An Argument Against Academic Elitism from a Young Academic

This is not to discredit biblical scholars and theologians with academic training–these are, after all, the people I look up to as a young scholar. There is obviously a very real benefit to formal scholastic training when it comes to biblical interpretation. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have spent the last decade in an academic setting learning from biblical scholars and theologians shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to do so. I am speaking as an academic (a baby though I might be). However much credibility a Bachelors degree in Biblical Languages and Christianity, a Master’s degree in Biblical Languages, and 15 additional graduate hours in Theological Studies with a half-written thesis might give me, I am speaking as one how has academic training. And from this perspective I still argue that academics do not have a monopoly on the biblical texts. There is no room for academic elitism when it comes to reading the scared scriptures; the spirit of elitism does not exist alongside the Holy Spirit and the work the Spirit does in whom the Spirit desires. So, while formal scholastic training is beneficial to the individual reader of scripture, the lack thereof does not automatically disqualify one from the ability to grasp the biblical texts nor should it automatically disqualify one’s contributions to a discussion or argument or whatever.

Does not the Holy Spirit play the primary role in our ability to read and understand the scriptures?

Despite what some might assume, I would not argue that any and every interpretation is credible. For one, I prefer the language used in theological interpretation of “better” readings rather than correct or accurate. I might even differentiate between plausible and implausible readings. Furthermore, I am not arguing that the best way to read the Bible is alone in isolation with just you and the Holy Spirit. To the contrary, I actually believe that to read Scripture well we need to read it in conversation with tradition and with the church, not alone in a vacuum.

What I ultimately take issue with is the idea that someone can automatically be disqualified not based on their arguments and/or methods, but on their pedigree or lack thereof. This is a shame, it reeks of academic elitism and arrogance, and does not take into account the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer as well as the wide access we have to information today.

A PhD does not guarantee someone is a good reader of scripture. Unless you’re N.T. Wright, of course.

– Jessica Parks (written in 2015)


Spiritual And/Or Natural Gifts – Maximus the Confessor

Christians need to be careful that they don’t treat the Spiritual gifts as simply a Christianized Myers-Briggs test. The empowering charismata of the Spirit shouldn’t be reduced into a baptized version of a personality analysis. Can our Spiritual gifts line up with and build upon our natural giftings? Sure. But the Spirit empowers believers to act beyond their natural inclinations and capabilities.

Maximus the Confessor says it well:

“The grace of the Most Holy Spirit does not confer wisdom on the saints without their natural intellect as capacity to receive it; nor does he give the gift of knowledge where there is not a natural rational ability to receive it; nor does he give faith without total certainty of intellect and reason regarding future realities; nor does he give charisms and healings where there is no natural love for our neighbor, note any one of the other charisms where the conditions are not right and there is no matching ability to receive them. In any case, no one will ever come to possess any of the gifts we have mentioned through any natural ability whatever, but only through the divine power that confers them.

[Various Chapters, IV. 13 (PG 90.1308-9)]

Book Review: Shaping the Prayers of the People by Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher

ResizeImageHandler.ashxSamuel Wells and Abigail Kocher have given the church an important gift with their recent work Shaping the Prayers of the People: The Art of Intersession. This book is a richly theological and immensely practical exploration of intercessory prayer in public worship. It is a short, yet highly engaging, read – 77 pages of exposition (chapters 1-5) followed by approximately 76 pages of example prayers. As the lead pastor of a Protestant church, I found my liturgical imagination ignited in a new way as I was led to think through the intentions behind our practice of corporate worship. This work will be more accessible to those from a liturgical tradition, but perhaps is even more important of a read for those who come from a tradition that lacks this intentional liturgical shape.

