Friday, December 19, 2014

best books in 2015

Check out Christianity Today's top picks for 2015. Perhaps this list can help you with some last-minute Christmas shopping!

Studying at Wheaton put me at the heart of the Christian publishing world. CT was right up the road, as were Tyndale Publishers, Crossway, and InterVarsity Press. Grand Rapids, the other big hub, was just a hop over Lake Michigan, with Eerdmans, Baker, and Zondervan. Wheaton professors actively publish with all of these companies, so I found myself in a web of new connections. I could safely spend the rest of my teaching career requiring my students to read only books written by people I know. How cool is that?!

But on to the book awards. Here are the highlights (i.e. people I know and/or books I've read):

My own doctoral advisor, Daniel Block, received an Award of Merit in Biblical Studies for his latest: For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship (Baker Academic). I had no part in this one, but I'm so glad to see it making a splash! It also appeared on Janet Mefferd's Top 10 Books of 2014 and an Honorable Mention on Kevin DeYoung's list at The Gospel Coalition.

In the area of Spirituality, an Award of Merit goes to a book I recommended earlier this year: Called to be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, by Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic), president of Ambrose University College in Calgary, Alberta.

For Theology and Ethics, first place was awarded to Kevin Vanhoozer's Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. I had the honor of studying with Dr. Vanhoozer at Wheaton (he's now at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). You might be interested to know that this book is a more popular version of his weighty Drama of Doctrine, released in 2005.

One of Dr. Vanhoozer's doctoral students, my friend and colleague Jeremy Treat, received the Award of Merit in the same category for a book based on his Wheaton dissertation, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic TheologyCongratulations, Jeremy!

And now for a few more titles that caught my eye and are landing on my wish list:

First place in Spirituality: What's in a Phrase? Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

First place in Christian Living: Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith, Jen Pollock Michel (InterVarsity Press)

Award of Merit in Christian Living: Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber (InterVarsity Press)

Award of Merit in Fiction: The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking Adult)

Life is too short to read everything. You might as well start with the best!

Monday, December 15, 2014

a chat with Jesus

I merged into the morning traffic on 205 northbound, headed for the library at Multnomah. Since the car I was driving lacked a stereo, I thought I'd have a chat with Jesus to pass the time. This was one of those rare moments sans kids, sans distraction, where I might have called Oma. But I can't do that anymore. I began to pray, and then a happy thought struck me -- I could call Joanne! In retrospect, it was a chat with Jesus all the same.

Joanne is a treasure. We used to be able to see her home from our back window in Charlotte, and we often ran into her on her daily walks through the neighborhood. We were thrust together, really, since we both worked for the same organization, and lived so close together in the same neighborhood. Ron suffered a stroke not long after we moved in, which meant he could no longer drive. Joanne had spent most of her adult life as a missionary in Africa and had never learned to drive. At almost 80, she felt it was too late to learn the skill, and so they walked or rode with friends. Sometimes we did our grocery shopping together.

A Birthday Party for Jesus with Ron and Joanne (2009)
Easter with Joanne, Ron, Phil, and Julie (2011)
During the 4 1/2 years we lived as neighbors, Joanne exuded joy, no matter her circumstances. Ron's health continued to decline. After a time she could no longer leave him home alone while she took her daily walk through the neighborhood. He came along and they walked to the end of the block and back. As her walks got shorter and her world got smaller, Joanne's faith only grew. Some months ago when I called her, she reported that they were no longer able to go to church. It was just too hard on Ron. This was a huge loss for her, as she readily acknowledged, but responded in faith. "Carmen, you know what? God's grace is sufficient. We've had many happy years in church, and now our world is shrinking. It will be okay."

