Northeastern Seminary Blog

In Context, In Israel: Explore, Learn, Grow

Posted on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 @ 10:00 AM

Holy_Land_Trip_20162Imagine standing on the Mount of Olives or walking around the ruins of Jericho. Envision yourself sitting on the ancient steps to the Temple, wading through the dark waters of Hezekiah’s tunnel, standing atop Mt. Nebo (Jordan), and surveying the land of Israel as Moses did in ancient days. Consider what it would be like to swim in the Dead Sea and get refreshed in the streams of En Gedi where David fled from (and encountered) Saul; or to view the wilderness of Maktesh Ramon and walk the Judean wilderness. That is only a fraction of what I experienced in the Holy Land and what has been built into the Northeastern Seminary study tour in Israel coming up in July 2016. My Bible study and devotions have never been the same and messages from the pulpit have come alive whether preaching or listening to others.   

Ever since my first trip to Israel in 1997 I found ways to return again and again—now four times. In a recent trip I studied at Jerusalem University College (JUC), the premiere location to study in Israel. Early in the morning I would wake up and sit on the Old City walls for personal devotions or walk through the Old City before the shops opened and the tourists invaded. With every trip, I found blessing and further confidence and understanding in my study of God’s word. 

It’s an investment but the experience is unforgettable:

■ Bible in hand, the field becomes your classroom

■ Some of the best scholars on Ancient Israel are the instructors

■ There is no “licensed” canned instruction—JUC is the only Christian organization allowed by the Israeli government to provide direct “tours” and education in the land

■ Jewish and Christian perspectives offer insight

■ Traditional vs. biblical and archaeological evidence provide the real story!

■ College/Seminary/continuing education credits can be earned

This is not a trip comprised of the basics. When you get to study the biblical text from the places it unfolded the learning goes deep. You see and hear the sounds of the Old City and walk through the city gates. You walk where Jesus and his disciples walked. You stand where Goliath confronted Israel. You cross the Sea of Galilee by boat and come to understand the historical and geographical settings of the Bible.

God is not more present in Israel … but the context of his word is. Immersing yourself in the wonder of the land of the Bible comes with a warning!  You will want to return, again and again.

Chris Kelley (M.Div. ‘07) is a national instructor with Walk Thru the Bible, has led medical mission trips to Africa, and has provided interim pastor support to a number of area churches. He travels extensively around the world as founder of Be a Berean Ministries and as vice president of ANKOM Technology.

Northeastern Seminary in partnership with Jerusalem University College Institute of Holy Land Studies and Be a Berean will be hosting a Holy Land Study Tour July 1—July 17, 2016. To learn more about this study tour and how to register by visiting the Northeastern Seminary website at

Tags: Holy Land

Holy Land 2016: Musing on a Theology of Place

Posted on Wed, Aug 26, 2015 @ 10:00 AM

Holy_Land_Trip_2016There are many advantages of making a journey to the Holy Land. An on-location-immersion in the history and geography of the biblical narrative makes the Bible come alive in a fresh way. The stories are no longer distant, flat, or abstract. The stories of the Bible become multi-dimensional and packed with new insight. Having the opportunity to see the sights Jesus saw, walk the streets he walked, and breathe the air he breathed can transform the way we think about the extraordinary measures God took to invest in humanity.

But there’s more: Going to the Holy Land can be dangerously disruptive to the way one worships God. It has the potential to transform one’s practice of worship by renewing one’s sense of place. Philip Sheldrake points to this potential transformation when he reminds us that “the concept of place refers not simply to a geographical location but to a dialectical relationship between environment and human narrative. Place is a space that has the capacity to be remembered and to evoke what is most precious” (Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity, 1).

In the Holy Land, whether following the wanderings of the Hebrew people, the footsteps of Jesus, or the journeys of the Apostle Paul, one cannot help but come face-to-face with the multiple connections between place, memory, and our identity as human beings. And this, in turn, can be a powerful force in shaping the way we think about the vocation of guiding the people of God in worship. Immersion in the Holy Land—as holy ground and holy place—challenges my thinking and practice of worship. That is, a theology of place takes seriously the incarnational, historical, and spatial aspects of worship. A trip to the Holy Land is a forceful reminder that our faith is not merely, or even primarily, a collection of religious affirmations. The Bible is not a book of systematic theology that dispenses theoretical truth. Rather, it is the story of the eternal God’s intersection with the temporal, historical, embodied world of space, place, geography, and culture. The story of the Scriptures pulsates with God’s unflagging determination to engage creation with self-giving grace. From God’s walking in the cool of the garden with the first humans to the burning bush, Mt. Sinai, and the Exodus; from the symbolic actions of the prophets, the birth of Jesus, and the anticipation of a new heaven and a new earth—the story of the Bible is a story of engagement, embodiment, and incarnation.

