildren have arrived in such abundance we lost track of the count. 

Contact information:

  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

135 Middle Road, Dublin, PA  18917

Thus far in this blog series, we have heard from “Doc” Newman, Gary Cohen, Bob Vannoy, George Clark, Bill Harding, and John Grauley.  If you missed those blog entries, scroll back and take a look.  I asked each to provide contact information, so feel free to drop them an encouraging note and while you’re at it, attach a memory of your own to the appropriate blog entry. 

Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.  See alsohttp://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman


Written by Pam Smith Wednesday, 25 July 2012 00:00

Would you expect to see the president of a seminary to be living missionally by kneeling in the dirt not to pray, but to pull weeds? You would if it is Biblical Seminary’s president.  

He’s not just a president…he’s a member of Living Hope Church, a church that studied stewardship and came up with the idea of gardening as a way to bless the community. 

They’ve planted sunflowers, herbs, onions, tomatoes, peppers, beans, broccoli, beets, lettuce, kale, radishes and potatoes.  Church members and others in the community pay $25 a year and tend the garden a few hours a week to receive a share of its bounty. Everyone involved can take something from it and there’s plenty to take.

In fact, surplus from the harvest is donated to the church’s food pantry, which serves about 20 to 30 families.

Living Hope is hoping to attract interest in the garden among the larger community, something they’ve already begun to do. A local family decided to get their hands dirty this summer in the garden as a way to teach their daughters what it takes to put food on the table.  They’ve enjoyed themselves so much that the 12-year-old daughter started her own small garden — stocked with peppers and tomatoes — in their backyard.  The family expressed that not only is it a ‘cool’ thing to do, but they’ve also made some new friends.

Two of those friends: the seminary president pictured above and the pastor of the church who are enjoying building a relationship with this new family.

So, that’s how it can be for missional living.   It can even include broccoli.

Pam Smith is the Vice President for Student Advancement at Biblical Seminary and also instructs in our counseling program in the areas of career and coaching. Email Pam at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Written by Dan LaValla Tuesday, 24 July 2012 00:00

One of the things that I enjoy most about fundraising is that I have many opportunities to talk to people from different walks of life. Their stories give me a perspective that I would otherwise not have. I am often blessed by what they share. Recently, a common theme that I have heard is the increasing amounts of stress and fatigue they are experiencing. Many feel that it is a cumulative effect that has been building over the past few years. In my opinion, much of this is a result of the Great Recession that began in the middle of 2007. In my previous post, Giving ($) Cheerfully in This Economy?, I touched on the financial stresses many U.S. households are experiencing as a result of the decline in household income since 2007.

While it is obviously much less stressful and less tiring to be fully employed as compared to being unemployed or underemployed, looking at other phenomena occurring in the marketplace, it becomes very obvious why fully employed people are becoming increasingly tired. Typical statistics show that the U.S. economy lost close to 9 million jobs since the great recession and there are millions of more part-time and underemployed workers who cannot find full-time employment. While unemployment and underemployment have increased, various statistical reports show that worker productivity in the U.S. since the Great Recession has increased 6.5% to 7%. Further, due to electronic communications (e.g., email, smart phones, tablets, etc.), job obligations are pressuring workers to deal with work related activities on weeknights after leaving the office, weekends, and during vacations.

“Fatigue Creep” Defined

In structural engineering, fatigue and creep are causes for failure of a material at a stress value significantly below the allowable threshold. Fatigue of a material occurs when a material fails after being subjected to multiple loading and unloading cycles even though none of the instances of the applied stress crosses its allowable stress value. Creep involves the weakening and eventual failure of a material while it is being subjected to constant stress over an extended time period. While people are not inanimate materials, they do need to be conscious of the phenomena of fatigue and creep in their own lives in relation to their own physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual thresholds for good health.

Sleep Well and Get Enough

It is common knowledge that getting enough sleep is important for physical, mental, and emotional health. While the average adult requires 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night (children and teens need 10 to 11), today’s average is 6 to 7. Adequate sleep is important for restoring our energy and muscle strength, improved decision-making, memory, cognitive processing, and creativity; it promotes healthy emotions and the ability to cope with stress, weight stability, strengthened immunity to illness and diseases, and many more. Prolonged lack of sleep results in opposite symptoms: irritability, fatigue, lethargy, an inability to cope with stress, decreased cognitive performances, weight-gain, and decreased immunity that leads to colds, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.

