Written by Susan Disston Wednesday, 28 November 2012 00:00

One of the most significant developments in twentieth century Western theology was the conceptualization of the social Trinity. While there remains value in pondering the classical conception of God (see Ex. 33:32ff and Heb. 12:28-9), the conception of the triune God as social, relational, and purposeful invites students of theology to ponder the many ways that God has self-revealed God’s love—a love that resonates with humankind’s longing for a relationship with God: 

1. The triune God’s love for the world:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” (Jn. 3:16-7)

2.  The triune God’s ongoing relationship with the world:  “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

3.  The triune God’s purposeful relationship with the world:  “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (Jn. 17:25-6)  As Van Gelder and Zscheile in their recent book, The Missional Church in Perspective, put it, the social Trinityprovides “a way of describing how the Bible narrates God’s involvement in the world.” (p. 10)

These passages (and the totality of God’s story of God’s involvement in the world in the Scriptures) show God to be emotional, relational, and purposeful. The social, relational, and purposeful God acts and that is how God intended for people to know God. The social, relational, and purposeful God also speaks so that humankind can know God. Hebrews 1:1-3 captures both the speaking (in the Scriptures) and acting (in Jesus Christ) of God’s self-revelation: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

Advent is a season where the church ponders the acting and speaking of God in the incarnation of the Son. Advent is an invitation to recall and dwell on this revelation of God’s commitment to love and redeem the world.

Susan Disston is assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology




Written by Pam Smith Monday, 26 November 2012 00:00

“Well, her life is over…” 

I remember hearing these words from my mother after I told her that in youth group we learned about how a teenage girl had jumped into shallow water, had broken her neck, and was paralyzed from the neck down. In response to my mother’s reaction, the word ‘quadriplegic’ became the scariest word I’d ever heard and it stayed scary for a long time.

Anyone around my age and in Christian circles knew at least parts of the Joni Eareckson story.  I remember thinking deeply about her circumstances and it captured my thoughts.  I think it was both because Joni was the same age as my older sister and also because I couldn’t imagine my own life, ballerina/tap dancer that I was at the time, without the ability to dance.  It was mind-boggling to think about.

And after a few years as the story continued, I marveled at how a history teacher/football coach named Ken Tada would be smitten and would take on all that must have come in the way of physical lifting and serving as he asked Joni to marry him. They remain an inspirational couple to me to this day.

My mother was wrong. And now many years later as Joni Eareckson Tada’s story continues, I will have the privilege this March of meeting Joni – someone whose story has never left me – here, at Biblical Seminary. Now THAT’s mind boggling!

Pam Smith
VP for Student Advancement


Written by Charles Zimmerman Friday, 23 November 2012 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now?  

In our Faculty Updates, we have moved from Biblical’s founding faculty to former faculty.  Since I was in the groove of contacting people that have taught at Biblical, I thought I would just keep going and see what some of the long-term faculty members are doing these days.  

This post updates us on Robert Peterson.  

Taking a class with Dr. Peterson was always an intense investigation into the Scripture, complete with original language analysis, theological reflection and practical outcomes and application.  

Robert took me under his wing when I started teaching at Biblical and helped me get acclimated to the strange world of seminary instruction.  He helped me prepare syllabi, organize lectures, create assignments; he also corrected my grammar and throttled me regularly at tennis and racquetball.  It is hard to believe that he left Biblical over 20 years ago.  

What years did you teach at Biblical? 

I taught at Biblical for ten wonderful years, from 1980-1990. I enjoyed so much becoming a colleague of my former professors and then working with younger profs too.

What have you been doing since then? 

Since then I have served as professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO. In the past fifteen years the Lord has blessed a ministry of writing and editing. To mention one book—Salvation Accomplished by the Son, the Work of Christ (Crossway) is my latest. I edit Explorations in Biblical Theology for P&R and co-edit Theology in Community for Crossway.

Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days. 

My favorite memories revolve around the people—administration, faculty, and students. It is hard to choose but I remember laughing many times, both as a student and later as a prof at Tom Taylor’s antics.