The implications for worship are vast. If these things are true then authentic worship cannot merely involve the impartation of some information—even if it’s true and good. Rather, worship will involve remembering God’s great acts in the past in ways that make them present in our own place and time. Authentic worship will take seriously the people, place, and culture of the worshipers—precisely because it is in the very nature of God to be known in and through the things of place, time, and history. Authentic worship will involve the fully embodied participation of the worshipers in action, proclamation, and response. Authentic worship will incarnate the very presence of God in a particular geographical place, an actual physical space, among flesh and blood people. It will resist any expression of worship that is merely cognitive, ideological, or even spiritual.

So, going to the Holy Land is dangerous business. It may completely change the way you do church.




Doug Cullum, vice president and dean, visited the Holy Land in summer 2012 in preparation for the trip he will lead for Northeastern Seminary from July 1—July 17, 2016. To learn more about this study tour of the Holy Land and how to register visit the Northeastern Seminary website at

Tags: Holy Land

Violence Against Women: Theological Reflection and Response

Posted on Wed, Aug 19, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

Gerhardt-bookcoverDr. Elizabeth Gerhardt addresses the historical, cultural, religious, and political context of global violence against women in her recently published book “The Cross and Gendercide.” Through the lens of theology she proposes how the Church can work together in raising awareness and aid in ending crimes towards women and girls. This passage was taken from Chapter 6, “Creative Theological Reflection and Activism.”

Following a discussion or lecture on theological foundations for addressing violence against women and girls, I am frequently asked the following: “What do we do now? What are some activities and programs our church can implement to end the violence?” I am tempted to list “things to do.” And in fact, there are many actions that aid in reducing local and global violence against women. In this chapter I describe a few of these actions that make a difference in the lives of women and girls. However, the objective of this book is to encourage the church to engage in broad theological reflection and to do the difficult work of examining Bonhoeffer’s two questions to the church: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What is the role of the church in the world today? Every generation needs to wrestle with these questions and, while rooted in the confession of faith, be shaped by the living Christ at work in the world. In terms of the work of ending violence against women and girls these questions will lead to other questions, some of which were posed in chapter one: What are the nature and roots of the violence? How is the violence that these women and girls experienced a symptom of larger cultural, spiritual and economic conditions in our churches and society? How do we respond as a whole church community? What do Scripture and our confession of faith teach us regarding an approach toward violence and peacemaking? What concepts, language and orientation does our theology offer to help us shape a cohesive, powerful response to violence? How is violence in our local community related to the violence against women and girls experienced globally? Should we define this as a confessional, broad issue needing a multifaceted approach rather than defining this merely as a moral issue that is worthy only of being relegated to a small group of interested community members? How does our confession of faith lead us to be actively involved in resisting institutional violence and promote social policies?

Theologians of the cross will respond to the evil of gendercide by naming it as a sin and renouncing all forms of violence against women and girls as opposed to the Christian confession of faith and Scripture. Discipleship means following Christ not programs. From this perspective, the whole of the church needs to engage in living out hope-filled lives in service to our neighbors. Therefore, the following discussion on church and individual activities that help reduce violence against women and girls offers only partial remedies and should not be viewed as the church’s starting point. The beginning of the work to end the violence, oppression and marginalization of women and girls is for the church to be the church! Confess Christ and follow Christ into the world. Resistance to religious, political and social policies that obstruct the gospel and lives of millions of women and girls begins in prayer, and in humility. There is a steep cost to being church. The true church renounces the illusion of power, identification with political ideologies, prideful self-righteous claims on church strategies for instituting a Christian society, efforts on raising church attendance and being culturally relevant, substituting ethics for doctrine and the confession of faith, and being a comfortable self-serving institution. Our confession of faith reminds us who God is and challenges us to move beyond confession to activism.