I often think to call her in the evening, but the time change between us makes that impossible. A morning commute was the perfect time to catch her. She sounded so delighted to hear my voice (I imagine that adult conversation lends a little bit of sanity to an otherwise trying day). I asked about Ron. Joanne is careful to honor her husband, when he's in earshot and when he's not, but reading between the lines . . . I could tell things were getting pretty tough. He's gone way downhill. Confused, I gather. And easily frustrated, perhaps? I ask Joanne if she's able to manage on her own. She pauses, trying to find the right words. When she does, they are life-giving, "Able? I don't suppose that's the best word. No, I'm not able. But I'm 'enabled.' He gives us everything we need, doesn't he?"

Joanne doesn't want to talk about herself, except to say how sweet the Lord is, or to read me a bit of poetry she came across that enlarged her soul, or perhaps to confess the ways that God is convicting her of sin and challenging her to grow. She wants to know how we are. How is Danny's work with Sports Friends? How are the kids? How are my studies? It feels strange to tell her about the opportunities, the open doors, our adventures ranging far and wide. But there is no hint of self-pity on the other end of the line. Only celebration, and the sense that she is somehow living large through me.

In addition to raising kids and keeping a home, Joanne spent her years in Africa teaching Bible while Ron worked for the mission in finance and accounting. This combination of gender/career paths is obviously not the norm, and certainly not for their generation. I'm sure this is a big reason why we bonded the way we did (think about it: wife Bible teacher/husband accountant). We are kindred spirits, 40+ years apart. When I told her the news that I'll be teaching at Multnomah, and that I chose as a textbook the book she was the first to tell me about, Joanne was thrilled (Lynn Cohick is a family friend of hers). Within moments, she had other ideas about books I should find in the library that had been a great help in her own understanding of the gospels.

And so we talked. We sighed. We praised. And we prayed our way up 205 together. And when I hung up the phone, I was utterly convinced that I had just spent the drive in the presence of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anything But Dissertation?

Enough time has elapsed since I've talked about my dissertation that some of you have probably begun to wonder . . . has she quit? or is she stuck in the quicksand that threatens every doctoral student who is "ABD"? 

ABD technically indicates that a student has completed "All But Dissertation." Perhaps "Anything But Dissertation" is more accurate for most of us. It's a strange season in academic life that requires a tremendous amount of self-motivation. Many enter it . . . and far fewer emerge with a degree in hand. It's so easy to let all sorts of other things crowd out productivity in research and writing (um, like this blog post, which is interrupting dissertation work. sigh.).

I've done all sorts of things since moving to Oregon that might be interpreted as an avoidance strategy. I bought a grain mill, studied and experimented with breads and grains, started making my own yogurt and chicken broth, and signed up for a class at the local community college entitled "Backyard Chickens" (really!). I've planted trees and painted trim, hemmed curtains and played with my children. We've camped and hiked and driven to the beach. None of these activities appear on the list of what one must do if one is to succeed in academia. But academics are real people, too (at least some of us try to be!). This has been an important season of slowing down, settling into our new home, and developing healthier eating habits.

Meanwhile, I have continued to work on my dissertation. It started off slowly over the summer, but since the kids started school this fall I've been carefully reading a 300-page German monograph on my topic, diagramming a dozen chapters of Exodus in Hebrew, and reading up on cognitive metaphor theory. I sit at my desk (or at Multnomah's library) working at least 6 hours every day. Since you can't see me sitting here, I thought I'd reassure you ... I haven't quit. It's just a long process. And I trust the end product will be worth the wait (and all the hard work).

Tomorrow I'm heading to San Diego to reconnect with colleagues and meet with my advisers. As usual, the annual conferences of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute of Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature are being held back-to-back in the same city. Thousands of professors and students of the Bible from across the country and around the world meet under one roof every November to reconnect and learn from each other. Academically speaking, these conferences are always the highlight of my year. This conference will be especially significant since I have been working remotely. My days will be packed with one-on-one meetings, attending sessions, networking, and browsing book tables. When I arrive home next week my brain will be so full it hurts. It happens every year. But I can't think of a better way to invigorate my research and writing than to spend 6 days with a community devoted to the study and teaching of God's Word.

When the shelves of my fridge are filled with leftover turkey and stuffing, you'll find me back at my desk cranking away on the biggest project I've ever attempted. With God's help, one day those three letters - ABD - will become PhD.