Contact information:

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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 Bryan Maier Monday, 19 November 2012 00:00

Most of us in Christian service remember a time or several times of renewed dedication and offering of ourselves to the Lord for whatever he wants to do with us. For me, the first such event I remember was in middle school at church camp throwing my little stick in the fire and volunteering to be a missionary to some African nation I had never heard of. Another time was in seminary when I sat in on a class taught by a famous Christian counselor and changed my whole philosophy of ministry.  For those of us who believe in a missional God, there is constant desire to offer ourselves to cooperate with whatever God is doing in the world today. However, following God’s mission can quickly become difficult and when the cost of working for a missional God becomes high, we can wonder how long we have to keep going.

It is comforting to know that we are not the first to experience this struggle. Isaiah volunteered “in the year of Uzziah’s death” (Isaiah 6:1). For the last four decades, Uzziah’s reign had been relatively prosperous and safe. Isaiah had probably been born and raised during this time. The Scripture says that that although he struggled with following God’s law late in life, Uzziah, for the most part, was a ruler who “did right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3a) as did his son Jotham (2 Kings 15:34). Being a prophet in this regime would no doubt be a position of respect and Isaiah could look forward to a ministry with quite a visible impact. Maybe he even had visions of some of the miraculous acts of Elijah and Elisha. And so when God throws out the offer for someone to work with him on his mission, Isaiah seems to jump at the chance. “Look over here! Choose me!” he enthusiastically pleads (Isaiah 6:8).  

But this was the year of Uzziah’s death (6:1) and soon the nation would be subjected to the absolute disaster that would be the reign of Ahaz. In contrast to Uzziah and his son Jotham, the Bible says of Ahaz that he “walked in the way of the kings of Israel and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel” (2 Kings16: 3-4). Being a prophet in this environment would dangerous if not lethal. God warns Isaiah of what he has just signed up for. He says that the people will be blind and deaf to the message of God (Is. 6: 9). Furthermore Isaiah’s prophetic words would not lead to a great revival but would rather just harden their hearts even more (6:10).  

One can almost hear the deflation in Isaiah’s voice when he asks, “Ummm, just how long do I have to endure THAT?” (6:11) Notice the shift in Isaiah’s emphasis. He has gone from a posture of unconditional availability to one of almost negotiation. God’s answer is not very reassuring (11b-12). While it may be unclear exactly which events God is referring to in his answer, what is clear that that conditions (especially for prophets of God) were about to get a whole lot worse and they would stay bad for a very long time. The only hope is a veiled reference to a stump that can still re-grow (13).

When we first recognize that God is a missional God and that he invites us to join him in his mission for our day, it can be heady stuff. But when circumstances change and conditions get worse, God still calls us to work with and for him wherever He is. The stump will one day grow a new branch, the Branch of David. May we continue to be missional and faithful while we wait.   

Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D. is Associate professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Seminary.


Written by Dan LaValla Friday, 16 November 2012 00:00

Hurricane Sandy just hit our region a few days ago and I have been unable to return to work because the entire Borough of Hatfield, PA where Biblical Seminary is located, has been without power since the storm hit three days ago. Much of our area has large pockets of homes and businesses without electrical power. My family was very fortunate because we did not lose power and only sustained minor damage (a tree was blown over by straight winds and we need to replace some trim on our garage).

While I have been living in the Philadelphia region for 25 years, I grew up in a small town northeast of Syracuse, New York. As a result, it was natural for me to call on friends and neighbors to see how they were managing either through the storm or after and whether or not they needed assistance. As a result, during the past few days, we hosted a couple of acquaintances: providing them with meals, a bed to sleep in, heat, shelter, etc. However, it was interesting how much reassurance it took to let people know they would not be an inconvenience if they took us up on the offer to shelter them in our home or to receive resources that we could share.

The responses from the people I called made me recall a book I read several years ago, The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups © 2003 by Joseph R. Myers. One of the main premises of the book is how our culture is good at providing people with plenty of opportunities to develop relationships at public and intimate levels. However, in our culture, we are finding fewer opportunities to develop relationships between these two extremes, at levels he identifies as social and personal. Reasons for this include: modern architecture and community planning (homes are further from the road and rarely have a porch where neighbors gather socially), technologies that have made our lives busier, technologies that give us more things to do in our homes rather than venturing outside for social activities, affluence that has increased our sense of independence, etc.

