Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Letter from the Dean

The Latin phrase homo unius libri (a “person of one book”) is first attributed to Thomas Aquinas, among others, but it is most closely associated, at least for Methodists, with John Wesley. Of course, Wesley himself was exceptionally well read, including in areas such as medicine, travel, biography and poetry. Nevertheless, the Bible held a unique and primary place in his thinking. The same is true for us at Perkins.

That is not to say that studying the Bible is simple. A concern I sometimes hear expressed is that attending seminary will complicate a student’s mind. There is a grain of truth to this accusation. The same thing could be said concerning the in-depth study of virtually any subject. When you begin to look at something much more carefully, you see complexities you missed formerly. But that isn’t the end of the story.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is quoted as having said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” My own experience is that extended study of Scripture can and should lead one to a new and better simplicity lying on the other side of complexity.

I like to tell the story about the first record album I purchased, Simon and Garfunkel’s immensely popular Bridge Over Troubled Water.1  I did not own a proper stereo; instead, I listened to the record on a chunky box phonograph that made up in volume what it lacked in fidelity. Its two-pound (or so it seemed) tonearm lumbered across the black vinyl like a 10-ton diesel rumbling over asphalt. It was as though Paul Simon had written with me specifically in mind. I listened to the album hundreds of times, finding ever-new ways to apply the lyrics to the circumstances of my life (quite a stretch in the case of the song Cecilia!).

Many years later, I bought a good stereo with a compact disc player. Of course, one of my first CD purchases was Bridge Over Troubled Water. I was surprised to hear things that I had missed previously, such as Art Garfunkel drawing breath. In no time at all, I became an audio deconstructionist, disassembling each song and analyzing its sonic bits and pieces (good bass line here, sloppy chord there). It took me a while to get back to listening to and loving the music. In time, however, I came to appreciate the fact that my stereo’s increased fidelity had ushered me closer to the original performance, whose occasional challenges were now more audible. At the same time, it made what was good, such as Simon and Garfunkel harmonies, that much better. It also enabled me to understand lyrics that I had been mis-singing for years!

The day that I began academic study of the Bible was much like the day that I purchased my first good stereo. Initially, the experience was disorienting and disconcerting. I had already attended countless Bible studies; certainly, I knew the Bible well on one level, much as I seemed to know Bridge Over Troubled Water inside out as a teenager. For a while, biblical scholarship appeared only to dismantle Scripture and to distance me from it. (I describe this experience more in my article on page 5.) Once again, it took time to hear the music, to learn that God could speak through a text I was hearing in new ways. I came to see that careful biblical study can remove layers of distortion, taking us closer to the original performance, allowing us to hear the notes more clearly, helping us to get the lyrics right. As a result, this “one book” is more vital to me now than ever.

In this 2020 issue of Perspective, we invite you to join Perkins School of Theology in our study of the Bible. Learn from Rare Books and Manuscript Librarian R. Arvid Nelsen about the remarkable Bible collections at Bridwell Library and how sharing these significant treasures impacts students at Perkins, others at Southern Methodist University, community members and researchers from around the world. Read about studying the Bible in local churches and on educational trips led by our own professor Jaime Clark-Soles. How is that like and unlike teaching a seminary class? Enter biblical study from the vantage point of our students, whose story echoes my own. Join our international students as they journey to Texas to hear the biblical story in a new context. Grow with insights from our faculty about their own passion for the Bible.

I would be remiss if I did not make one final point: Bible study at its best is a kind of conversation. We study and question the text, but the text in turn studies and questions us – or at least it will if we allow it, if we “have ears to hear.” When all is said and done, the most important reason for reading the Bible is to encounter God in its pages and through its agency. That is a lifetime project.

Grace and peace, 

Craig C. Hill
Dean, Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Thinking About the Bible – My Story

By Dean Craig C. Hill

How should we think about the Bible? Our answer to that question is foundational to a great many other questions and so is deserving of serious attention.

During my freshman year of high school, the evangelist Leighton Ford conducted a crusade at our local armory, one result of which was the founding of a Christian coffeehouse called The Lighter Side of Darkness. “Lighter Side” was a perfect early-70s period piece, complete with purple walls, cushions for seats and empty wire spools for tables. (The practice of referring to it by its initials, LSD, did little to endear it to already suspicious parents.) It was like nothing that I had ever experienced. The confident faith, joyous worship and sheer drama of the place (one leader was a former drug dealer with reputed mob ties) overshadowed anything I had witnessed at my United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

The principal activity at Lighter Side was Bible study. One of the coffeehouse “elders,” a fellow in his early twenties, would lead us through a passage or a series of verses. The unstated assumption was that Christians believed everything the Bible taught without qualification or equivocation. It was easy.

I recall the day that it got difficult. I was reading a portion of Matthew’s Gospel, and, noting the cross reference in my Thompson’s Chain Bible, I turned to the parallel account in Luke. I was surprised to find significant differences between the two versions. No interpretive contortion, and by then I possessed an extensive repertoire, seemed capable of reconciling the details of the two accounts. Unsettled, I phoned one of the elders for guidance. I explained the conundrum, but he too was unable to fashion a satisfactory solution. “So, what do you do when you encounter this sort of problem?” I asked. His answer: “I just try not to think about it.” That was advice that I could not take. Too much was at stake.

Three theological degrees and even more decades later, I am still a Christian. The core of my faith has not changed all that substantially, but my understanding of the Bible has. In this short space, I want to outline what I think is a reasonable and faithful alternative to inerrancy (the Bible contains no contradictions, historical inaccuracies or other such difficulties) that nevertheless recognizes Scripture’s immeasurable value and unique role.   

We start by considering the distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning. Deductive thinking involves the application of a general truth to specific situations. Let us say that the general truth is the excellence of my wife’s memory, for which I am perhaps not as grateful as I should be! Were Robin to inform me that I have a doctor’s appointment at 3 p.m. tomorrow, I would not phone the physician’s office for confirmation. I know that she has a reliable memory; therefore, I deduce that she is accurate in this instance.

Inductive reasoning works in the opposite direction, from the specific to the general. When I first met Robin, I had no idea that she was gifted with a good memory.

Over time – through often embarrassing experiences –  it became clear that her memory was superior to mine and ought to be trusted. In the process, I formulated a general truth: Robin has an excellent memory.

People who believe in biblical inerrancy tend to think deductively about the Bible. The general truth is God, who is perfect and all powerful. What sort of book would such a God “write”?  One that is without error, since it is God’s nature to be perfect, and it is in God’s power to produce a perfect result. If we then turn to specific texts, for example, to the dozens of stories found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), what are we to make of their apparent differences? Since this is a perfect book, we know in advance that no actual discrepancies can exist. Case closed.

The argument is bolstered by an appeal to the King James translation of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Without entering into a complicated argument about Greek syntax, let me note that much has been read into this verse that is not there. The most probable translation puts verses 15 and 16 in parallel:

15: “the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation …

16: All inspired writings are also profitable for teaching … 

The passage upholds the usefulness of the Hebrew Bible, the early church’s Scripture, not only for evangelism but also for Christian teaching and admonition. The word theopneustos, “inspired” or “God breathed/blown,” was used elsewhere (e.g., in Plutarch with reference to dreams) as a claim of divine origin without specifying the manner of origination, e.g., “dictated” by God.