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

and the winners are . . .

After many happy hours perusing possible textbooks for my spring course on the Gospels/Acts at Multnomah, I have selected my favorites.

Because I have had little training in New Testament Greco-Roman backgrounds, I found The New Testament in Antiquity to be especially helpful. A trio of esteemed Wheaton professors - Gary Burge, Lynn Cohick, and Gene Green - pooled their expertise to produce a beautiful volume filled with crisp photographs, clear maps, helpful diagrams, and the latest in New Testament research, written for the non-specialist. Although the other volumes I considered would have worked, this seemed to be a book students could continue to use for years to come as they study the rest of the New Testament. It includes the right amount of information, written at the right level for college students.

It's a special bonus to know each of the authors and to have grown personally from interactions with each of them, but what was even more important to me was the testimony of a recent MA graduate from Wheaton who said this was her favorite book from grad school. The New Testament in Antiquity is the next best thing to taking students on a tour of the holy land. Having just been there myself in May, it was easy to tell that the photos in this book (as compared to others I saw) were the most up-to-date.

One of the strategic priorities of Multnomah's new president, Dr. Craig Williford, is to cultivate a diverse learning community. This not only includes variety in the types of students who populate our classes, but also variety in the authors and perspectives to which students are exposed during their studies. For this reason, I'm delighted to introduce students to Kenneth Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.

Bailey lived and taught in the middle east for 40 years, and his book helps readers take off their western lenses so they can read the text from a cultural perspective much closer to the ancient New Testament world. More than anything else, Bailey helps us consider new ways of reading and understanding the Bible. His book is endorsed by an impressive cadre of New Testament scholars, including Lynn Cohick and Gary Burge (above), Craig Keener, and Craig Evans.

Finally, students will need a good atlas as they follow Jesus' steps through the Gospels and the travels of the early apostles in the book of Acts. I considered a number of atlases, but in the end my favorite happened to be the most compact and affordable as well (that should make students happy!). It's paperback and slightly smaller than our main textbook. My biggest priorities were crisp photos, pleasing graphics, and maps that would give students a sense of the physical topography of the land of Israel. Now that I've been there, I feel that this aspect is so important. Carl Rasmussen's Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible provides all of these and more.

Here's my personal favorite, shared with permission from Zondervan:
Just a few months ago I sat on the edge of the ridge just south of Nazareth, looking out over the Jezreel Valley at Mt. Tabor and the Hill of Moreh. Now I can see that just over the ridge beyond Mt. Tabor is the Sea of Galilee. That would have been quite a hike!

I'm grateful to Zondervan and IVP for free exam copies of these books and others as well, and to Zondervan for providing free access to digital photos and maps for use in teaching. While I was not required to write a review of these books, I felt compelled to share these great resources with you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dear Professor Imes

A few days ago I shared the happy news that I have been asked to teach a course on the Gospels and Acts at Multnomah University in the Spring. {insert happy dance} One way to tell that you're doing what you were born to do is that you completely lose track of time while doing it. Last night I stayed up far past my normal bedtime, devouring the stack of books that arrived yesterday from Zondervan. Publishers are eager to share their latest publications with professors, in hopes that they will require students to buy and read their books. (I've already received several emails addressed to "Dear Professor Imes" -- music to my ears!) Here are the latest additions to my library, complements of Zondervan, InterVarsity, and Bible Places:

Since I've focused almost entirely on the Old Testament for the past 3 years at Wheaton, my New Testament library is a bit thin. This will go a long way toward equipping me to equip students with the tools they need to understand the Gospels and Acts.