Rest from Work

The need for rest from work is documented throughout Scripture and is modeled by God in the creation account (Gen 2:4). In the Ten Commandments, the fourth commandment tells us to abstain from any work on the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11). Exodus 23:12 explains that the Sabbath is to provide a means of refreshment from work for the entire household, including its animals. In Mark 2:27, Jesus emphasizes man’s need for rest when He stated, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” On the Sabbath, believers are called to come together to worship God and meditate on Scripture. In this process, we are nourishing our relationships with God, our extended family, and neighbors. In addition, take time to be still and meditate on God, share your burdens with Him (Ps. 46:10 and Mt 11:28-30).

Set Boundaries and Leave Margins in Your Life

It is important to set boundaries between your personal and work lives. Make it a priority to be disciplined enough not bring work home after you leave the office and do not check emails at night and on weekends. If your job requires 24/7 availability, then only deal with crises and emergencies after you leave the office or place of employment. Finally, set margins in your life so that not every minute of your day is scheduled with obligations or recreational activities. Your mind, body, and spirit need opportunities and time to naturally unwind.

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla. 





Written by Bryan Maier Monday, 23 July 2012 00:00

This article is inspired by a recent sermon I heard on the last half of James 1.

I grew up under the influence of what strikes me now as a somewhat simplistic view of the Bible. Week after week my pastor or Sunday school teacher would open the Bible, read it, and then ask, “How can we put into practice this week what we have just read?” For example, if we heard a sermon on greed, we were challenged to root out whatever greed we might find in our own lives. Same with jealousy, covetousness, idolatry or whatever other areas the Scripture might shine its light. We came to Scripture to find out what we were supposed to do, how we were supposed to think and how we were supposed to live. Just like a mirror, the purpose of looking at Scripture was one of self-evaluation.  

Then I went to seminary.

Slowly my approach to Scripture became less of a posture of obedience and more a posture of discovery. I wanted to know what the Bible said from a more objective viewpoint. In light of post-modernism and other factors, I realized that not everyone agrees about what the Bible even says. I went on to learn that scholar X believes the text says one thing and Scholar Y believes Scholar X has wobbly interpretive skills. Then scholar Z comes along in a patronizing voice and  charts the famous moderate or “middle path”. Somewhere along the line, my interaction with Scripture became less one of submission and more one of discovery. “What does this text mean?” had somehow trumped “How can I make changes to bring myself in line with this text?” 

Scripture was becoming a Mandala.  

Mandalas have their roots in Buddhism and are circular works of art that celebrate a unity within diversity. There are many images scattered within the circle but there is a central core from which all the various other images in the circle relate somehow – almost like a kaleidoscope. However, it is the posture toward a Mandela that I wish to emphasize. The wide range of meanings ebb and flow in the mind of the student until one central core begins to emerge and the student sees what the Mandala reveals.  But the student does not see the same thing every time and there is therefore never one established meaning. In summary, one looks at a Mandela to try to learn or discover something, not to obey.

Listening to the sermon on James 1, I was found myself nostalgic for the days when Bible interpretation was simple. Have I become so educated that I can no longer use the Bible as a mirror? Now I understand the value of study and paying close attention to what the text means (or may mean). I have some pretty strong views on doctrine and biblical interpretation. Scripture itself challenges us to “rightly divide the word of truth”. Even during the early church there were disputes about what constituted “the gospel” (see Galatians). So it is important to constantly be asking what a text means. But can I still approach scripture with a submissive attitude, asking the Bible to interpret me as I interpret it? A mirror after all, is a tool of evaluation. We use it to assess how we look with the purpose of doing something in response. Doing something in response to what one reads in Scripture is a central part of what I believe it means to be missional. May those of us engaged in seminary education never lose sight of our posture of humble submission as we approach God’s Word.  After all, isn’t obedience God’s love language? “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).


Bryan Maier is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Counseling program at Biblical Seminary. He maintains a private practice with Diane Langberg & Associates


Written by Phil Monroe Sunday, 22 July 2012 16:19

Our conference / course Abuse in the Church: Biblical, Legal, & Counseling Perspectives is over and now it is time for reflections. To be honest, depression and loss of faith are common reactions to spending 9 hours thinking about a bevy of issues related to abuse within the church. When you consider the huge impact of abuse on individuals and communities; consider how predatorial people deceive and use the goodness of others to do their dirty work; consider how organizations, including churches, often choose self-preservation over protection of vulnerable people; consider how hard it is to walk through the mess of abuse allegations…it is easy to lose faith in humanity.

But, our faith is NOT in the goodness of humanity. Our faith is in Christ who calls and empowers a people to rise above self-interest to sacrificial love and protection of others.