It is instructive to study the actual practice of the New Testament authors. Paul, for one, was extraordinarily free in his use of the Hebrew Bible. In many of his 89 biblical quotations, the original text is reworded to suit his argument, sometimes greatly altering its original meaning.1 A similar problem is evident in the New Testament’s reliance on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, sometimes at points where the text differs substantially from the original Hebrew.2 Which Old Testament is inerrant, the original or the version quoted by the New Testament?

One admirable aspect of this way of thinking is the seriousness with which it takes the Bible. Indeed, the Bible may be regarded as the very Word of God, a title borrowed from prophecy (e.g., Isaiah 1:10: “Hear the word of the Lord …”) and generalized to include all Scripture. It should be noted that the Bible contains many types of literature, only a fraction of which could be described literally as “Word of God” speech. I shall never forget being in a worship service in which Psalm 137 was read, which ends, “Happy shall he be who requites you … Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” True to form, the pastor then said, “This is the word of the Lord,” to which the congregation dumbfoundedly responded, “Thanks be to God!”

The seeming clarity of this viewpoint is appealing. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” By comparison, other approaches are dismissed as hopelessly complex and irredeemably subjective. Many defenses of inerrancy boil down to the sentiment that it must be true because God, being God, would not have left us in such an otherwise dicey situation.

Looking at the above diagram, it is understandable that so much energy is expended in defense of inerrancy. Logically, the smallest biblical discrepancy would impugn the very character of God. Did Jesus cleanse the temple near the beginning of his ministry (John) or near the end (the Synoptics)? By this reasoning, he must have done it twice – that, or God is imperfect. One could go on and on enumerating such difficulties. The point is that this is a gloriously imposing yet exceedingly fragile construction. All is at stake in every part; as with a balloon, the tiniest puncture threatens annihilation.

On one level, there is no point in debating. The idea is thoroughly circular; its conclusions are written into its premises. All contrary evidence is ruled out in advance. Unless one is willing at some point to think inductively, to weigh and to test evidence, the general truth is unassailable. It reminds me of the story of the man who was convinced that he was dead. His attitude distressed family members, who eventually enlisted a psychiatrist. After several fruitless sessions, the psychiatrist landed on what he thought was a solution. He asked the man, “Do dead people bleed?” “No,” the fellow answered, “dead people do not bleed.” The doctor then pricked the man’s finger, which bled profusely. “I’ll be,” said the man. “Dead people bleed!”

At best, this way of thinking produces confident disciples. At worst, it sets those same disciples up for a fall. I took a religion class in college in which the professor walked us through a number of the Bible’s most problematic texts. The exercise was devastating for some of my classmates. Others fought back, resourcefully defending the Bible. Ironically, however, both responses originated in the same mind-set, based on the conviction that belief in Christ is inseparable from belief in inerrancy.

For me, the issue was on the table and would not go away. Only after years of study could I admit that my view of the Bible did a poor job of actually accounting for the Bible. In passage after passage, I saw that otherwise intractable problems disappeared if only I would admit that human authors in particular historical settings with specific theological concerns had composed them. Let me offer just one of literally hundreds of examples.

Mark 6:1-6 records the story of Jesus’ rejection in the synagogue at Nazareth. Matthew tells the same story at the same location (13:54-58) with only minor variations, but Luke puts the story elsewhere, not in the middle but at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (4:16-30). An interesting consequence is the disciples’ absence; in Luke, they have not yet been called. One could harmonize all three accounts only by fudging significant details in each. One could say that the event occurred twice, but that is hardly likely. But if we look at the story from the point of view of Luke’s historical situation and purpose, everything falls neatly into place. In all likelihood, Luke has moved the story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because he wanted it to serve a paradigmatic function. Note the addition of vv. 17-21, the reading from Isaiah 61 that serves as Jesus’ “job description” throughout this Gospel. Contrary to Matthew and Mark, the people at first received Jesus’ words with gladness (v. 22). Their rejection came later, only after Jesus had spoken of God’s favor toward the Gentiles (vv. 25-30), another detail found only in Luke. In fact, Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance are two of Luke’s central concerns,3 so it makes perfect sense that he told the story in this way. Nothing could be more Lukan (see Luke 2:25-35). To fret over the historical differences between this account and that found in Matthew and Mark is to miss the point entirely.

One shelf in my office is given to books that attempt to explain away such difficulties. It is instructive reading. One of the largest volumes purports to examine every significant discrepancy. That is a startling claim since the author missed 10 difficulties for every one he spotted. The truth is that most of us read the Bible devotionally. We come to it to find solutions, not problems, so it is understandable if we fail to notice, for example, that Jesus sent out the Twelve with “nothing … except a staff” in Mark 6:8 but with “no staff” in Luke 9:3.

Do such problems mean that the Bible cannot be trusted, that it is false? Some jump to this conclusion, but that is by no means necessary. If the Bible disappoints us, it is probably more because of our inappropriate expectations than because of its limitations. The Bible is a powerful, precious and irreplaceable witness to Jesus Christ, but it is not itself a proper object of our faith.

Of course, this is my own statement of general truth arrived at by inductive reasoning, by beginning with the particular and then moving to the general. In this model, the study of individual texts eventually leads one to formulate opinions about the Bible. This allows one to ask open-ended questions. It does not presuppose a result to which the Bible must be made to conform, and it is not threatened by problems. That does not mean that it requires that there be difficulties; in practice, persons can be found using this approach across a considerable theological spectrum. Of course, that breadth of interpretive possibility raises the specter of subjectivity. What is to stop me from finding only what I want and constructing a god to suit my purposes? Are we not venturing out onto the slippery slope of relativism?

The short answer is that all of us, including inerrantists, are already there. None of us can escape entirely the historical situation in which we are located. Each of us comes to the text with a prior understanding of reality, with assumptions about what is true and what is possible, with unexamined self-interest and unacknowledged self-limitation. Having made this admission up front, we have the chance to construct a system of interpretive checks and balances that tests our individual readings against those of others within the broader communities of faith and learning, both across cultures and through time.

The Protestant Reformers were right to insist that the whole counsel of Scripture ought to be consulted, but their dictum “Scripture interprets Scripture” all too easily becomes a license for harmonizing according to one’s prejudices. How often have we selected the biblical view that we prefer and then used it as the key for interpreting out of existence the views with which we disagree? Challenging or controversial texts are dodged; in the process, the theological distinctiveness and integrity of individual biblical authors are lost.

There is no uniform biblical view of, for example, the place of the law or the role of women. That can be frustrating, to be sure, but it is not the impossible obstacle some imagine. In practice if not in principle, even the most “literal” of biblical interpreters manage to navigate safe passage around these problems. Of course, it is better to make such interpretive choices consciously, but doing so requires a different conceptualization of our relationship to the Bible.