From a perspective of the cross, the whole of the church can engage in a myriad of efforts to counter gendercide, some of which include consciousness raising; a prophetic call to end violence; support of political, social and religious efforts to end violence against women and girls; aid to victims; and political resistance to systematic institutional supports of ongoing violence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s three approaches of the church to the state (as descried in the previous chapter) offer a helpful framework for considering the response of the church today in relation to gendercide. The following are some possible ways of engaging in the work to end violence. However, through theological reflection and prayer, individual church communities, denominations and churches working on an interdenominational level can decide creatively on a multifaceted approach for a whole church response. The incarnational response allows for churches to frame their response creatively in partnership with non-Christian religious organizations, secular organizations and individual experts in the field of violence against women.

Gerhardt-headshotElizabeth Gerhardt (Th.D., Boston University) is professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary and adjunct professor in the department of religion and humanities at Roberts Wesleyan College, in Rochester, N.Y.

This entry is the final post in a blog series that focus on experiences, understanding, and responses to violence against women, as part of an online course offered by Northeastern Seminary beginning in the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, this course addresses the problem of violence against women from a Christian theological perspective. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here

Tags: domestic violence, church's response to violence, violence against women

Violence Against Women: There is Much Work to be Done, Beginning with the Church

Posted on Mon, Aug 17, 2015 @ 11:58 AM

July 28, 2015 the body of an 8-year-old girl who had been raped and strangled was found in a dumpster in Santa Cruz, CA. The suspect in custody is only 15-years-old.[1]

The truth about violence against women is disturbing. The details of this one incident make us uncomfortable, but the reality of the problem is so immense that it impacts each and every one of our lives. Even if you are not a woman, you have a mother, sister, wife, or daughter, someone you love, who is at risk of gender-based violence.

global_face-1-186749-editedThe statistics are staggering. Harmful practices, including female genital cutting/mutilation, femicide, sexual harassment, early marriage, domestic violence, and rape in the context of conflict, damage girls’ physical beings and self-worth by reinforcing gender-based marginalization and inequality. According to UN Women, “One of the greatest challenges in ending violence against women and girls lies in unraveling how harmful gender attitudes and roles are deeply ingrained across the fabric of societies, and fostering values of mutual respect and equality.”[2] 

The Council of Europe (COE), which established a committee for equality between women and men in the 1990s, identifies unequal power relations between women and men as both a cause and a consequence of violence against women. The COE states, “It is violence directed against women because they are women and must be considered as structural violence because it is an integral part of a social system which manifests itself in an imbalance of power with accordingly unequal opportunities for women and men.”[3] The Council concludes that crime control is not the solution to combating violence against women.  Moreover, the COE advocates equal rights for women and men insuring that all are given the same opportunities and that everyone’s contribution to society is equally valued and respected; “only real equality between women and men and a change in power dynamics and attitudes can truly prevent violence against women.”[4]

This is precisely the point where the church can engage. A biblical worldview of humanity values both women and men, created equally in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The church accurately reflects the heart of God when it acts on behalf of the oppressed, and restores the dignity of God’s creation to their rightful place as imago Dei. The view of biblical equality for women both deters violence against women and advocates on behalf of victims. 

In addition, Christianity offers hope and restoration through Christ for victims, and perpetrators, alike. In Jesus women have a God who can identify in their sufferings, and mourns in their pain (Hebrews 2:17-18). In Christ, perpetrators can experience reconciliation through repentance, and be released from the bondage to sin.

There is much work to be done, beginning with the church itself. The church must accept its past and present culpability in perpetuating hierarchy between men and women. We need to confess and repent of the ways in which we have contributed to the vulnerability of women by limiting their equal access to power.

The church must also accept its responsibility as the voice of social change. We must renounce the perpetuation of a lopsided gospel by limiting our engagement with the world to proclamation of salvation without seeking justice for those whom Christ came to save.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18).


Marie Moy completed the Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College in May 2015.  She serves in the city of Buffalo through
Jericho Road Community Health Center and Renovation Church.  Marie is passionate about Christian community development, and works with like-minded individuals and organizations to holistically restore communities.

This blog series focuses on experiences, understanding, and responses to violence against women, as part of an online course offered by Northeastern Seminary beginning in the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, this course addresses the problem of violence against women from a Christian theological perspective. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.

