In this video, Dean Craig Hill of Perkins School of Theology looks at the importance of acquiring knowledge of history, language and context as part of an excellent theological education. Part 1 of a 4-part series.
Save the Date:
Virtual and Face-to-Face Recruitment Events for Perkins Prospective Students
By Rev. Margot Perez-Greene, Ph.D.
We are full into the recruitment phase, engaging prospective student for Fall 2022! I am pleased to share the activities for engaging with prospective students beginning mid-January. Included in each of these events is the opportunity to meet and converse with current students, faculty, and Office of Enrollment Management staff. Topics are diverse in nature from discerning a call to ministry to facts about admission and financial aid.
Our hope is that Perkins Perspective readers will share this information with your churches, agencies, organizations, and all of those you have mentored on the path to vocational or lay ministry. It is our promise to attend to those you send our way with a full commitment of integrity and respect.
Please be in prayer for Perkins School of Theology, its students, faculty, staff, and dean.
Happy New Year from the Office of Enrollment Management!
Wednesday, January 12 at 12 p.m. DISCERN (VIRTUAL)
Where Is God Calling You in 2022?, featuring Dr. Alyce McKenzie
Perkins School of Theology considers a call to ministry a serious event in one’s life. The great news is that God continues to call upon individuals to serve wherever good news is needed. Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Homiletics Professor, and a current student will share their own personal calls and interact with you in a safe and hospitable environment. You’re invited to listen in and/or share your own story.
Tuesday, February 1 at 12 p.m. CONNECT (VIRTUAL)
Make a Connection with the Recruitment and Admission Team at Perkins
We like to put a face to a name when possible so that we can get to know you better. We want you to get to know us better, too, and will provide contact information for future communication. We’ve asked a current student to join the Zoom call to share their personal Perkins experience with our staff as they were nurtured and onboarded from their initial inquiry to enrollment. Come and join us for this very informal time of getting to know each other.
Friday, February 11, INSIDE PERKINS (IN PERSON)
We have an inspiring day to share with you on our beautiful SMU Dallas campus! You’ll observe one of our world-class faculty members teaching, interact with a group of students at lunch, have an intimate conversation with our dean, and tour our world-renowned Bridwell Library to hear about our latest acquisition. You won’t want to miss this day at Perkins!
Thursday, February 24 at 12 p.m. EXPLORE (VIRTUAL)
A Personal Dialogue Between a Current Perkins Student and Dr. Ted Campbell
Perkins students have the great advantage of being taught by world-class faculty as well as the added value of spending significant personal time with them. Our faculty members are shaping the lives of students and imparting beneficial experiences as students prepare for vocational ministry. One student has been invited to share her experience. You’ll want to hear how this relationship has flourished and about the opportunity for mentorship, scholarship, and personal enrichment while studying at Perkins.
Thursday, March 10, INSIDE PERKINS (IN PERSON)
The Perkins community offers what many seminaries offer: world-class faculty, beautiful facilities, academic rigor, and an outstanding location. In addition, we believe we are an exception to what others offer and invite you to spend a few hours out of your valuable time to learn more. You’ll observe a faculty member teaching, interact with a group of students at lunch, worship, and have an intimate conversation with our dean. Join us for an up-close-and-personal look before making any final decisions about your choice for theological study.
Thursday, April 7, INSIDE PERKINS (IN PERSON)
The Perkins community offers what many seminaries offer: world-class faculty, beautiful facilities, academic rigor, and an outstanding location. In addition to these factors, we believe we are an exception to what others offer and invite you to spend a few hours out of your valuable time to hear about this feature. You’ll observe a faculty member teaching, interact with a group of students at lunch, worship, and have an intimate conversation with our dean. Join us for an up-close-and-personal look before making any final decisions about your choice for theological study.
Thursday, April 28 at 7 p.m. DISCERN (VIRTUAL)
Your Call Stories Shared and Facilitated by Dr. Alyce McKenzie
Perkins School of Theology considers a call to ministry a serious event in one’s life. The great news is that God continues to call upon individuals to serve wherever good news is needed. Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Homiletics Professor, and a current student will share their own personal calls and interact with you in a safe and hospitable environment. You’re invited to listen in and/or share your own story.
Thursday, June 2 at 12 p.m. CONNECT (VIRTUAL)
Perkins Hybrid Program Accepting Applications — Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Ministry-from Your Own Home!