Still, we can feel that our meager efforts are insignificant when compared to the accepted statistic that 1:3 women and 1:5 men experience some form of sexual abuse prior to age 18. What can one conference of 110 people do to change the trajectory of how the American church handles abuse prevention and responses? What can 9 hours of training do to empower anyone to do almost anything of value?

You may be wondering if I have mistitled this blog post. Where are the “encouraging” reflections? Well, this morning our preacher took us through the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21) and made a particular observation that puts our conference efforts into the right perspective:

Our work as disciples of Jesus is usually very ordinary. By asking Jesus to bless our little, it becomes extraordinary. Do the best you can with what you have. That is the call of the kingdom.

Conference Reflections

  • 110 plus attendees comprising M.Div. and counseling students, pastors, deacons, lay leaders of churches, parachurch workers, social workers, psychologists, professional counselors, and at least one representative of the legal community
  • 9 hours of training across topics such as child abuse prevention policies and procedures, caring for victims, offenders, and congregation, considering moral as well as legal obligations for reporting, developing the right reasons for protection (protection and love over liability reduction), addressing spiritual wounds of abuse, understanding how predators act, and considering church responses to abuse allegations
  • Numerous side conversations about incredibly complex and painful stories of abuse with lay and professional leaders working out how best to respond or even to correct previous missteps
  • Networking and resource-sharing among church leaders to support each other as they improve their own policies and trainings
  • And finally, none of this could have happened without the tireless volunteering and serving of so many. Thank YOU, Boz, for coming to Philly and giving us your expertise. Thank YOU Theresa, Bonnie, Anita, Pam, Steve, Tracy, Jenn, Jack, Chris, both Al’s and many others who made this conference possible.

Multiplying loaves and Fish?

Think about it this way:

IF predators find the churches easy targets for victims and IF the average predator violate between 50 and 100 individuals before first conviction and IF only 10 churches represented at the conference develop more effective abuse prevention and response policies

THEN it is quite reasonable to think that as many as 500 individuals will be protected and not victimized, and THEN we might protect individuals at risk of becoming sex offenders and harming others.

NOTE: Conference video and audio recordings were made. We intend to make these available after editing PowerPoint slides into the videos. Check back here or at www.biblical.edu for more information.      

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology at Biblical Seminary where he directs both the MA in Counseling program and the newly formed Global Trauma Recovery Institute. Phil blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.


Written by Dr. Larry Anderson Saturday, 21 July 2012 00:00

Pastors today are scratching their heads wondering why their congregations are not excited about going out into the community to reach the people. The frustration of motivating the membership to commit to outreach is significant. What is being discovered is that people are not comfortable doing outreach because being neighborly is no longer natural. Many church goers cannot give the first and last names of the neighbors whose homes are located directly next to theirs. As a pastor, I’m noticing the lack of community has also made its way into the church.

Of course, church growth does not allow everyone to know each other’s name, however, there is also an intentional barrier being put in place to keep people at a distance. The consumer mentality says "I’m here to receive something, whether it is a good word, some nice music, or the casual fellowship, but I am not interested in giving something." Whether it is time, tithes or testimony, these are not areas most postmoderns are ready to release to their neighbor.

Small groups have been heavily relied upon over the last two decades to bring back the community, accountability, and fellowship in the church, but the question is, does it work? While reading some of the latest Barna research information, it was discouraging to see the lack of accountability currently within the church. However, in the miniscule percentages of churches that do have some form of accountability, the number one method of doing so was with small groups. In a culture of no absolutes and universal tolerance, judging anothers’ behavior and holding them accountable is viewed as antiquated and ignorant, at best.

Concerning community and fellowship, it has been discovered that if there were no relationships among the participants prior to the forming of the small groups, the chances of a community forming to the point of genuine intimacy and lasting fellowships were minimal. However, if friends with common interests in similar stages of life formed groups, the chances of these becoming a viable source of community increase significantly.

I’m looking to start some small groups this fall, and I’m praying that these groups will organically form and become intimate community settings which will surrender to the 'love thy neighbor' principle and prepare us to continue reaching out to our broader community and inviting them to join us in a relationship with one another and Jesus Christ.

Your feedback, experience, and advice are welcomed.

Larry L. Anderson Jr. is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Urban Programs at Biblical. He is also the pastor of Great Commission Church, previously located in the suburb of Roslyn, PA, but now situated in the West Oak Lane community of Philadelphia to provide a holistic ministry to an urban setting.  




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