                [1] Maria Sevilla, WIVB News, via Associated Press, (accessed July 28, 2015).

                [2] “Main Challenges to Ending Violence Against Women and Girls,” United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women website, (accessed July 28, 2015).

                [3] “Safe from Fear, Safe from Violence:  Council of Europe Convention of preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), An instrument to promote greater equality,” Council of Europe website, (accessed July 28, 2015).

                [4] Ibid.

Tags: church's response to violence, violence against women

The politics of addressing domestic violence in our churches

Posted on Thu, Aug 13, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

violence_against_women_response-566768-editedI was attending a church where I felt I really took ownership of my faith and became acclimated to church culture. At the time, there were several couples who were living together, but not yet married. Upon the arrival of a new pastor, his solution was to encourage the couples to get married sooner rather than later. Consequently, he married a few of them in his office and then the couples later held wedding ceremonies with invited guests.

There was one couple in particular who concerned me. Upon getting to know them, I was doubtful of the suitability of a marriage between them. The reason for my objection, I suspected the male was physically abusing his female partner.

This couple was among the “quickie marriages.” They continued to attend the church sporadically. But I made an effort to stay in touch with the wife. As I continued to connect with her she shared that she was indeed being abused by her husband.

I am not sure how the pastor addressed this situation or if he even knew. But I thought, “If I, a fairly new member to this congregation and young in the faith can tell that something was gravely wrong with the relationship, how could the pastor and/or ministers and/or deacons miss it?” To this day I wonder, “Did none of them see it? Or did they simply not want to see it?”

In all fairness, again, I don’t know that the situation wasn’t noticed and addressed behind closed doors by the pastor and/or church leadership. Yet, the incident continues to disturb me. I’ve been at my Christian walk a little longer now. I’m a bit more seasoned. And what I’ve noticed is that discussion of domestic violence is routinely avoided in our churches, especially by male pastors and especially in the more conservative denominations.

I can tell you without even asking them which of my pastor associates and friends preached about domestic violence during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My more “liberal” and female friends definitely make it a point to do so. Whereas, I have sat in more conservative churches and churches with male senior pastors during the various awareness months—domestic violence, child sexual abuse, human trafficking, crime victim survivors—and not heard one preached word about these problems.

This indicates a complicity of a major portion in the perpetuation of these issues by the Church. If the Church loses or represses its prophetic voice and vocational call to preach and to bring peace and healing, and to counter the subjugation, violence, and exploitation of the world, then it ceases to fulfill God’s purpose. It loses its identity. With our impotence around the culture of violence in the United States, is it any wonder why our churches are in decline? Why would God bless a fruitless tree?

Now several pastors from various backgrounds and denominational persuasions may object to my critique, and criticize me for being “political?” I counter with two questions: “What do you think Christianity is really about? What Gospel is being preached?”

Jesus said to set captives free, to heal he wounded, to bind up the broken hearted. He meant this not just “spiritually” but physically. I believe the Bible is also quite clear to call sin what it is—not to equivocate on the need to renounce it and repent. And here is maybe where some of my critics would probably part ways with me. “Is beating one’s wife really a sin?”

I’ll let you answer that question for yourself.

As to how we understand Christianity, I am amazed at how many Christians either are unfamiliar with or just ignore the context of the first century. Rome was a political, ideological, military, and social entity. It is in this highly politicized and socially stratified environment that God stepped into history in Christ.

Jesus continuously countered the problematic ideologies of the political parties of his own community, the Jewish people. And we know what that led to. It led to him being subjected to an unjust judicial system which sentenced him to death. He died a convicted criminal. Then his followers were systematically persecuted, disenfranchised, socially discriminated against, and economically subjugated by the Roman gestalt that authorized Jesus’ crucifixion.

How is none of that political? And if that is the foundation of our faith, a leader who was fearlessly political, openly critical of evil, staunchly against abusive traditions and customs, how are we all of a sudden not political people?

I speak forthrightly. I believe that Christians who avoid condemning and combatting domestic violence, and other forms of violence, on the grounds that they don’t want to be “political” are copping out. Believing in the furtherance of The Kingdom of God means rejecting what God rejects, and embracing what God embraces.

If you believe in the sanctity of human dignity and the inalienable right of everyone to safety, then you believe in the theological premise that God has created all of us with inherent value and worth. Therefore, there is no justification, not for the Christian, of the beating, intimidation, and sexual violation of women.