The Houston-Galveston Extension Program is one of Perkins most popular offerings! Student from all over the country choose the hybrid format, which requires no relocation. This enables students to continue working or live near their families. Bar none, it is the most well-developed community-building hybrid program in the nation. Join us to learn more!
Wednesday, June 22 at 12 p.m. CONNECT (VIRTUAL)
Have Questions About Perkins? Get Your Questions Answered!
Any lingering questions about Perkins? We’re here to answer and clarify any question you may have. We hope to put your mind at ease and clear any last-minute inquiry. We’re bringing along a current student so that you can hear first-hand about the Perkins brand and experience! Come and let us get to know you and you us. Hope to see you there!
For three hours in the morning, Lane Davis jumps on a Zoom call with fellow students working on their doctoral dissertations in the Graduate Program for Religious Studies (GPRS) at SMU. They update each other on their progress, hold each other accountable and offer mutual support and encouragement.
“Those of us in the doctoral program are not just colleagues,” said Davis, a fourth-year Ph.D. student concentrating on Christian history. “We are good friends.”
That communal feel is one reason why GPRS is so exceptional – and one reason why the program attracts top talent every year. GPRS students pursue M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, New Testament, History of the Christian Tradition, Religion and Culture, Religious Ethics or Systematic Theology. While students in many graduate programs at other universities may toil for years in solitary library carrels – especially during the writing phase of their Ph.D. studies – GPRS students enjoy the fellowship of a tight-knit community.
“The competition for entry is fierce – we admit less than 10% of applicants in a typical year – and the work is rigorous,” said Roy Heller, the program’s director and Professor of Old Testament at Perkins. “We have students who come to us with multiple master’s degrees or from professional backgrounds such as law or biochemistry. But once in the program, students enjoy a collegial atmosphere, and they get a lot of support.”
Currently, there are 21 GPRS students; only three to five students are admitted each year. Typically, Ph.D. students complete two years of coursework, including core courses in their areas of specialization, and spend three or more years writing a dissertation.
GPRS is one of the few fully funded graduate programs in the U.S. Once accepted, students’ tuition, fees and health insurance are paid, along with a stipend to help cover living expenses. The program was rolled out in the fall of 1965 and recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first GPRS graduate in 1970.
The program serves primarily to prepare students for academic leadership in their chosen fields and for professional careers as teacher-scholars in colleges, universities, and schools of theology. However, given that tenure track job openings are increasingly rare, faculty and staff assist students as they consider other career possibilities.
“Our students have been successful in finding jobs in nonprofits, libraries and museums,” said Heller. “The reality is that many won’t land in academic jobs, but there are ways to make it work.”
“I saw the job description for this position and thought, ‘I can do all those things,’” said Fuller. “And I do get to do some teaching, as a librarian and as an adjunct at Perkins.”
Another key advantage of the program is support and funding that enable students to attend conferences and professional gatherings in their fields such as the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) annual meetings. That helps them academically and in building networks in the job market.
“We see students developing their scholarly ‘family’ within their fields during their years in the program,” said Pamela Hogan, Coordinator for GPRS. “These students will leave from here, but they will stay connected their entire lives.”
Students get practical support in their job searches, too.
“When I was at GPRS, students organized professional development luncheons, where faculty members helped us prepare for interviews and to craft a strong CV and cover letter,” said Grace Vargas (GPRS Ph.D., 2020), now assistant professor in the department of religion at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
“Partly because it’s a small program, there were very few other students doing what I was doing,” said Fuller, whose area of specialization was Hebrew Bible. “When you’re not competing with each other, it’s easier to be supportive.”
Heller adds, “You don’t see the same kind of cut-throat competition here that some other graduate programs might have.”
GPRS is officially part of SMU’s Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies within the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. But in its day-to-day operations, GPRS is closely linked to Perkins. Many Perkins faculty members teach and advise GPRS students. Hogan coordinates GPRS along with the D.Min. and D.P.M. programs at Perkins. Fundraising for GPRS is handled through Perkins’ Development Office.
Many students and graduates interviewed for this story noted their appreciation for these dual ties to Perkins and SMU.
“I’ve taken Old Testament classes from three Perkins and one Dedman professor,” said Kelsey Spinnato, a fifth year Ph.D. student who hopes to teach at a university. “I have access to both types of work, and I will be equipped to teach in either environment.”