A compelling example is the New Testament’s treatment of slavery. To conform literally to the text is to permit the owning of slaves, a point not lost on 19th-century American slaveholders. Nevertheless, much New Testament teaching is in tension with the institution of slavery. Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which he asserted the slave Onesimus’ equal standing as “brother” to his owner, is especially instructive. Most of the New Testament is on a trajectory toward egalitarianism: in Christ “there is neither slave nor free.” So it is possible to argue, as abolitionists did, that on a deep level the Bible is on their side.

Does the New Testament retain any authority in this scheme? To quote Paul, “Yes, much in every way” (Romans 3:2). For one thing, we would have little idea who Jesus was or what he taught without the New Testament. Occasionally, I encounter someone who speaks of Christ and yet is blissfully unconstrained by the available evidence: “My Jesus would/would not …”
Can one bypass the New Testament and get directly to Jesus? Only if one is content to find a projection of oneself. To know and to listen to Jesus necessarily means knowing and listening to Matthew and John and Paul. The New Testament books are utterly irreplaceable guides into an otherwise largely inaccessible territory. 

Let me suggest a parallel. The older I have gotten, the more I have appreciated my parents, both of whom are now deceased. Their instruction and example are reliable guides that I do well to follow. Indeed, I am in daily conversation with their internalized voice. They continue to direct me toward what is good and true and worthy. That is not to say that my parents were perfect. Like all good people, they were most prone to misstep when failing to live up to their own ideals. Fortunately, those occurrences were infrequent, and they justly deserve respect and admiration. By analogy, the Bible, even with its tensions and challenges, is a voice with which I remain in lifelong conversation. Where it seems self-contradictory, it must be tested against its own best, most Christlike self, even as we continue to test ourselves against it.

Of course, this approach does not produce uniform or certain results. Hence, the more individualistic and idiosyncratic the interpretation, the more it ought to be brought into conversation with the interpretive tradition of the larger believing community (that is, the synagogue and church through time and across cultures). Among other things, it is also essential to bring the Bible into conversation with science and history. After a speech given a number of years ago, someone pulled me aside and explained that fossils had been planted by Satan to trick humans into questioning the Bible. Personally, I would prefer a world with velociraptors to one in which the devil has the power to mess about with geology. I certainly would favor a world in which Christians did not divide over an issue that has so little to do with the truthfulness of their faith or the quality of their character.

Nevertheless, even these considerations will not lead to unanimity and certitude. We have to face reality: Different persons will understand Scripture differently. This does not free us from the requirement to interpret the Bible carefully and rigorously. On the other hand, it does mean that we should hold our beliefs with a fair measure of humility and with charity toward the beliefs of others. Our cultural backgrounds, social locations, schooling and experiences are too varied to allow for universally accepted interpretations. What is credible to me will not always be credible to you, and vice-versa. In such cases, tolerance is not only ethical, it is sensible. I am profoundly grateful that the greatest commandment is not to be right. All of us are wrong about far more than we will ever know. All of us will look ignorant – and, most likely, morally deficient – to future generations.

Much as a democracy requires an educated citizenry, a responsible church, however conservative or liberal, requires an educated congregation. To weigh, discern and test what the Bible says takes knowledge and effort. It is not easy. Sometimes, it is even painful, especially when the text challenges our preconceived notions or disappoints our expectations. The Bible comes to us
like the angel to Jacob (Gen. 32:22ff.), wrestling with us,
and both wounding and blessing us in the process.  Jacob would not have become Israel apart from this encounter (v. 28); neither can the church know its identity and pursue its mission without wrestling long nights with Scripture.

*This essay is adapted from and condenses material in the second chapter of my book In God’s Time, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002). Necessarily, I have simplified arguments that ideally would be explicated in greater detail.

1 See the analysis in Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989).

2 For example, in Acts 15:13-21, James’ argument is dependent on a quotation from the Greek version of Amos 9:11-12 (vv. 16-17). Also, it seems unlikely that James would quote the Septuagint to the Jerusalem church.

3 This is true both in the Gospel and in Acts, also written by Luke; note, for example, the crowning declaration in Acts 28:25-28.

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Bible Stories: Students Share How Their Understanding of the Bible Expanded

Each of us brings our own story to the reading of the Bible. Perkins students are no different. They come to Perkins from a range of backgrounds, as Bible newbies or longtime students of Scripture. Most evolve in their views of the Bible during their theology studies. We invited several students to reflect on their journeys with the Bible at Perkins; here are their stories.

Sarah Bilaye-Benibo
Master of Sacred Music student
St. Louis, Missouri

Coming from a very conservative and homogenous background, I knew Perkins would challenge my fundamentalist approach to the Bible. As a worship leader, I was both excited and scared about how much my ministry might change.

Interpretation of the Old Testament with Professor Scholz is probably the most eye-opening class I’ve ever taken.  She challenged the class to think critically about the bias we bring to our interpretation of the Bible. I became aware of the dangers of language that reinforce gender bias, hierarchy and antisemitism, including those in worship songs and liturgy. My greatest learning has been that all sacred texts are inherently ambiguous, flexible and “liquid.” The Bible’s interpretation is based on the social location of the reader. 

My faith has definitely been challenged, but thankfully I have come to fully embrace the classic definition of theology, attributed to Anselm of Canterbury: “Faith seeking understanding.” My faith drives me to believe that if I continue to seek, I will find. I still believe the Bible is divinely inspired and the best tool we have in understanding the mind of God.

With my education, I hope to help expand the church’s vision of God, to understand that God is not a man, a king or an American.  God is a spirit, and, in this way, God is reflected in every living being.

Nick McRae
Master of Divinity student
Seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church
Richardson, Texas

I have a long, complicated relationship with the Bible. I grew up in a church that takes Scripture very seriously, with an emphasis on refraining from a long list of activities and keeping yourself separate from the world. While I was in college, I became a Quaker and began to question whether the Bible should still be taken super-seriously. By the time I arrived at Perkins, I had these two poles fighting in my brain.

I was really struck by something I learned in Professor Heller’s Old Testament class: the Bible was written by actual people, in actual times, in actual places, for actual circumstances. We need to learn about the context, and the background, to understand what that writer was trying to convey.

I’m a licensed local pastor in a United Methodist church. Teaching Bible study, I often say, “We can trust in God. The Bible is trustworthy. But we must read it with humility. We can’t assume we know ‘the’ way to understand it. Let the Bible grow your faith and your understanding and your love for other people, but always read it with a humble heart, not one that is seeking to be right.” That impulse to be right is often not our friend.

Shandon Klein
Master of Divinity student
Seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church
Richardson, Texas

I came to Perkins because I wanted to be at a place where I could hear different interpretations, to learn the Hebrew and Greek and to interpret the texts in the original languages. That has definitely made my experience richer and taught me to appreciate the beauty of the Bible. It’s also been dismaying. When you start to learn about different interpretations, you see how the Bible has been weaponized at times. The classroom helps us out of our ideological bunkers. We get to know one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s an important thing in such times as these.

A big ‘aha’ moment for me was in Professor Heller’s Old Testament class. He explained that the Bible isn’t necessarily a window; it’s more like a mirror.  We always bring our own lens, our own experiences, when we read the Bible. We can’t come to the Bible entirely objectively, no matter how hard we try. He also told us not to confuse familiarity with understanding, and that “the only thing that you can’t learn is something you already know.” That’s why the Bible is truly a living word. You can’t assume you know what a passage says, even though you’ve read it a million times. That is what makes the Bible such an amazing work!