Can we stop avoiding the difficulty of correcting this abuse? Can we stop with the quickie wedding ceremonies that ignore problems of violence in a relationship? Can we overcome our cowardice in taking a stand on the issue of domestic violence?

Alicia Dixon-Garrard, M.A. ’14, Teen Challenge volunteer, Catholic Schools of Broome County substitute teacher.

This entry is part of a blog series that focus on experiences, understanding, and responses to violence against women, as part of an online course offered by Northeastern Seminary beginning in the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, this course addresses the problem of violence against women from a Christian theological perspective. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click

Tags: domestic violence, church's response to violence, violence against women

Failing to address sexual abuse of teens in our churches

Posted on Tue, Aug 11, 2015 @ 04:00 PM

Early in ministry, I spent a few years leading children’s church and then Sunday School.

One Sunday, a young lady in the youth group sat by me on the pew during opening worship. As was my habit, I put my arm around her for a hug. She pulled her knees to her chest, leaned into me with her head on my shoulder and began sobbing. I just held her not knowing what was wrong. I was unaware of what caused such an open display of pain. Another young lady in the youth group came and got her hand and led her out of the sanctuary. There the second young lady embraced and comforted her crying peer.

Years later, I learned that one of the twenty-something male youth leaders had a sexual relationship with both these under-18 teenage girls. I was stunned. But even more so, I was angry. Why hadn’t I, one of the children/youth ministry leaders been told?

Of course, one’s initial reaction is to say because of confidentiality. However, this begs the question about the distinction between confidentiality and cover-up.

A meeting could have been held with church leaders, especially the youth leaders, to alert us to the issue and how to minister to the youth group who clearly all knew and were devastated by it. In retrospect, I realized that no safe sanctuary, youth leadership, or child and sexual abuse training was offered to any of the church leaders and volunteers. A background check was done only for the church van driver. Even for the nineties this was quite inadequate and remiss in creating the best ministry environment and, above all, safety for the youth.

Still today there is a naïve belief among many church-goers that child abuse and sexual abuse do not occur in our own faith communities. The statistics on these matters, however, shatter that naiveté. And truthfully, I think church leadership knows much more than it shares about these issues in the church.

Hats off to those churches that have instituted Safe Sanctuary practices and have trained their volunteers. And again, I’m not trying to undermine the need for confidentiality in matters of pastoral care. What I am calling for, however, is transparency and overturning the denial that abuse and sexual abuse are real problems in our congregations.

I doubt many Christians would debate the fact that abuse and sexual abuse violate the personhood and scar the image of God in children. Our understanding of psychology has contributed greatly to our knowledge of the development and emotional needs of children and youth and the damaging effects of violence and abuse. However, there is still a sense that families are entitled to their “privacy” and that children and youth need to be subject to their parents. There remains a subtle anti-intellectualism that neglects the insights of “worldly” psychology into the human psyche and behavior, and an allergic avoidance of talk that seems too “new age” in regard to the mystery of the spirit and the soul.

We as Christians would do well to reclaim the integrated nature of body, mind, soul, and spirit so to give greater attention to the pastoral care and healing of those victimized by abuse.

I believe two things have contributed to the silence and cover-ups about child abuse and sexual abuse in our congregations. For one, Christians, in general, are quite uncomfortable with talks of sex, sexuality, and the body. We have lost the sense of embodiment obviously valued by God as evidenced in the Incarnation—God put on a flesh—and in the resurrection in which Jesus’ body, as well as his spirit and soul, came back from death.

Second, the gravity and pervasiveness of evil in this world frightens us. We don’t want to acknowledge that darkness can exist among the people of God. Yet if we truly understand human nature, if we remember that this world won’t be fully redeemed until Christ’s second coming, and if we really understand the call of the Church, then the existence of evil in the Church should not surprise us.

All of us have the capacity to do great harm to another, and if we are honest with ourselves we cannot say with 100 percent certainty what we would or would not do. As the Native American proverb says, “Do not judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” The power of our faith is not the absence of evil but in its ability to choose good despite and in the midst of evil. And the greatness of God’s grace is that forgiveness is offered to all who would receive it.