Other resources at Perkins and SMU also attract students to the program. Grace Vargas’ decision to attend GPRS was influenced by the presence of the Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions at Perkins, GPRS’ connection with the Hispanic Theological Initiative Consortium, and her faculty advisor, Dr. Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, then Professor of World Christianities and Mission Studies at Perkins.
Spinnato adds that the program offers a lot of flexibility in the direction students can pursue as they choose their coursework and the topics for their dissertations. Spinnato is writing her dissertation on narrative retellings in 1990-2019 in the U.S. related to the character of Rebecca in the Old Testament.
That flexibility is also a key advantage for first-year student Shandon Klein (M.Div. 2021). She’s pursuing a Ph.D. in Religious Ethics. Working with her professors, she has tailored directed and independent study courses to her specific interests and her planned doctoral dissertation topic: risk-taking behavior and ethics with Steve Long; Christianity and colonialism with Tamara Lewis; and Womanist theology and ethics with Karen Baker-Fletcher.
Said Klein: “When you have great relationships with professors, there’s an open door to pursue whatever you want.”
Abraham Smith, Professor of New Testament at Perkins, was part of the team of scholars who collaborated for two years on an updated edition of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NRSVue eBible is now available for purchase and download on Amazon, and the print version will be available May 1, 2022.
The NRSV, published in 1989, has ranked among the most used translations of the Bible, behind the King James and the New International Version. The NRSV updated edition (NRSVue), the most respected Bible among English-speaking scholars and mainline churches, was sponsored by the National Council of Churches, with its 38 member communions. The Society of Biblical Literature, which developed the mandate for the updated edition in collaboration with the National Council of Churches, recruited the translators and managed the editorial process for the NRSVue.
With some 20,000 changes, the NRSVue incorporates recent biblical archaeology and research that has deepened scholars’ understanding of many texts. According to the publisher, Friendship Press, the NRSVue “is the most extensively updated English-language Bible translation available on the worldwide market to date.”
Another Perkins faculty member, Richard D. Nelson, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Interpretation, also contributed to the project as editor of the book of Judges.
In an email interview, Smith offered his insights into the updating process, his contributions, and the changes made.
Why undertake an update now?
Given that the NRSV was originally published in 1989, the time was ripe for a revision that would incorporate a variety of new textual tools, newly discovered or newly accessible ancient manuscripts, and new insights on the meanings of words as they were used in their original languages. Thus, with its revisions of the NRSV in accordance with the most up-to-date modern scholarship, the NRSVue has become the most historically accurate, compellingly clear, and broadly vetted English translation in the world. Academic reliability and everyday readability meet each other on every page.
What are some examples of the changes that were made?
In the NRSV, Paul informs the saints at Philippi that he has prayed for them to have a love grounded in “knowledge and insight,” which would help them “to determine what is best” (Philippians 1:10). The Greek words (ta diapheronta) behind the expression what is best more clearly, though, reflect a form of organizing thought into categories such as the things that matter vs. the things that do not matter. Thus, given the weight that Paul repeatedly places on the weighing of options throughout the letter to the Philippians, the NRSVue translates the expression more accurately as “the things that matter.”
To avoid defining a person by a disability, the NRSVue makes a good faith effort to adopt person-first diction. Thus, Matthew 4:24 in the NRSVue speaks of “people possessed by demons or having epilepsy or afflicted with paralysis.”
Likewise, to make a distinction between a person’s identity and a condition imposed on that person, the NRSVue of Galatians 4:22 uses the expression “an enslaved woman,” as opposed to a “slave woman.”
In the tradition of the NRSV, the NRSV tries to avoid what famed translator Bruce Metzger called “linguistic sexism,” which means “the inherent bias of the English language toward the masculine gender” (see the “To the Reader” preface in the NRSV). So, in Romans 16:1, the NRSVue retains the word “deacon” for Phoebe as opposed to the belittling “deaconess” terminology found in a few other translations. Going beyond the NRSV, however, the NRSVue replaces the belittling “servant-girl” expression in Mark 14:69 by referring to the woman of that text as a “female servant.”
Finally, the NRSV regrettably had used lowercase letters to describe some Jewish calendrical observances. Lest doing so be interpreted as disrespectful, such observances as the Sabbath and Passover are now rendered in capital letters. Accordingly, in John 5:9, the NRSVue reads “Now that day was a Sabbath,” which replaces the NRSV’s reading: “Now that day was a sabbath.”