Richard Anastasi
Master of Theological student
Roman Catholic
New York, New York

I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but I’m not a literalist. Not all parts are meant to be interpreted the same way. Having studied at Perkins, now I can better articulate that.

My Old Testament class with Professor Susanne Scholz exposed me to different hermeneutical lenses, like my own patriarchal, male, Anglo-centric viewpoint. There are other interpretations out there. It’s up for me to decide which I will internalize. In Professor Jaime Clark-Soles’ New Testament class, we viewed a video that compared the poverty and powerlessness of South Africans with the way the Hebrews were treated by Rome. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed. It was very impactful.

Now, when someone says, “Well, the Bible says …” regarding some social, economic or political issue, I ask, “Where? Which translation?” I’ve come to understand that all sacred texts are flexible, elastic and ambiguous.  Whether it’s the Bible, the Qu’ran or the Upanishads, a reader creates meaning based on their social context. For example, I read the book of Isaiah four years ago, before coming to Perkins. All I remembered were the gloom and doom prophecies. When I read it again about two years later, all I noticed were the pastoral passages. The words are the same, but I changed.   

Lindsay Bruehl
Master of Divinity student
Considering ministry in a Baptist church
Dallas, Texas

I was raised in the Church of Christ. The Bible never really interested me, but I loved church. A few years ago, my life fell apart personally and politically, and I started to delve into the Bible. I heard the pain in the Bible of the people who have gone before us, and I fell in love with Scripture.

Some things in the Bible are awful. At Perkins, I learned that it’s meant to make you feel it’s awful. There’s sex trafficking in Bible, for example.  No matter what you’ve been through, you can read the Bible and your pain is spoken.

I grew up being told that Jesus was not political, and to stay out of politics. Well, Jesus was political. I think he saw that women were not treated as they should be.

In the church where I grew up, women were not called. But when you look at Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, that’s a teacher-student posture. She is the one who proclaimed his resurrection. That’s a preacher right there, trained by Jesus. When he met the woman at the well, I think Jesus released her to preach. When I look at Jesus and how he’s operating – he’s freeing women all the time.

Rebecca Chase
Master of Theological student
Pursuing ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Plano, Texas

My background is Lutheran, so I grew up with “sola scriptura,” the idea that the Bible is, for the most part, the inerrant word of God. At Perkins, I became more aware that humans chose what made it into the Bible, and what did not.  Yes, they did it prayerfully, but it wasn’t all just God. That was a jarring moment for me, and I’m still struggling a little with that. But I’ve also been empowered to dig into the Bible on my own. Thanks to Professor Sze-Kar Wan’s classes in Greek, and deep dives into Galatians and Romans, I’m more aware of the translation as something I can engage with, rather than just accepting the translation I’m given.

I also learned that we must be aware that we read the Bible in community. Even when we’re reading alone, our interpretations are built from the people we listen to. If we only listen to people with similar perspectives, it’s too easy to come to the kind of “common sense” readings that Americans in the 19th century believed mandated slavery; if we listen uncritically to people we regard as authorities, we can stumble into their traps and create our own. But if we seek voices from different backgrounds, we both gain compassion for the Bible and our sisters and brothers, and help to filter out our own biases.   

Macie Liptoi
Master of Divinity student
Seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church
Plano, Texas

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to studying the Bible at Perkins. At my conservative Christian undergraduate college, I saw people using the Bible to be oppressive toward others. My first semester at Perkins, Professor Roy Heller’s Old Testament class was the first time someone showed me I could have fun with the Bible. He lectured on the passage where Abraham goes to sacrifice his son Isaac. Growing up, the story meant Abraham was a model of obedience to God. Prof. Heller told us, “No, Abraham failed this test. God never speaks to Abraham again.” That bowled me over.  Blind obedience is not faithfulness; reason and our community have to play a role, too.

Professor Jaime Clark-Soles’ New Testament course enlightened me to the complexities of the Gospel of John. It’s not just stories about Jesus; there’s metaphor and interconnection. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and leaves in darkness; the Samaritan woman comes at noon and has the first theophany. She’s the first to know who Jesus really is, yet she keeps asking questions. What that taught me is that we are asked to continue in conversation in Christ.

I’m grateful that my Bible professors gave me space to wrestle with all this. It’s been an absolutely transformational experience.   

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

The Gift of Giving

As you read this issue of Perspective, and if you resonate with the kind of education offered at Perkins School of Theology, please join us in making Perkins more affordable for students. We want to make a Perkins education within reach of every qualified student who applies.

God continues to call women and men to ministry in a multiplicity of forms. As our partners, who care about trained clergy and laity, please remember that you can help in a variety of ways.

Did you know that you can give recurring gifts to Perkins in the same way you pay monthly bills out of your checking account or from a credit/debit card?  To do that, visit the Perkins giving site here and select “Perkins School Student Financial Aid” from the drop-down menu.  Gifts of any size are important as we seek to make education more affordable for students called to ministry.  One-time gifts are welcome, but recurring gifts are a handy way to continue participating in this important work.  Recurring gifts can be scheduled monthly, quarterly or yearly.

Of course, recurring gifts are not only for Student Financial Aid; there are a number of options available to you, including the SMU Fund for Perkins, the important unrestricted fund that Dean Hill can use for a variety of purposes.

If you would rather donate by check, checks can be sent to: Perkins Development, PO Box 750133, Dallas, TX 75275-0133.  Checks should be made out to “SMU,” with “Perkins Development” on the notation line.  If you want to target your gift further, note Student Financial Aid, or SMU Fund for Perkins, or some other fund.

Another way to make an enormous difference in a student’s educational life is to contact me at the Development Office ( to sponsor a Perkins Scholar.  That designation is used for a select group of M.Div. students who not only have outstanding academic abilities, but also leadership qualities.  A three-year $7,000 per year commitment is necessary to sponsor a Perkins Scholar ($583 per month).  Perhaps your church would like to sponsor a student in this way.

Do you want to honor a parent, pastor, mentor or spiritual influence in your life?  Contact the Development Office ( and converse about a named scholarship endowment.

A final reminder, as always, Dean Hill is in need of unrestricted funds to enhance various areas of Perkins.  The SMU Fund for Perkins is set up just for that purpose.  That fund can be selected online here or in a notation by check.

I hope you enjoy this issue of Perspective.  What goes on in our classrooms, in Dallas and Houston, is extremely valuable for the future of the church.  An untold number of lives will be touched by the students studying at Perkins right now.  Help them achieve their educational and ministry goals.

Please join us in this endeavor, and thank you for helping Perkins students afford our outstanding education.

