Pannenberg on Listening to Preaching

As I was doing some additional dissertation work last night, I came across a wonderful paragraph by Wolfart Pannenberg in his text Theology and the Kingdom of God which concerns how we might approach listening to sermons.

When people are equipped to listen judiciously, the sermon is no longer an authoritative word Wolfhart_Pannenberg-1of God but an attempt to reformulate the substantial truth of the Christian faith. This reformulation is carried out in the context of contemporary experience and understanding of reality in all dimensions of human existence. It should be related particularly to the life of the community which is invited to participate in the reformulation. Thus the sermon offers an example and some guidance for the members of the community in their own thinking about the Christian faith and its present truth. The people should not judge blindly, and certainly they should not uncritically parrot the ideas of their preacher. Rather they are called to reflect in an educated and responsible way, taking into account not only theoretical information but also a comprehensive understanding of their won life’s experience. Preachers should make a special effort to speak to the concreteness of life experience.(emphasis mine)

He goes on to talk about how the goal is to recognize the maturity and autonomy of the individual. This is the goal of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16.) In our day of superstar, celebrity preachers who offer kind words of encouragement with little substance behind them the call for preachers to equip their congregations with critical thinking skills is rare. Yet in his wisdom, Professor Pannenberg is encouraging the orators among us to do just that.

May we endeavor to accomplish such a calling.

Feb 2014



High Capacity Leaders and Low Lids

One of the best leadership books anyone can sit down and read is John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Maxwell’s timeless laws that are linked to real world examples provide a life-shaping read for leaders of any age.

law of the lidThe first law of the book is one that most people remember well, probably because it’s the first law: The Law of the Lid.

Essentially, this law is exactly what it sounds like, in every organization (business, government, church, non-profit, etc) lids exist that determine effectiveness. If someone has a low leadership lid, they’ll usually have low effectiveness. With a high lid, high effectiveness is possible.

For most organizations, when a leader with a high lid capacity is brought in, they can often be moved across different departments and divisions. Unsurprisingly, success follows them. Low lid leaders, however, stifle their departments and divisions. Jim Collins works out some key concepts related to this in Good to Great where he differentiates between different levels of leaders. If we understand both of these concepts together we can see that often, individuals down-line of differing leadership lids have varying results. Usually when a lack of productivity is combined with abnormally high turnover, there is an indication that a low lids is in place. This turnover is often created when a high level, or capacity, leader is forced to work under a low level leader.

In institutionalized organizations, one often finds high capacity leader working in a low lid situation. There are lots of reasons for this, often it is because as an organization becomes established it seeks out, or is allowed to keep, leaders that have more established patterns of service even if they have had falling results. Because of the maintenance mode that is inherent to an institutionalized organization, honest internal reviews and personnel audits are less frequent since the status quo is more important than creating and sustaining a dynamic workforce.

The short version: established organizations thrive off the status quo.

As a result, these organizations are able to hire young talent with higher than average leadership abilities because of the security and experience that can be gained working in that organization. These young leaders begin getting more and more experience and soon find themselves bumping up against their lids.

So, what keeps a high capacity leader in a low lid environment?

Often we see that a series of trade-offs exist. At first that trade-off might be the experience of working in a position and gaining insights beyond a university degree. Perhaps for someone seeking to break into a new industry, this translates to creating a pattern of consistency that is more attractive to future employers than a shiny new MBA or (for churches) MDiv. Other trade-offs could be, the ability to build a network of relationships that will advance one’s career in the future; time to finish off a degree or complete certain certifications; financial stability to create a better personal situation; being able to work around friends who might be likewise employed; being able to get office leavingthe “foot in the door” for an industry; and many others.

The reality is that for high capacity leaders, of any age but usually younger individuals, they will stay in a low leadership lid situation so long as the trade-offs outweigh the cost to their leadership ability.

Once the trade-offs diminish in value, or perceived value, and the opportunities for external advancement increase above the value of the trade-offs, the high capacity leader will leave their low lid environment. Though it happens, it is rare for high capacity leaders to stay in low lid situations for the long-term. True high capacity leaders have the impetus and calling to get beyond their lids and be challenged by high ceilings and bigger venues.

Established organizations can create a lot of success by leveraging the insights, abilities, and passions of new, high capacity leaders and, if they recognize how vital it is to champion the successes of those who move on, can earn higher credibility and performance in allowing these leaders to move on graciously.

Feb 2014



About that Camel and Abraham

camelLast week a bit of a media kerfuffle emerged after several media outlets reported that a “new discovery” cast doubts about the “accuracy and truthfulness” of the Bible. This was not stunning news, these kinds of report happen often. Specifically here, the pieces were referring to an archeological discussion about camel bones.