Our role as the Church is to manifest and further the Kingdom of God. And by the “Kingdom of God” I mean God’s presence, image, and character in the world—that is justice, mercy, compassion, humility, peace, and love.

I’m not talking about the hippy version of these things. I’m referring to the Jesus version of these things. In this version, Jesus very strongly and clearly states that to violate a child is unacceptable in the eyes of God. This applies to those in our youth groups as well. Though they are older, teenagers are still spiritually, emotionally, and mentally vulnerable, and wounds inflicted during adolescence still do much damage.

Christian love must love the abuser enough to call them on their sin so that he/she may confess, repent, and be healed of the darkness in their soul causing them to abuse—whether that darkness be a result of their own abuse, a personality disorder(s), or simple self- serving belief in gender/parent/racial superiority.

With violence and sexual abuse clearly not being God’s will how can we continually refuse to openly discuss the problem of child abuse and sexual abuse in our churches? How can we continue to neglect proper training of our leaders and volunteers to address these issues? Why do we allow abuse to go unpunished and continue to expose children and youth to great harm in our churches in the name of the “sanctity of the family?”

Alicia Dixon-Garrard, M.A. ’14, Teen Challenge volunteer, Catholic Schools of Broome County substitute teacher.

This entry is the first in a blog series that focus on experiences, understanding, and responses to violence against women, as part of an online course offered by Northeastern Seminary beginning in the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, this course addresses the problem of violence against women from a Christian theological perspective. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.

Tags: church's response to violence, violence against women

Embracing my Genuine Spiritual Identity

Posted on Fri, Aug 07, 2015 @ 12:30 PM

Unfiltered_Spiritual_IdentityWhile I played host for a series of youth leader seminars at this year’s Kingdom Bound festival I also found myself being personally engaged and challenged. In the first seminar Joyce Wagner, owner and primary therapist of Restoration Counseling, spoke about how to avert suicide by properly assessing the warning signs and intervening on behalf of suicidal individuals. Then, Denis Johnson, Jr., pastor of creative arts, music and teaching at The Father’s House, led a conversation around the “selfie” phenomenon and what this obsessive trend tells us about ourselves and our view of God. And finally, Jay Trainer, founder of Infuzion, unpacked the three I’s of youth ministry—image, intimacy, identity—and challenged us to consider how our ministry goals can be shaped by these three cultural influences and keep us from pursuing life-giving relationships with God and one another.

From a broad perspective, Joyce, Denis, and Jay, were pressing us to seriously consider (1) the ways in which so many of our young people feel compelled to filter their identity, (2) the damaging consequences of doing so, and (3) a God-focused response. As I listened to their presentations and to the responses of those in attendance, it occurred to me that young people aren’t the only ones who experience this compulsion to filter their deepest selves for the sake of yielding to some external pressure or internal desire that ultimately expresses a single, critical fallacy: “I ought to be something other than what I am.”

For example, my Facebook feed tells me that my life ought to be filled with more exciting adventures, more exotic vacations, and more expensive toys. It tells me I ought to have a winning and bright white smile on my face no matter where I’m going or what I’m doing. It tells me that everything about me ought to be interesting to others. But Facebook isn’t the only culprit. Even going to church comes with its own set of pressures to be cheerful and worshipful. There’s often no room in the pew or the worship service for people doubting God or entertaining the unspoken questions that disquiet their faith.

So many messages I encounter throughout each day tell me not to be genuine. And when I persist in filtering who I am I may begin to idolize the image I ought to resemble and come to despise the genuine me.

Scripture tells us a different story.

God is love, and the Bible says that Love carefully arranged and pieced together the genuine me. You are, in fact, created to be precisely who you ought to be. The author of Psalm 139 eloquently reveals the intimacy of the Creator with us, the beloved created. It declares that our lives are searched and known; our ways are discerned and traced; our thoughts and words are anticipated; our journeys are accompanied and we are, no matter where we are, inescapably held close to the One who carved out our history before we were born. It is our unfiltered selves that were created for life and relationship with God and others. Can we hear this message above the noises of our culture and receive it? Can we bear the message to our children and our churches and the world that each person is the result of the divine imagination to create something wonderful?

God help us to embrace our genuine spiritual identity and to remove the filters that hinder the formative work you’re doing in each one of us.

Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." – Henri Nouwen

Caleb Matthews (M.Div. ‘12) serves as director of admissions for Northeastern Seminary.