With a thankful heart,

John A. Martin
Director of Development
Perkins School of Theology

To join the effort, please visit or contact me at:
John A. Martin, Perkins Development, PO Box 750133, Dallas, TX 75275-0133
214-768-2026 (direct line) |

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Faculty Roundtable: Teaching the Bible to Theology Students

Consider the daunting task facing teachers of the Bible: helping modern students understand how an ancient text speaks to the world today. Perkins students come from a range of Christian backgrounds. Some of them are fundamentalists, others are agnostic and many are somewhere in the middle. They enter Perkins from the wider world, where some dismiss the Bible as entirely irrelevant and others insist each word must be honored as literal truth. We asked Perkins’ Bible scholars to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching theology students; here are excerpts from their responses.

Q. What led you to devote your career to studying and teaching the Bible?

John R. (Jack) Levison, W. J. A. Power Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew: My very first week at Wheaton College, I was in Greek professor Gerald Hawthorne’s class. He walked in, put down his briefcase, and wrote Philippians 4:13 in Greek on the board. Most of the students knew that verse as, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Jerry said, “I don’t like that translation, because it’s not true. You can’t do chemistry through Christ who strengthens you. The translation I like is Today’s English Version: ‘I can face all things through the One who gives me power.’” He posed a problem, raised a question and pricked our curiosity. I was hooked. I was gone. I was all in.

Susanne Scholz, Professor of Old Testament: I grew up with the Grimm’s fairy tales as a child in West Germany, not with the Bible. I had a great religion teacher in my Gymnasium (last three years of 13 years of schooling) who hooked me to study theology at the university level. Then I had some great Bible professors, went on an archaeological dig, spent a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and did feminist exegesis with Dr. Phyllis Trible, a pioneering scholar in the United States. How can you not devote your life to a text of such magnificent, profound and enduring influence in society and in the world?

Sze-kar Wan, Professor of New Testament: I was born in China and lived in Hong Kong. I knew some English when I came to this country as a 15-year-old, but I could hardly understand what the teacher was saying, so I majored in math. I shied away from anything that required me to write or read, because I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag. In college I became more dedicated to Christianity. I had the idea – which I think now is rather naïve – that if I could really understand the “real” meaning of the biblical text, I could find out what Christianity was all about. It’s not as simple as that. In seminary, I realized that the Bible allowed me to be creative. I could find new meaning.

Roy L. Heller, Professor of Old Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor: I was brought up in a Pentecostal household where the Bible was regularly quoted, discussed and considered. I’ve always been interested in religion. A couple of my undergraduate professors convinced me that I should probably consider graduate school; when the time came to settle on a major, it seemed like religion would play to my strengths. Studying the Bible was, almost, the self-evident choice.

Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor: As a freshman in college, we discussed Matthew 28:19 in history class. Most translations say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” That sounds like an imperative – as in, your job is targeting people for evangelism. Instead the professor read the passage as: “As you are going, make disciples.” It’s a big difference. Instead of going to Africa to save people, your job is to go to work today and witness to the gospel. That struck me because, as a Russian Studies major and a military brat who had lived in Italy, I already understood that language really matters. If I wanted to gain a fuller understanding of the Bible, I needed to read it in the original language.

Abraham Smith, Professor of New Testament: My earliest reflections and work in biblical studies were essentially motivated by a mission: to rescue Paul from the dustbins of pragmatic irrelevancy. He suffered from multiple charges: social accommodation on questions about gender and slavery; theological inconsistency; and perhaps no small measure of dense writing. After all, someone closer to his own time once said of his letters: “there are some things in them hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16, NRSV). Little wonder it is, then, that this otherwise towering figure has also been described as an enigma, perhaps even a “protean” figure (as Amos Jones once did in Paul’s Message of Freedom: What Does It Mean to the Black Church?).

Q. What is it like teaching theology students? What’s most gratifying, what’s most challenging?

Smith: The most gratifying aspect of teaching Christian Scriptures is the moment when the fog lifts, new vistas open and teacher and student alike see afresh a text come alive because it finally connects emotionally to a class’ lived experiences. The most challenging and yet informative aspect is the moment when teacher and student alike learn to see how our interpretations may have had a genesis not in the actual reading of a text but in certain assumptions we brought with us to the reading of a text.

Wan: Most students come in with a lot of preconceived notions about the Bible, particularly their favorite hobby horses, their favorite texts. They have a hard time letting go, even when their interpretation really doesn’t accord with the historical possibilities of meanings. That is a challenge, but also fun. I can almost always predict what sort of interpretation students will have about a certain text. I try to turn it around as a way of teaching them, surprising them, destabilizing the old understanding.

Clark-Soles: I enjoy meeting students where they are. Some didn’t grow up in church; others have been in church since birth. I like to say this early on in class: “My job is making what is strange familiar and what is familiar strange.” For those students who feel intimidated, I take care to help them see how they already have the skills and aptitude for engaging the text. It’s not as mysterious or as strange as they may think. For those who grew up in church, and do know the text, I try to get them to look again and bring a whole set of different questions to the text. For example, where are all the women in the Prodigal Son story? Not in order to be shock jock-y, but to get enough distance to be able to see the text anew. To me the text itself is revelatory and is a locus for encountering the risen Christ. I hope to create space for students who so desire to have such an encounter and to inspire them to go out from Perkins and create such spaces for others in whatever way God calls them to.     

Scholz: Most students come to my Hebrew Bible class hoping either for what I call a personalized, privatized, sentimentalized (PPS) Bible study (i.e., how can I be a better Christian?) or they expect historical explanations about what the texts meant way back then, in ancient Israel. Most do not expect to be challenged in their theological, political, cultural and hermeneutical assumptions when they study the Hebrew Bible at a Christian-affiliated theology school. Most do not expect to study the Bible in conversation with contemporary religion and politics. But then we read the story of Sarah, Abraham and Hagar to learn more about sexual violence in the world. And we study the 19th-century debate on slavery to get a sense of Christian arguments for and against the so-called Curse of Ham (Gen. 9:20-27). It is hard work to teach people about their relentless preference to read the Bible either as a book about personal piety or as a history book about a largely fictional past. Most of my pedagogical efforts consist in exposing the hermeneutical habit of differentiating between the biblical past and the now as a hermeneutical “fallacy” because readers, grounded in their social locations, create biblical meanings, even when those very readers claim to be uninvolved participants in the meaning-making process. The authors are dead. Long live the readers of the Bible!

Levison: Most challenging is wooing people who have been hurt by the use of the Bible back to loving the Bible as Scripture. What I find gratifying is how hungry students seem to be. I was a little worried they would only be interested in pushing their own political agenda. They don’t. They’re willing to engage other students about biblical texts. The text gives students a base for civil disagreement and discourse. We’re not Fox News and MSNBC. In a world of uncommon divisions, the Bible gives us something in common. I teach a required Old Testament course with 35 students, and they have had lively, honest and intelligent discussions. That’s thrilling.

Heller: The gratification is seeing people actively engage the text with their imaginations, their questions, their wonderings … and to see how the text positively affects them. The challenge is precisely what it always has been: to cajole people into seeing the familiar stories and poems of the Bible in new ways.

Q. In your years of teaching, have you noticed any changes in students’ views and understanding of the Bible?

Smith: Today’s students do not necessarily bring a biblical-content literacy with them to the classroom. I spend more time helping students to catch the tone and tenor of individual writings. On the other hand, the absence of that literacy may actually allow some students not to study the material with larger, unchecked assumptions and thus to see the texts apart from received traditions that otherwise could dilute the power and promise of the texts.