The reports appears to center around a piece written by Martin Hiede, back in 2010, titled “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological andInscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel and Arabia,and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible.”

Certainly other, more informed folks, have written about this and given their more informed perspectives on the archeology behind this. Essentially, these qualified archeologists were excavating the site of an ancient copper smelting camp in the Aravah Valley when they found some leg bones from camels. After dating the bones to about BCE 900, they also noted that the bones showed no signs of domestication. This brings doubt to the use of camels in Genesis 12:16; 24:35; 30:43; 37:25 where camels are referenced in ways that demonstrate domestication.

However, the reports of the Bible’s utter demise seem, yet again, to be overstated.

As a means of working through this “new issue” let’s apply a couple of thoughtful apologetic processes consider the claim:

  • One of the first things I did upon hearing that the Bible’s testimony was suddenly both under scrutiny and possibly undermined, yes that should be read ironically, was consult a couple of technical commentaries I have in my study. One of the commentaries, Nahum Sarna’s excellent installment for the JPS Torah Commentary, written in 2001, points out the issues of early domestication against the certain archeological evidences (pg 96.) Sarna points out that this issue has been known for a while and there are some responses. He suggests that, perhaps, we are dealing with a different species of camel than is found elsewhere. So, two points here: 1) this isn’t a new problem and 2) very good, very informed scholars have already provided some responses.
  • Then we look deeper at the archeological discovery and note that negative evidence is tenuous at best and, in the words of Professor Hiede, “Proving that something did not exist at some time and place in the past is every archaeologist’s nightmare because proof of its existence may, despite all claims to the contrary, be unearthed at some future date” (337) This is not an exhaustive discovery since the site being excavated isn’t the entire ancient world. Other evidences may spring up in the future, the responsible action is to note the challenge and not make wild claims.
  • Even if this text comes from a later redactor, a reasonable claim in Old Testament scholarship, including evangelical scholars, this doesn’t mean the text suddenly a) isn’t inspired, b) isn’t coherent with the teaching of the Bible. We stand at such a distance from the inscripturation of the biblical text, especially the Hebrew Bible, that many references and idiomatic language can be lost in translation. However, an honest and forthright investigation of the text doesn’t take every “new story” uncovered four years after its publication and blow it up out of context.
  • If we trust in the media establishment to communicate authentically and with scholarly nuance we are setting ourselves up for failure. As Anthony LeDonne has aptly pointed out, even the media’s reporting they are confusing 900 BCE with CE 900…a difference of 1800 years. When scholars in the field, such as Alan Millard write concise letters to the editor much of the issues are cleared up. This is because these scholars have seen the issues before and also know of the contrary data that exists. Archeology is not the enemy of the faithful, yet too many reporters make their money off false-dichtomies like this.


The biblical text can be confusing at time and, in light of the scant archeological data around it, hard to comprehend as well. However, we will all do well to consider the actual arguments being offered and then see where scholars are in dealing with the primary issues. For evangelicals, and other Christians, we can have confidence in an inspired text that, though thoroughly troubling at times, is an inspired text that accomplishes what it sets out to do when properly understood amid its pre-modern times.

Feb 2014



Free Wedding Weekends

About a year and a half ago I was sitting in a counseling session with a wonderful young couple who wanted to come get some deeper insights about their relationship as they were navigating their relational channels towards marriage. One of their pressing concerns was that a wedding was simply too expensive to pull together.

Right now, in Fort Bend County couples will spend between$26,003 and $43,339 on average for their wedding. However, most couples spend less than $10,000. You can find out how much a wedding in your locale cost over at

For this couple, $1,000 was too much to spend but they desired to get married with some kind of meaningful ceremony. So as we began to through some options, I realized that their home church (where we were sitting) had all the facilities and resources to provide them their wedding…for no cost.

In working through this idea, and realizing that one of the top reasons for continued cohabitation in many other couples is the high costs associated with marriage, we came up with the idea of a Free Wedding Weekend. This would be a no-cost wedding ceremony for an individual couple who might otherwise not be able to afford one.

This is a no-cost weekend where the church provides:

  • Venue
  • Officiate
  • Music
  • Flowers
  • Basic Photography
  • Day of Coordinator
  • A set of photographs following the ceremony

Since I enjoy naming programs what they are, we just called it “Free Wedding Weekend.” As we began publicizing the event we place key ads in local magazines and in our own congregational publications. We had no idea what the responses would look like. For our first three we filled up the spots quickly and had wonderful responses. Each couple has to fill out a form to help in identifying couples with true financial needs. This is a ministry event that we hope would be meaningful and for connecting with couples desiring to be married but have limited means to do so.