I can hardly wait to get started teaching. But first I need to craft a syllabus, which entails choosing which books will be most helpful to my students. That means I must spend many happy hours reading. {insert long, satisfied sigh}

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

spiritual disciplines for busy moms

Have you struggled with having consistent time with God? Most people do, and it's especially tricky for parents with kids at home. My dear friend, Heather, is publishing a series of guest posts on her blog about spiritual disciplines for moms. I thought this was a fabulous idea -- we all have so much we can learn from each other! Heather invited me to write the first post for the series. Here's how it begins -
It’s 6:56 a.m.  There’s a scramble as lunch bags are filled, zipped shut, and piled by the front door with coats and backpacks. Chairs slide across the dining room floor and I hear my husband’s footsteps on the stairs. In a moment we are all gathered around the breakfast table, getting settled and filling our plates.
 “May I start the chapter now?” Our 13-year-old checks to see if we’re all ready. We are, so she goes to the computer and clicks the play button. We eat silently, listening as the current chapter of Proverbs is read.

When it’s over, my husband asks, “Did anybody notice anything in particular this morning? Any questions or comments?” For a few minutes we comment on the text we’ve heard. Often the kids ask what a certain word means. Sometimes there’s a prayer request.

Then I announce, “Okay, we’re having five minutes of quiet now. I’ll call you back when it’s over.” This is a family favorite. The kids are free to sit at the table and keep eating or move to an adjoining room to spend five minutes praying, reflecting, journaling, drawing, or reading the Bible. Five minutes isn’t much, but we hope it’s habit-forming. These are precious moments to collect our thoughts, to tune our hearts to His, and to take a deep breath before the day begins. 

To keep reading, visit Unending Mercies. Thanks for reading. And thanks, Heather, for taking the initiative to help us all think through this important issue.

Austin, Heather, and David visited us
in our new home this summer!

Friday, October 17, 2014

full to bursting

Has your heart ever been so full you think it might burst?

I remember the moment as if it was last month. I think it was the fall of 1999. The trees were golden yellow. The air was sharp and crisp. The sun's angle cast a glow on the fluttering leaves, the well-trimmed hedges throwing long shadows. I walked down the campus path, drawing a deep breath of autumn. It was the same path I had walked dozens of times, past aging buildings toward home, but that day everything swelled with rightness. 

I had just finished teaching a "lab" section of Advanced Bible Study Methods to upperclassmen at Multnomah Bible College. My heart swelled with gratitude for the opportunity to guide students on their quest to understand the Scriptures. I was doing what I was born to do. As I walked home under the bright canopy of leaves, with joy welling up inside, a seed of hope was born.

I didn't know how or when. But I knew that I wanted to return someday, not as a lab instructor, but as a professor. I belonged here. Teaching. Multnomah didn't hire women as Bible Professors back then. I had it on good authority that they probably never would. But I didn't let that stop me from dreaming. I watered that seed of hope with hours and days and weeks and years of graduate-level education. Maybe someday . . .

Multnomah has not had an easy road these past few years. President Dan Lockwood died of cancer just one year ago, in the midst of financial challenges and unhappy lay-offs. But then our road has not been easy either. Multnomah may not be not the same place it was that fall day 15 years ago. Neither am I. But God is up to something wonderful.

Dr. G. Craig Williford,
5th President of Multnomah University
Fast forward to this afternoon. Danny and I had the privilege of witnessing the inauguration of Multnomah's 5th president, Dr. Craig Williford. The faculty -- men and women who have profoundly shaped who we have become -- paraded by in full regalia to the sound of bagpipes. Retired Professor David Needham prayed, transporting us directly to the throne room, as he did countless times as we sat under his teaching. Luis Palau spoke. Surrounded by beloved faculty and staff, it was hard not to smile. But I had another reason to celebrate, too, because the man who took office today is not just leading my alma mater. In a few short months he will also be my boss.

Are you sitting down? This Spring you'll find me on campus twice a week teaching a Freshmen class on the Gospels and Acts. I keep pinching myself. I have spent the past 19 years getting ready for this moment. Now it's suddenly here and I'm full to bursting. What a joy to begin this stage of my teaching career at the very place it all began!


(No, I'm not finished with my dissertation yet. Revisions will take the better part of this year, at least. But I have the feeling that this experience will give it wings to fly. It has me!)