I found the book’s theology to be highly satisfying and informing. For instance, the authors give a reasoned exploration of the theology behind prayer. They especially explore the function of intercessory prayer in light of the Trinity:

“Prayer is a conversation between the Son and the Father in which the Holy Spirit invites the believer to participate.”
. . . . “The ministry of the Holy Spirit is, as it has always been, to make Jesus and all that God has given us in Jesus (sometimes called “his benefits”) present to us; and to make us, in all our humble and naked folly and need, but also in our faith and longing, present to Jesus.”
. . . . “Perhaps the deepest mystery is what takes place between the Son and the Father… There is a sense in which the Son who pleads with the Father on our behalf is always the Jesus we see on the cross. Because every petition is, on closer scrutiny, a plea for salvation – for safety, for healing, for reconciliation, for communion, for blessing – for all the things that Christ won on the cross. So every time we pray in the power of the Spirit – every time the Holy Spirit carries our prayer to Jesus and Jesus intercedes to the Father for us, the question for the Father is the same: “How much of your ultimate glory are you going to reveal and bestow at this present moment, and how much are you going to withhold until the last day?” (page 2-3)

The book is also bursting at the seams with practical insight for ecclesial leaders. Beyond the authors’ analysis of the shape, content, and form of intercessory prayers, I found the discussion on the “social location” of the prayer to be very helpful. They state, “The most dangerous word in liturgy, especially informal, spontaneous liturgy, is ‘we.'” (39) This is something equality true for preachers as for prayers, speakers must always mean the global Christian community with their “we” and not “our country, our troops, our children, etc.” This is a common and easy way that church leaders sometimes exclude portions of God’s people from our petitions and worship. Equally enlightening was the discussion on prayer (specifically intercessory prayer) as not being an alternative sermon. As the authors state, “How can one tell that intercessions are turning into a sermon? When the speaker drifts away from talking to God and starts talking to the congregation” (7-8) or begins to stop using the word “you” to address God and instead referring to him in the third person, as “God.” This is something I commonly see when folks are given the task to pray in public and one that ultimately leads to a confused prayer.

As mentioned, the book contains an abundance of example intercessory prayers. Most of these examples come with an identification of the season/place/intention behind the prayer. The book also ends with a masterfully condensed “checklist for preparing the prayers of the people.” (157-158)

As a church leader, Shaping the Prayers of the People is easily one of the best books I have read this year. I highly recommend it to all who are tasked with leading or participating in public worship services or those who simply wish to take a deeper look at intercessory prayer. I will be giving a copy to all of the pastoral and lay leaders at my church and am looking forward to working through it in community.

Note: I received this book from Eerdmans in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, my Lord and God,
let your saving plan be fulfilled in us all.
You drew God down from heaven and into the Virgin’s womb;
You are the love that moved God to become one with our own flesh.
You built for God’s Son a home in his mother:
built it on seven pillars, your seven gifts.
From the root of Jesse a shoot has sprung:
on it you would one day come to rest.

God, we have heard with our very own ears;
our fathers have told us
the work that you did
when you came in flame-tongues from your throne in the Godhead
to make earth a heaven and all of us gods.
From that moment on, as children adopted, scattered throughout all the earth,
through you we keep crying Abba, our Father! to God.
How great are your mercies, oh Spirit, oh Lord!
They revive me in hope; through them I entreat you.

Faith’s seal, of believers the counselor-helper,
light, fire, and wellspring of light,
oh, listen to us who call you, and come!
If you will but guide us
our Father’s face we’ll see, and also the face of his Son,
and know you too, who flow from them both,
life’s fountain and river of peace.

[The Prayer to the Holy Spirit by Rupert of Deutz]

Churches: Walk by the Spirit

There is no true Christian church without the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Churches should be communities that are sensitive and responsive to the promptings of the Spirit. Unfortunately, many churches are actually self-reliant communities who ultimately trust in the best practices of church growth and profit.

The Spirit leads churches to slow and consistent discipleship . . .
     not to flashes of growth fueled by shallow conversions.

The Spirit prompts communities to serve creatively & surprisingly . . .
     not to slavishly follow strategic plans drafted to ensure growth & stability.

The Spirit guides church leaders to form their members in the image of Jesus . . .
     not in the image of the prevailing cultural-ideal (like the American Dream). 

Spirit-less churches are communities devoid of Jesus and His Kingdom-priorities. They are an experiment in spiritual futility, lacking the equipping power of God for transformation and ministry. In the end, they are nothing more than another business competing in the marketplace of religious consumerism.