From a ministry level planning stage, the costs were minimized because we asked several key lay people to help out while also agreeing to cover their costs. We have an amazing florist who is a member and she provides the platform flowers, in plain colors, and individualized bouquets for the brides. Photography (the really hard part of the day) is split between to two wonderful professional wedding photographers who also provide the editing and printing of photos. Our ministry staff facilitated the rest of the day.

Our chapel on campus is free for ministry use and properly air-conditioned, or heated, as needed for the day. We do require two things from the couples:

1. That they fill out an application for our weekend. In the application they agree to follow our directions about schedule, ceremony style, and a few other details.

2. They attend our all day preparing for marriage workshop, or a similar program, prior to the Free Wedding Weekend.


As a result we are able to offer a Free Wedding Weekend twice a year for couples who need assistance of this kind for a minimal amount of budgetary allocations.

In developing the day we also realized we needed to put up some controls to best serve our church family, ministry staff, and make each session meaningful for couples. Here are a couple part of the actual schedule for the day:

  • Each couple has a 90 minute time block with the ceremony beginning 30 minutes into the time block. Brides are asked to arrive nearly ready to go and they have access to our bridal suite.
  • The ceremonies all have the same format and though we would love to accommodate requests for added parts, we cannot accommodate these requests. Each ceremony is meaningful and unique to the couples as much as possible. The ceremony lasts about 20 minutes.
  • Basic photography is provided for each couple and their wedding party. All couples receive the same shots, same number of photos, and all photos are given to them, in an open format, on a CD after the ceremony.
  • We also provide 5 photo prints of varying sizes for each couple.
  • Even though our church has a sizable facility, because of limits on our weekend activities we do not accommodate receptions afterwards.


All in all the ceremonies keep moving and the weekend is over before you know it. Having wonderful support staff is vital to making sure everything runs on time. Our principal goal in all of this though is uniting loving couples in marriage. We believe marriage is a unique covenant between a man and woman created by God as the first institution for this world to make this world better and that marriage is an example of the future union of Christ and the Church. Our goal is to be active agents of grace in bringing couples together.

So, that’s pretty much what our Free Wedding Weekend looks like and how we’ve been able to do some good Kingdom work through the program. Having a supportive church leadership is ultimately the key. Our next Free Wedding Weekend is the first weekend of June, so let us know if we can help out.


Two Upcoming Conference Papers

At the beginning of this year I submitted two proposals for papers to be read at theology conferences for March. As I am diligently working on my dissertation, these two papers will, hopefully, provide a way to see how my methodology and research do in formal settings. Hopefully both papers will meet the expectations of the conference hosts and provide real fodder for discussion.

Here are the two papers I’ll be presenting:

First Paper: Evaluating the Healing Miracles of Vespasian and Jesus

Conference: Evangelical Theological Society Southwest Regional Meeting

Abstract:  One criticism that is often brought by those questioning the messianic status of Jesus posits that his healing miracles are not uncommon enough in his first century context to be useful for proving either his messianic status or any divine attributes. Those who bring this claim often point a bevy of figures in the pre-modern world that were reported to have performed similar miracles. By way of directly engaging this criticism, this paper finds one individual who had characteristics similar to Jesus and was sourced from a near-contemporaneous situation. Vespasian, who would become the first Flavian Emperor of Rome in AD 69, is one figure who fits a criterion of similarity for comparison to Jesus. Jesus and Vespasian have miracle healings attributed to them by their biographers which carry many common attributes. In order to both delimit the number of Jesus’ miracles and provide the most reputable healings, specific attention in this paper will be paid to those healing miracles that are generally seen as authentic. To accomplish this, scholars such as Gerd Theissen, Walter Funk, and Graham Twelftree, among others, will guide the inquiry into Jesus’ healing miracles of the leper (GMk 1:40-45); Peter’s mother-in-law (GMk 1:29ff); the paralytic (GMk 2:1-12); the hemorrhaging woman (GMk 5:24b-34); the blind man of Bethsaida (GMk 8:22-26); and Blind Bartimaeus (GMk 10:46-52.) By laying these well-attested healing miracles alongside the reported healing miracles of Vespasian, the conclusions drawn will ultimately demonstrate that there is more authenticity behind Jesus’ healing miracles than even his most viable contemporary counter-example.


Second Paper: The Influence of Second Temple Clerical Structures on Pauline Ecclesiology

Conference: Houston Baptist University Theology Conference

Abstract: There is much to be said about the development and formation of the various New Testament churches between Pentecost and the Council of Nicaea. Given that many of the first Christians were Jewish believers, it is possible they would utilize familiar forms of religious structures in establishing their primitive communities while worshipping in local synagogues and at the Temple. How much, then, does early church ecclesiology owe to Second Temple Jewish clerical structures?