Wan: I think the text is a way for us to have a conversation about what truth is. The Bible is not a kind of computer manual that you can simply open up and find the ‘truth’ in there. Truth is a continual conversation between what we are experiencing, what questions we are asking today, what our concerns are, what our understanding of justice and reality is. When we are armed with all those questions and ask the text those questions, I think it is in that give-and-take that we understand what truth is. It’s not so much a method as an event.  It’s a conversation rather than a discovery of something static.

Heller: In the years I’ve been teaching, I think students have become more aware of the literary nature of the biblical text. They understand that the Bible is composed of texts that have been composed and edited and re-edited over centuries and that the real power of the text is found in the ways that those types of literatures are encountered by real people now, who are living in real circumstances now. Students are clearer about both the complexity and the beauty of the text. (Or at least they are once they leave my class, God willing!) I also think that students now are much more aware of and attuned to the ways in which biblical interpretations have real-world and ethical ramifications. Interpretations aren’t just “out there” unconnected with real people and real situations. I attribute this widening of students’ perspectives to the internet and social media.

Q. Let’s talk a little about technology. The internet gives Bible readers a lot of information instantly. Good or bad?

Wan: If anything, that gives them a false sense of security. Technology tends to reinforce what you already believe. No one says, this is not possible historically. Instead, technology tends to give people tools to reinforce old ideas, and then it’s more difficult to shake them out of their old understanding of a certain text.

Levison: You can’t properly track down a word in the original language on the internet. If anything, people tend to come up with more bizarre explanations of difficult sayings. But I don’t find students at Perkins to be indiscriminate.

Q. In teaching Bible, are there key words or phrases in the original languages that you find lead to the biggest “aha’s” for students and laity?

Wan: One example is Matthew 8:24, the “calming of the storm” passage. Matthew got that story from Mark, but where Mark has a storm, Matthew has an earthquake. Yet almost every translation will translate Matthew’s “earthquake” as “windstorm.” Why would Matthew use an earthquake, and why would we translate it as windstorm? The punchline is that Matthew redacts Mark. He takes out some stuff, he changes some stuff. That sparks a lot
of conversation.

Levison: Another example is Proverbs 31, which opens with, “A good wife, who can find?” In the Hebrew, “good wife” is actually “woman of valor,” and the word “valor” is used for a warrior. She’s not the woman who gets up early to cook; she’s actually the businesswoman who gets up, hunts the prey and makes a meal from that. Nearly all the words in Proverbs 31 that were used to describe what we think of as a submissive wife are actually words of wealth, war, independent business. All of Proverbs 31 should be
re-interpreted. It’s one “aha” after another.

Smith: Sometimes, students and teachers alike experience an “aha” moment when we finally figure out how to capture the distinctive essence of a book compared to another one. That might take some time and deep study, but the reward is rich. As Toni Morrison would say, “If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.” The results of my own surrender to the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) is as follows. We capture the essence of each Synoptic Gospel as that Gospel speaks about Jesus’ disciples. For example, each Gospel paints a picture of a key problem that the disciples had by repeating a key word more often in one Gospel than in the others. Thus, for Mark, the primary focus is on the disciples’ desires (or what they want). For Matthew, the primary focus is on that to which the disciples offer their devotion (or what they treasure). In Luke, the primary focus is on the disciples’ deeds (or what they do).

Heller: I regularly sprinkle my lectures with Hebrew words and phrases to show how English translations aren’t (usually) right or wrong … they are trying to convey a “semantic field,” a spectrum of concepts that may not be summed up with one English word. So different English translations have to use different words. The English word “love” can mean many different things. (“I love donuts!” “I love the Bible!” “I love my spouse!” “I love traveling!”) All Hebrew words are like the English word “love.” They ALL have a range of possible shades of meaning. This is why reading the Bible in the original languages is so incredible. Instead of limiting the meaning of the text, the original languages blow the lid off our desire to define and constrict meaning. It literally becomes a word/Word that has no end!

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Bridwell’s Special Collections – Special Indeed


Rare Books & Manuscripts Librarian
Bridwell Library Perkins School of Theology

*Click here to view the magazine spread with images.

On a sunny summer afternoon in 2016, I escorted a patron into the Special Collections Reading Room to see a fragment of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. This fragment of ancient Greek text, written by hand on papyrus, was encapsulated in glass and lying on a gray foam support. It dated from the 6th century A.D. and had been found in central Egypt, in a location south of Cairo near the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus, where el Bahnasa is found today.  The papyrus was encapsulated for its protection when it was removed from the climate that had preserved it for so long. Our visitor, a participant in the Perkins Course of Study program, alternately bent over to peer closely at the document and stood back to take it in from a distance. He said that he didn’t read ancient Greek – it simply meant a lot to him to see it in person, to be in the presence of an early fragment of Scripture that had come down to us through the centuries. The look of awe and admiration on his face indicated the depth of his feeling. I was not unfamiliar with the effect that historic books and manuscripts can have on people. I started my own career with rare materials 17 years earlier, and I have worked with a lot of researchers since then. Nevertheless, I had just started working at Bridwell that week, the visitor was my first patron, and this ancient fragment of Scripture was the first item I pulled from Bridwell’s vault. It was a great way to start my new life in Dallas, and this manuscript fragment remains one of my favorite items in Bridwell Library’s remarkable collections.

The collections held by Bridwell Library are indeed remarkable, built around the generous donations of two core Bible collections: the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Collection and the Thomas J. Harrison Collection. The Harrison Collection focuses on the origins of the English Bible, and includes such landmarks as the Great Bible (1540), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishop’s Bible (1568) and the first edition of the King James Bible (1611). Mr. Harrison was also interested in the history of the Bible in the United States, as well as the translation of the Bible into world vernacular languages. His donation included important early American volumes, including printings in Cherokee, Choctaw, Chippewa and other Native American languages. Mrs. Prothro collected a broad and deep representation of the history of the Bible throughout Europe in both manuscript and print. The Prothro Collection contains such renowned publications a the Complutensian Polyglot (a beautiful and very rare multilingual Bible printed in Spain between 1514 and 1517), Martin Luther’s German translation of the Old Testament (1523-24) and the first printed Spanish translation of the Bible (1569), referred to as the “Bear Bible” after a woodcut illustration of a bear on the title page. The breadth of the Prothro Collection is further supplemented by such treasures as John Wesley’s proof copy of his Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (1755), with Wesley’s own handwritten notes, and a copy of the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493), a heavily illustrated history of the world from Creation to the 15th century. Some overlap between the collections means that in the case of select titles Bridwell Library is blessed with more than one copy. I would not call these “duplicate” however, as each volume reveals its own unique history through ownership marks, marginal notes and variations in binding. Through such physical evidence, the books in Special Collections may be studied as historical objects, as well as for their textual content.