With respect to the missional character of Christianity, these unconscious barriers to social and personal relationships pose a great challenge to the 21stcentury Church in the U.S. The missional call of God requires real-life social interaction. One of Jesus’ primary commands to Christians is, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, in order for love to be given, someone must be willing to receive it. If people tend to live in their comfort zones and avoid uncomfortable situations, then it is likely that our culture will increasingly create generations that have fewer and fewer social and personal relationships. Christians will need to overcome such personal discomfort as they reach out and find ways to help people around them feel comfortable with social and personal relationships.

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 David Lamb Wednesday, 14 November 2012 00:00

I have a confession.  When someone quotes an overly familiar biblical passage, I groan, “Not again.”  

Last winter I posted three blogs about the overuse of Jeremiah 29:11 (see http://davidtlamb.com/category/old-testament/jeremiah/).  A few weeks ago I pleaded with my class to not use Num 6:24-26 (“The Lord bless you and keep you…”) every time they need a benediction. 

I love the Bible, but I just wish people didn’t always use the same, limited number of overly familiar texts.  The psalm that gives Jeremiah 29 a run for its money in the overuse category would have to be Psalm 23.  Many of us have it memorized.

I have another confession.  Over the past few months as I have felt miserable with stomach reflux, voice problems and anxiety, I have “overused” Psalm 23.  Why?  Because God has been speaking to me through the psalm.  I needed a shepherd.  So only read the rest of this blog if you need a shepherd. 

If you’re interested, here are my two previous Psalm posts for Biblical’s faculty blog:

The Rewards and Consequences of a Torah-Focused Life (Psalm 1)

God Likes It When We Complain (Psalm 13)

Psalm 23:1 A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The image of a shepherd should be familiar to Israel.  Many biblical leaders were shepherds: Abraham (Gen. 12:16), Moses (Exo. 3:1), David (1 Sam. 16:11; 2 Sam. 7:8), Amos (7:14), and most significantly, Jesus (John 10:11).  In Ezekiel 34, God condemns Israel’s shepherd-leaders, and declares that he will shepherd his flock, Israel.  Scripture describes God’s intimate care for his people in language they can understand, with imagery from the familiar occupation of a shepherd.  As we communicate to people about God and his mission, we need to use language they understand and that engages with them and their specific context. 

With God as his shepherd, the psalmist/sheep doesn’t want.  Notice, the shepherd doesn’t actually give the food or the drink but simply leads the sheep to green pastures and still waters where he can feed and drink for himself.  Sheep need a lot of direction: “Eat here.  Drink here.”  I’m sheep-like, not simply because of my last name, but because I need help knowing how to care for myself.  I suspect I’m not unique in this regard.  Take God’s command to rest (“lie down”- v. 2) for example, that’s a tough one to obey, although it shouldn’t be because we all know we need rest.  People involved in God’s mission often felt like they are too important to rest. 

A dramatic shift occurs in verse 4.  In the first three verses, God is spoken about in 3rdperson language (he, his), but in 4 the text switches to 2ndperson (you, your).  Why?  While sheep need to be fed and watered (1-3) God is spoken about, but as sheep walk through Death-Shadow Valley, God is spoken to: “You are with me.”  As we go through the most difficult times sheep like us need to know God is present.  The promise of God’s presence is the essence of the incarnation, God-with-us.  That’s good news, particularly for people in pain. 

In my next post, I’ll look at the rest of Psalm 23. 

Since most of us aren’t shepherds, how can we use imagery from common, contemporary occupations to communicate biblical truths today?

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.


Written by Derek Cooper Monday, 12 November 2012 00:00

It is a generally known fact that the founder of the Wesleyan tradition, John Wesley, was as confounded by the book of Revelation as many of us are today. In his notes on Revelation, for instance, which are included among his annotations on all the books of the Bible, Wesley wrote of “utterly despairing” of ever trying to understand it. If it were not, he explained, for the excellent commentary he discovered by one of his contemporaries, a Lutheran clergyman named Johann Bengel, Wesley would not have been able to offer the little help he gave in his notes on the book:

It is scarce possible for any [who] either love or fear God not to feel their hearts extremely affected in seriously reading Revelation…I by no means pretend to understand or explain all that is contained in this mysterious book. I only offer what help I can.