In the field of New Testament ecclesiological studies, there appears to be a gap in the research literature concerning the developing ecclesial structures of the earliest Christian communities and their relationship to Second Temple Judaism. With the Apostle Paul’s writings providing the great New Testament contribution about the form and nature ecclesiologies of this period, and given his background as a Jewish religious leader, how Paul leveraged existing Jewish clerical structures from both the Temple and the local synagogue are key to understanding his overall approach to the offices and authority in the New Testament church.

It is the proposal of this paper to study late Second Temple leadership structures and apply them against the Pauline ecclesiological model of leadership as provided in Paul’s Hauptbriefen. Though primary attention shall be paid to the leadership patterns from among the national Temple and local synagogues, additional forms from other, loosely affiliated, Jewish groups will also be in focus. As aspects of Second Temple clerical structures informed the developing Pauline ecclesiology, there continue to be influences seen in present day church method and theology.


The first paper is a from a previous PhD seminar in Miracles with Dr Gary Habermas. I’ve fine tuned the argument and broadened the discussion of Jesus’ healings to compare to my engagement with Vespasian. In the second paper, I will be taking a section from one of my dissertation chapters and modifying it a bit to fit the topic of the conference. I am looking forward to these two opportunities and am deeply grateful to the conference organizers for their diligent work. After the papers are presented I will attempt to post them here for public dissemination. Prayerfully, these will not lead to my ruin.

Feb 2014



Is Genesis 1 Poetry?

Last night Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with posts and reflections, or reactions, to the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate about creation and evolution. Since I follow a rather diverse crowd on my Twitter feed, I saw a litany of these reactions. One point that came up several times was that Genesis 1 is just poetry and not meant to be taken literally. Matthew Paul Turner made this point in this post:

I entirely agree that Genesis 1 isn’t meant to be scientific. Being written in a pre-scientific, pre-modern era the text and author simply lacked any scientific framework. Though we can say the text is observational it is not scientific. Nevertheless…Genesis1

Now, I did give this idea of the text being poetry some pushback. Genesis 1 (well 1:1-2:3 is the proper citation) is not poetic. It has aspects of poetry in it, but the text itself lacks common poetic features. So, how do I come to this conclusion?

When I was taking my second semester of Hebrew at seminary, we translated Genesis 1-4 as part of our classwork. Part of this translation was consulting multiple technical commentaries to aid our translations. So I read most of the technical commentaries written by Hebrew scholars as I translated Genesis 1:1-2:3. Most of the scholars I consulted pointed out that the entire text lacks a poetic structure though there are elements of poetry in the text.

In listening to these scholars (both Jewish and Christian voices here), we see that there are a number of key features about the Hebrew text that draw it away from being poetry:

  • The first of these is that the literary form of the Hebrew is the same as Genesis 12 – 50 and other historical narrative passages in later texts like Exodus, Judges, 1 & 2 Kings, etc.
  • A second point concerns the lack of parallelism in the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3. If the text was going to poetic, it should contain examples of this. However, they are lacking in this complete passage.
  • Another, third, point is that the verbs conform more to recounting a narrative than forming a poetic stanza. For more information about this read Andrew Witt’s thesis on verbal forms in Hebrew poetry, he has some great points.
  • Fourth, the text just doesn’t read like poetry. It lacks rhyme, meter, and other examples of poetic devices. Now, verse 27 does reflect these, much like the Song of Adam in 2:23. Yet this isn’t present elsewhere in the passage of 1:1-2:3. For more information see this excellent post.
  • Finally, in considering the literary structure of the passage it is likely more chiastic than poetic. There are various ways into this, but the structure seems to indicate an ABC – X -C’B’A’ chiasm between 1:1-2:3. This doesn’t entirely remove the poetic possibility, but it does constrain that interpretation.

My takeaway is that just because the text isn’t poetry doesn’t mean it isn’t allegorical, it also doesn’t mean that it must be read literally. Once we’ve arrived at the nature of the literary genre that a text has we then must make the move, via interpretive method, to understand how to read the text. That is, ultimately, a theological decision.

creationLikewise, just because someone might read this, or any other text, as poetic doesn’t mean that it is, by default, allegorical. The book of Job is a great example of a Hebrew epic poem. Almost all Old Testament prophetic passages are poetic, including some about Jesus’ ministry on earth. That certainly wasn’t an allegorical event.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a preface to the rest of the book given the literary arrangement of Genesis.

So, when it comes to reading Genesis 1, we can see that it isn’t entirely Hebrew poetry and that even where it is does not mean we can dismiss the text as, by default either literal or allegorical. We can’t leverage the text inappropriately to support our personal theological position on the nature of creation. Theology and hermeneutics are still valuable disciplines.

What we should be left with is that the focus of the text isn’t so much on the process, but the Person who is creating. (and yes, I am leveraging the text to support my read…)

Feb 2014