Tags: youth leaders, reflection, youth ministry, ministry to teenagers

Help us, Lord

Posted on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 @ 06:27 PM

originally posted June 19, 2015

I am heartbroken.

This week tragedy happened again. Lives were taken, hatred won, and we were left to make sense of another example of the racial tear in the fabric of our community. As I read through the stories of each of the nine victims of the AME shooting, my heart broke. These were our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, colleagues, neighbors, pastors and fellow believers. They were members of our community.

Earlier this week I attended a one-day seminar sponsored by Northeastern Seminary entitled Power, Inequity and Reconciliation in the Church, led by Dr. Christena Cleveland, who challenged us to listen… to listen to what is being said by ALL our brothers and sisters. As I have prayed and mourned the recent acts I have also been attempting to listen. At the risk of not articulating perfectly, I ask you to hear my heart as I try to make sense of what I am hearing in this challenging time.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Martin Luther King Jr.

We live in a fallen world, a world where hate and racism exist. The recent act in Charleston, South Carolina reminds us once again of our painful history as a divided nation. It is true that many around us love as Christ called us to love and are examples of living in community. But there remains a deep weed in the garden of our lives, an ugly weed that appears far too often. It divides our country around surface topics of personal defense and justification, and we slide into the posture of defending our position instead of listening to each other. I am guilty of this pattern even while trying to make sense of the senseless. Log into any social media today and you will hear debates brewing around our interpretation of what just happened in Charleston.

Injustice happened. Lives were taken. A community was impacted. A church was targeted. A people of a specific race were attacked. Wrong happened and we are left reminded we have not yet learned to live out our calling of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Dr. Cleveland also pointed us to Philippians 2 as a model for how we are encouraged to live within community.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:1-5, NRSV).

Read full article at President Porterfield's blog site

Dr. Deana Porterfield is president of Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester. NY.

Tags: listening, community, church's response to violence, compassion

The Gospel and the Kingdom: Esau McCaulley’s Talk for the Rochester Preaching Conference

Posted on Tue, May 19, 2015 @ 08:00 AM

My talk for Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools Preaching Conference on May 21, 2015 is titled: “The Gospel and the Kingdom: Preaching the Law, Faith, and the Messiah Jesus in Galatians 3:10–14.”

Galatians 3:10–14
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” 12 But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NRSV)

cross_on_scriptureThe Approach of My Talk
These verses have often been read as a treatise on how an individual can obtain salvation, given that fact that all people sin and that the Law requires absolute perfection. In my talk at the preaching conference, I will argue that we can understand Paul’s argument better by a careful reading of Galatians 3:10–14 and by paying attention to the story of Israel that drove Paul’s understanding of the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah.

I have four primary goals for this session:

1. Homiletical Fruit
First, I hope to demonstrate that a close reading of Pauline texts can provide fresh avenues for preaching. Exegesis bears homiletical fruit!

2. Focus on the Community of Faith
Second, I will suggest that Galatians 3:10–14 is not primarily about how a wicked individual can stand before a just God. Instead, Paul focuses on God’s vision for the climax of Israel’s story, namely, the post-exilic creation of the people of God—Jew and Gentile—through faith in the Messiah Jesus, apart from Torah. Thus, at the heart of Paul’s gospel stands a vision for a multi-ethnic kingdom under the reign of the crucified king. The people of this kingdom are identified by faith, and their lives show a foretaste of the kingdom through Spirit-empowered mutual love.

3. Paul’s Use of Old Testament Scripture
Third, I intend to analyze how Paul uses scripture to substantiate his claim. I will show that examining the contexts of Paul’s Old Testament citations (Deuteronomy 27:26; Habakkuk 2:4; Leviticus 18:5; and Deuteronomy 21:23) provides a richer understanding of his argument.

4. The Connection between Conversion and Justice
Finally, I hope to reveal how this faithful interpretation of Paul’s message allows our preaching to make organic connections between conversion, deep involvement in a community of believers, racial reconciliation, and the church’s public witness against injustice.

I look forward to our mutual engagement around these issues at the conference.

You can register for the 2015 Rochester preaching conference here.

Esau McCaulley is completing his doctoral work at the University of St. Andrews and will be joining the Northeastern Seminary faculty part time for 2015-16.