Another foundational gift is that of Dr. Alvin Valentine Lane, who began donating his impressive collection of ancient near-eastern artifacts, including the manuscript fragment of Paul, to SMU in 1917. Over the years the library has added to these gifts so that today Bibles, and Bible-related publications, account for more than 3,000 distinct titles of the approximately 50,000 volumes held within Special Collections. This number comprises complete Bibles, separate publications of the Old or New Testaments, selections of Scripture such as evangeliaries and psalters, as well as commentaries, children’s Bibles and picture Bibles. The collections include works in more than
100 different languages.

I began to grasp the breadth of the Bridwell’s collections before I even arrived in Dallas. For my on-site interview, the search committee asked me to give a talk describing how I would respond to a request from a faculty member for a class presentation. The scenario was very specific. It would be for a class on the Old Testament, and the goal was to show how this text was transmitted over the centuries. I have a fairly good background in textual transmission and criticism, having studied Ancient Greek and Latin literature, so I knew that I would want to talk about the process of producing manuscript copies of Scripture, as well as about significant moments in the history of printed copies of the Bible. Not being a biblical scholar, however, I did a lot of research to identify the really important historical publications of the Bible. From this I compiled an ideal list of what I would show if I had access to anything I wanted. Turning next to the library catalog to see what Bridwell held, I was surprised and delighted to find that nearly everything I wanted was there. The only items that I could not find were some specific manuscripts, which was not a great surprise seeing that these materials were unique and already known to be held in other libraries around the world. Nevertheless, I discovered that in some cases the library had high quality facsimile publications of these works, and so I was able to include them.

I am told that my enthusiasm for Bridwell’s collections was evident during my interview presentation. This past fall semester I had the chance to give this specific presentation to a class in the Department of Religious Studies. I saw the same look of enthusiasm and surprise on the faces of the students as they realized that these materials were here, on their campus, and available for them to examine for themselves. This is the central message of my outreach efforts, through classroom presentations and public exhibitions: that Bridwell Library provides students, faculty and community members with access to some truly amazing treasures and that anyone can make an appointment to work with them personally. You do not even have to be a student or other affiliate of SMU. I like to tell students that since I started at SMU, I have hosted researchers from as far away as Switzerland, England and Japan. I tell them that even years from now they will always be welcome back, but that they should take advantage of this opportunity while they have such great materials in their own backyard.

Many students discover Bridwell Special Collections through classroom presentations. Working with the faculty, I select books and manuscripts specific to what the students are studying in their courses. In recent years, an average of 288 visitors have attended my classroom presentations each semester. We reach a very broad audience, indeed, as requests for presentations of Bridwell’s Bibles and other rare books come from a diverse array of disciplines. One class co-offered by Religious Studies and Art History compared manuscript Bibles with Torahs and Korans. Every spring I am visited by a class in the Advertising Department which examines the interaction of text and image, comparing fragments of the Gutenberg Bible (1454-55) with William Morris’s Kelmscott Chaucer (1896) and Henri Matisse’s Jazz (1947). While most class visits are from SMU courses, I also host groups from other area universities, high schools and even some community groups. For the past three years a class investigating the intersection of technologies and great intellectual movements from the Christian Life Preparatory School has examined items like a 13th-century “Paris” Bible and cuneiform tablets.

While some community members are reached through presentations, outreach beyond the campus is greatly aided by Bridwell Library’s exhibitions, developed by curators collaborating with Bridwell’s exhibition designer and digital project librarian. Physical exhibitions are accessible to local communities and campus visitors, while digital exhibitions reach audiences worldwide. In the spring 2019 exhibition, I had the privilege of presenting biblical texts drawn from the library’s holdings of 20th-century books designed and printed by artists and fine press printers. The exhibition featured such items as Salvador Dalí’s Biblia Sacra (1967) and The Story of Exodus (1966), with illustrations by Marc Chagall, pictured at left, and provided a wonderful opportunity to explore the rich holdings of more contemporary artistic books in a library that is often known for its early printed books.w

Bridwell’s rich collections continue to reveal treasures to me, and my enthusiasm grows every time I see a new class or visitor make their own discoveries. I hope our outreach efforts will lead to many future experiences like that first one I had in 2016, and provide new opportunities for people to have meaningful encounters of their own.

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Jaime Clark-Soles: Have Bible, Will Travel

As Professor of New Testament, Jaime Clark-Soles’ focus is academic: researching, writing and teaching graduate-level students at Perkins. But she ventures often beyond the seminary to help laypeople cultivate deeper understanding of the Bible, through lectures in churches, at retreats and on study trips.

“I’m out speaking, teaching and preaching to anybody and everybody who’s interested,” said Clark-Soles, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor and Director of the Baptist House of Studies. “Have Bible, will travel.”

Like many Perkins faculty who teach lay audiences, Clark-Soles says the endeavor involves challenges –
all of which she tackles with imagination, enthusiasm and innovative style.

The Priesthood of All Believers

One hurdle in teaching laypeople is limited time.

“With seminary students, I get them for class for 13 weeks,” she said. “We have time to sink into Scripture more deeply, together, and marinate in it all semester long.” Extended time allows her to help students ingrain particular habits of reading and interpreting the Bible.

Teaching laypeople has its perks, too.

“Number one, I don’t have to grade,” she said. “Also, when I teach groups of laypeople, they’re self- selected. Nobody is coming because it’s a required course. They can just jump in and play.”

While she loves teaching laypeople, Clark-Soles is careful to avoid underscoring the dividing line between laity and clergy or theologians.

“I teach the same material to laypeople as I do with seminary students,” she said. “I love teaching all reflective, curious, faithful people who come to learn.” Her classes attract doctors, lawyers, teachers and others – all of whom, she emphasized, are part of the priesthood of all believers.

“I tell them: I’m the expert on the Bible, but I’m not the expert Christian,” Clark-Soles said. “Everybody’s job is to donate their gifts from their perspective.”

Jars of Tears

Ron Watson jokes that he and his wife are “theology groupies” who follow Clark-Soles in the way fans might follow a rock band. Members of North Cross United Methodist Church in Kansas City, the Watsons travel to Dallas each year for the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning (formerly the Perkins Theological School for the Laity) and previously served on the lay advisory board for the event. They’ve also attended programs taught by Clark-Soles in Taos and Amarillo.

“I’ve lost track of how many actual classes we’ve taken with Jaime, but it’s a bunch,” he said.

Susie Watson treasures two tiny glass jars that Clark-Soles brought back from the Holy Land for lay students in her 2019 “Women in the Bible” class in Dallas. The jars represent Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.” (New Living Translation)

“This is one of the ways that Jaime bridges the gap between ancient Scripture, with an object to hold onto in today’s world,” she said.

Ron Watson notes that Clark-Soles keeps classes lively by veering off her prepared lectures to answer questions spontaneously. Even the course she taught on “Death and Dying” was engaging.

“Jaime used Scripture to dispel a lot of the fear and hellfire/damnation baggage that goes with the topic,” he said. “I left with a much more accepting, natural and comforting perspective on life, death and the hereafter.”

Rhonda Ward, a member of First Fulshear United Methodist Church near Houston, makes an effort to attend the Perkins Lay School in Houston whenever Clark-Soles teaches. That has given Ward a grounding of her Bible knowledge that allows her to teach more effectively in her own church. A lesson on the geography of Palestine, for example, helped her grasp intricacies of the Gospel of Mark.