Despite Wesley’s (and other important Protestant figures like Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s) reticence to speak definitively about the apocalypse, I would like to encourage you, first, to not be afraid of this book—as Jesus says to the church of Smyrna, “Do not be afraid!” (2:10)—and, second, to consider studying the book for yourself and, perhaps, even teaching or preaching from it. Although I certainly do not claim mastery of the book of Revelation, I have been teaching it for several years and would like to offer six guidelines to reading the book.

First, and most important, don’t ignore the main message of the book, which is that we should worship Jesus! Jesus is the “revelation” of the book (1:1). He is the guide to the whole thing. It is alarming how many interpreters miss this, since they are so focused on the minutiae. It’s not that the minutia is unimportant; but it is certainly less significant than the reality of it: Jesus. As long as you maintain focus on Jesus, the story coheres. Indeed, the book is about praising him as our Lord. Revelation, in fact, is the most Christ-centered book in the Bible, offering multiple hymns that are ascribed to Jesus alongside God (5:9-14; 7:15-17; 11:15; 12:10-12; 19; 22:12-13, 20).

Second, don’t read the book like it’s a newspaper. Revelation is what is called “apocalyptic” literature. This was a very common type of literature from about 200 BC to AD 200 among Jews and Jewish Christians, and we have several examples of this type of literature today from antiquity that helps us understand it better. Specifically, it was the most appropriate type of literature to offer hope to an oppressed people—when it came to announcing that God is still in control of the world, and that he will vindicate his people at the right time. 


Features of Apocalyptic Literature

  1. Secret things of God, which are normally hidden from humankind, are given to a certain person in a vision and/or by way of an angel.
  2. The author usually writes in a more famous person’s name.
  3. There is a battle between good and evil.
  4. The good are always being oppressed (religiously, socially, politically) and there is concern that God does not care about them.
  5. The evil are in power and oppress the good, until God steps in to punish the wicked and vindicate the good.
  6. There are bizarre symbols that refer to historical events / persons, but they are not always easy to identify.


Third, don’t necessarily try to visualize everything in the book. To paraphrase what biblical commentator Bruce Metzger once wrote in his commentary on the book, “the descriptions don’t mean what they say; they mean what they mean” (Breaking the Code, 27). Revelation contains a barrage of images that should be dwelt upon collectively rather than individually. This is because the book uses symbolism, which is by nature not supposed to be visualized; instead of picturing the images, try letting them blow over you like the wind. The total effect of the images—and not one in particular—indicates the meaning. The notion of a sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth in Revelation 1, for instance, is not meant to be taken literally or to be pictured as if Jesus had a dagger for teeth! No, the symbol stands for judgment. What do swords do? They destroy and judge.

Fourth, don’t study the book alone and in pieces. The focus of the book should be the whole story, not isolated verses and images. The book is to be read aloud (1:3; 13:9; 22:18-19). The meaning of the book emerges after hearing it in one setting, and it becomes increasingly more confusing when studied in individual units. This is because when you get overly focused on the details, you lose sight of Christ, who is the real content of the book.

Fifth, don’t overlook how important a part the Old Testament plays in the book. Apocalyptic literature fashions itself after biblical language in order to lend authority to its message and to remind Israel of God’s promises. Revelation makes frequent use of metaphors, themes, and structural concepts from the Old Testament (especially Daniel and Ezekiel). The most appropriate way to prepare for Revelation, therefore, is to read specific parts of the Old Testament.

Fifth, don’t apply the events of the book too quickly to yourself. Rather, think historically and globally. The original recipients of the book suffered physical and social persecution as well economic hardships. Those who often teach about Revelation in North America are privileged, middle-class, comfortable, and educated. The original audience, by contrast, was oppressed and poor and powerless.

Finally, don’t forget that Revelation is a very practical book. Revelation teaches several important truths. The Christian life involves spiritual warfare. There is a good and bad side, and we have to decide which side we are on. What’s more, the theme of counterfeiting looms large: (i) the secular world tries to counterfeit God’s world, while (ii) Satan tries to counterfeit God. The good news, which is wholly practical, is that God is in control of the cosmos, even though personal experiences and life often suggest otherwise. The current world that we live in should not be the aim of our hope. Our hope should rather be in the God who made the world and who will one day redeem it. This encourages us to live holy lives and be mindful that our home is not on earth but in the God who made heaven and earth.

Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he also serves as the associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. His most recent book is titled Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. His faculty page can be found here.


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