Tags: biblical exegesis, preaching conference

Herod as Pharaoh?

Posted on Mon, May 11, 2015 @ 01:28 PM

J_Richard_MiddletonOn Thursday, May 21, I’ll be speaking at a conference called “From Interpretation to Preaching.”

My presentation addresses Matthew’s use of Old Testament quotations/ citations in the infancy narratives (Matthew 1-2). There are four, five, or six citations, depending how you count them.

In chapter 1 Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 (the Immanuel prophecy), while chapter 2 contains quotes from Micah 5:2 (with an addition from 2 Samuel 5:2), Hosea 11:1, and Jeremiah 31:15 (plus a closing citation of “the prophets,” but there is no agreement what the OT reference is).

What Is Matthew Doing with the Old Testament?

As an Old Testament scholar, I’m interested in what Matthew is doing with these texts. Are they functioning simply as “proof texts,” or is there some exegetical strategy to their use?

Another, more theological, question is whether the infancy narratives in Matthew are simply a set of “feel-good” stories for the Christmas season; or do they have some intrinsic connection to the thrust of his Gospel? And if so, what might that be?

The title of my talk is “Herod as Pharaoh.”

Herod, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar

The connection to Pharaoh comes from Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 (which focuses on the exodus from Egypt). But I could just as easily have called the talk “Herod as Nebuchadnezzar” in connection with his use of Jeremiah 31:15 (which addresses the Babylonian exile).

Herod and David

There is also a link to David (as the shepherd of Israel) from the bit of 2 Samuel 5:2 that Matthew includes in the Micah 5 quote. But this is not an idealized David; the context indicates this is a David who is remarkably like Herod (and Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar).

The connection becomes clear from investigating each of the OT quotes in context. Not only do all the quotes address the crisis of ancient Israel in various sociopolitical contexts, but the context of the three prophetic quotes in Matthew 2 revolve around God bringing Israel back from exile and binding up their wounds.

Jesus as an Alternative “Son of David”

Matthew 1-2 is setting up Jesus, “the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1) as a different kind of leader for Israel after their time of extended exile. Unlike Herod, and even David (both of whom have certain affinities to Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar), this Messiah doesn’t slaughter or oppress helpless Israelites, but rather tends them as a true shepherd (and ultimately suffers with them).

Matthew’s infancy narratives thus constitute a significant challenge to the leadership of first-century Israel.

So the subtitle of my talk is: “Matthew’s Subversive Use of Old Testament Quotations in the Infancy Narratives.”

Implications for Preaching

The introduction of Jesus in Matthew 1-2 has significant implications for us today, including for preaching that aims to get beyond pious platitudes. Indeed, Matthew’s vision of Jesus, the true “son of David,” generates a serious ethical challenge for the nature of leadership in the church and the wider society.

Esau McCaulley on Paul and the Law in GalatiansEsau_McCaulley

After my presentation, we will be hearing from Rev. Esau McCaulley (PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews), who will be joining the faculty of Northeastern Seminary in July 2015.

His talk is entitled “Preaching Paul and the Law in Galatians”; this is how he describes his focus:

“Everyone who preaches from Paul’s letters must eventually talk about the Law. This session will show how recovering the narrative of Israel’s history that informed Paul’s understanding of the Law can bring nuance and vigor to our preaching about the relationship between faith, Law, and the reign of the Messiah.”

Second Annual Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools Preaching Conference

Rev. McCaulley and I will be giving our presentations at the second annual preaching conference sponsored by the Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools.

The three Schools are Northeastern Seminary (where I currently teach), Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (where I used to teach), and St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry (where my church used to meet, until just recently). So I’ve got a connection to all three institutions.

Last year’s conference was held at Northeastern Seminary and the speaker was the president of Colgate Rochester, Dr. Marvin McMickle. In 2016 the conference will be held at Colgate Rochester and the speaker(s) will be come from St. Bernard’s.

This year’s preaching conference will take place at St. Bernard’s, with a focus on the value of serious biblical exegesis for good preaching (hence the title: “From Interpretation to Preaching”).

So this conference is not meant to be an introduction to preaching; rather, it is for those who want to dig deeper into Scripture, in order to reinvigorate their preaching.

You can register for the 2015 Rochester preaching conference here.


By J. Richard Middleton, professor of biblical worldview and exegesis.


Tags: preaching conference