Just as essential, however, is Clark-Soles’ enthusiasm for the subject.

“Her style, her personality, her joy, all bring the Bible to life,” she said. “She has this endearing, authentic style of being faithful and hopeful.”

Bible Reading Habits

Whatever text or topic she’s teaching, Clark-Soles emphasizes developing good habits of Bible study.

“I want students to build habits of self-awareness of the lens they bring when studying the Bible – to consider the historical context, the translation and its implications, and how to bridge the gap between their own language and the original language,” she said. She also likes to encourage students to sometimes set all that aside, “to forget everything else, read the passage like a story and let the text speak to you as it is.”

While she does occasionally teach a stand-alone Sunday school class, Clark-Soles has gravitated in recent years to more lengthy courses – teaching at weekend retreats, or leading a series of classes, or lecturing on travel adventures, such as the cruise along the Rhine River in December.

“Building community is a hugely important thing for me,” she said. “Scripture was meant to be read in community. That’s difficult with a one-time, 45-minute class.”

Ward adds that Clark-Soles is “not just a deliverer of information. Her approach is, ‘We’re going to grow in this together.’”

That’s by design, Clark-Soles said, because pitfalls arise when individuals study Scripture without community. 

“Protestants today are hyper-individualized,” she said. “The danger is a mind-set of, ‘All I need is to be personally saved.’ If the Bible is a privatized thing, your job is done as long as you’ve got yours. But that’s not God’s will. The whole point is the flourishing of all creation.”

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Perkins Names 2020 Seals Laity Award Recipient

Perkins School of Theology announced Mary White as the recipient of the 2020 Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, White will be recognized next year at an award ceremony during the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning, March 18-20, 2021.

The Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award is presented annually to a layperson in the United States who embodies the Christian faith and commitment of service to Christ in the church, community and world as exemplified by Judge Woodrow B. Seals, a distinguished layperson whose interest and energy were instrumental in establishing the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning (formerly the Perkins Theological School for the Laity). Selection for the Seals Award is made by the Perkins Lay Advisory Board.

White is a faithful United Methodist, church leader, volunteer and retired educator. Since joining St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in El Paso, Texas, in 1983, she has served as principal, then director of St. Mark’s School, and continues to support the school as a volunteer. Over the years, White has been active in a wide range of mission efforts, including 10 mission trips (seven as team leader) in Eastern Europe, Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

“Mary is a dynamic and powerful force of leadership in St. Mark’s and the El Paso community,” said Russ Nebhut, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. “She has a passion for serving the Lord through helping others.”

White grew up in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, and attended New Mexico State University, where she met her late husband, Carol.  They raised two daughters while Carol White’s military career took the family to Tucson, Anchorage and Prattville, Ala., near Montgomery.  After his retirement in 1981, they settled in El Paso and joined St. Mark’s.

In 1990, Mary White became director of St. Mark’s School, then a preschool and kindergarten. By the time she retired in 2008, the student body had grown fourfold, new facilities had been added and the curriculum had expanded to include classes through the sixth grade.

White’s long list of accomplishments in mission work includes leading or volunteering for mission trips in Macedonia, Hungary, Bosnia and Poland. She also led mission projects at 3M Rancho Orphanage near El Paso and at the UMCOR Depots at Sager-Brown, La., and Salt Lake City, Utah. In support of her nomination for the Seals Laity Award, letters came from around the U.S. and the world.

“Mary has always been a good organizer and could delegate the work in a practical way,” said Istvan Csernak, a retired minister who served the United Methodist Church in Hungary between 1996 and 2016. “Our brothers and sisters were not only grateful for the work that was done but were also enriched by the love and fellowship of our friends in El Paso. Mary is a real faith example for many of us.” 

Csernak noted that in recent years White and her husband worked in the small remote village of Kisvaszar among the Roma people; she continued the work after Carol’s death in 2014.

White also served as Conference Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Coordinator from 2006 – 2015 and as a member of the board of Houchen Community Center, a national mission under the direction of the UMC’s Women’s Division. 

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Perkins Honors the Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle as 2019 Distinguished Alumna

The Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle (M. Div. ’93) was chosen as the 2019 recipient of the Perkins Distinguished Alumnus/a Award. The prestigious award was presented at a banquet on November 12, 2019 at Perkins.

Selected by the Perkins Alumni/ae Council, the award recognizes Perkins graduates who have demonstrated effectiveness and integrity in service to the church, continuing support for the goals of Perkins and Southern Methodist University, outstanding service to the community, and exemplary character.

“Katherine’s extensive ties to the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church and to numerous non-profits in the Dallas area have made her a valuable ally of Perkins,” Craig C. Hill, Dean of Perkins School of Theology. “She has been a sounding board for every Perkins dean since her graduation in 1993, including myself.”

Lyle was born in Fort Worth and grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She earned two degrees in history from SMU – a B.A. in 1971 and an M.A. in 1973. After a stint as a full-time community volunteer and mom, she returned to Perkins and earned a Master of Divinity in 1993.

She was ordained as an elder in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church and served five full-time appointments from 1994 until 2009. At three of her appointments – St. Marks UMC in Mesquite, First UMC in DeSoto, and First UMC in Rowlett – she was the first woman to serve as senior pastor. 

After retirement, Lyle served as interim pastor at four churches.  “Her work as an interim pastor since her retirement has been a lifeline to the congregations to which she was sent,” said the Rev. John Thornburg in a letter nominating Lyle.  “Each of those churches received the hope-filled, healing touch they needed after a difficult season.”   

Lyle is a member of the Executive Board of Perkins School of Theology as well as steering committees for the Perkins Scholarship Luncheon and the Faith in Business Luncheon Series. She is also a member of the Advisory Committee for Perkins’ Fall Convocation.

Lyle serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) and Chair of the Board of Directors for Dallas Bethlehem Center. She is former Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Union Coffee. Katherine is also a Partner and member of the Board of Directors of Dallas Social Venture Partners, which honored her as the first recipient of its Katherine Glaze Lyle Transformational Leadership Award, named in her honor. On the national level, Katherine became Chair of the Board of Directors for Philadelphia-based Partners for Sacred Places on January 1, 2020.

Katherine has two grown children and four grandchildren: daughter Sharon, married to Mark Mutschink and mother of Bennett; and Christopher Lyle, married to Lyndsay and father of Emerson, Hannah and Graham. 

Perspective Magazine Perspective Magazine Summer 2020

Reboot Youth Ministry Gathering

Leaders explored innovative ministry approaches

Representatives of 16 diverse congregations gathered on the Perkins campus in January for a six-month check-in for Reboot, a program of Perkins School of Theology. The initiative aims to develop an innovative approach to youth ministry through mentors, training retreats, leadership classes and financial support. The congregations, all part of Reboot’s Starter Cohort, received training on how to submit proposals for projects; up to 12 will be selected in May to receive funding. “Our Reboot team is learning as much from these congregations as they are learning from us,” said Bart Patton, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Education. “We plan to share this learning with podcasts, articles, blogs and other resources in English and Spanish on the website by next fall.” Reboot originated with a five- year, $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to Perkins.

Visit to learn more.