You are listed as a member of the staff coordinating the review and update. Can you describe the process and how you participated in it?
The review and update process worked in three stages. The first stage was a planning stage, which was initiated by the NCC in consultation with the Society of Biblical Literature. In 2017 of this initial stage, two groups of editors were selected: book editors and general editors. All the books of the Bible were assigned to book editors (a gender diverse and ethnically diverse group of 56 scholars who would review the NRSV and offer suggestions for changes). Richard D. Nelson, professor emeritus of Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Interpretation at Perkins, was one of the book editors. Furthermore, SBL selected a group of seven general editors who ultimately would review and evaluate the changes that individual book editors recommended. The group of seven was further divided into three teams of editors to cover each corpus of the Bible: the Old Testament (aka Hebrew Scriptures); the Apocrypha (aka the Deuterocanon); and the New Testament.
My own contribution to the project began during the second stage (2018-2020), the review and update stage. During this stage, the book editors edited the individual books and made recommendations for changes to the general editors. The staff coordinating the submission of changes and managing the Zoom meetings to discuss those changes was led by administrators from the SBL and two liaisons from the NCC’s Bible, Translation, and Utilization Advisory Committee. In April of 2018, I was asked to become a part of this Advisory Committee and to serve as one of the two liaisons representing the interests of the NCC. In November of 2018, I met with all the members of that editorial board. I then began to meet via Zoom once a month with the NT editorial board and SBL’s staff appointees to discuss the changes that individual NT book editors had recommended for review and evaluation.
I also participated in the third stage (2020-2021), the vetting and finalizing stage. During this stage, an ecumenical and interfaith group of book reviewers initially vetted all of the changes that the coordinating staff had approved and made recommendations for slight changes to improve the readability of the product in worship and liturgical settings. Thus, as a member of the Bible, Translation, and Utilization Committee, I worked to edit the final form of the project in a way that would embrace the reviewers’ comments without losing the imprimatur of the coordinating staff from SBL. Thus, the final edition of the NRSVue, which was fully endorsed by the SBL for accuracy, was approved by the governing board of the NCC in October 2021.
Some laypeople may ask, why do we need to change the Bible?
Translators or editors do not have as their goal to change the content of the Bible. Still, given that any modern-language Bible arrives as a translated text (from the Bible’s original languages such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), the Bible as we know it already is appreciably different from any of the individual texts that were composed singularly and later collected into what has become an anthology of value for wisdom, study, and faith.
What, then, are the goals of the NRSVue? The NRSVue seeks to make the Bible clearer, to render its wording in English more accurately, and to reap the benefits of all that scholars have learned since 1989. Yet another goal of the NRSVue, and one dear to me, is to produce a product that that has been carefully reviewed and updated by a wide variety of the finest scholars in the academy today. Thus, the architects behind the NRSVue embraced inclusivity from the very beginning. The goal all along was to be as gender diverse and ethnically diverse as possible and to welcome teams of translators that were both ecumenical and interfaith in their composition.
Anything else you’d want readers to know?
Standing in the shadows of the Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew, Great, Geneva, and Rheims Bibles, the editors of the King James Bible stated in their preface in 1611, “we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one … but to make a good one better.” No less is it true for the editors of the NRSVue. The desire was always to take the NRSV and to make something better. Thus, woven into the warp and woof of the NRSVue’s approximately 20,000 substantive edits is something better—better in the diversity of its translators, better in the accuracy of its renderings, better in the consistency of its formatting, and better in the means by which it was vetted. Along the way, perhaps this long and often arduous undertaking has not just produced a better product. Maybe it has produced better people—better in their patience, better in their quest for truth, and better in their empathy with one another. To paraphrase Psalm 118:23, this, I think, was “the deity’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
We welcome your feedback!
Perkins is hosting listening groups in January and February to discuss the future of theological education and the Church and possible changes to the Perkins curriculum. The listening groups will include alums, Annual Conference Extended Cabinets, Boards of Ordained Ministry, leaders from different denominations, and other Perkins stakeholders. The goal is to listen to your thoughts about theological education and Perkins’ curriculum review. Look for an email in early January about participating in the listening groups. Zoom and in-person options will be available.
Read more about the curriculum review process here.
Three Perkins students presented their perspectives in a wide-ranging panel discussion, “Encountering World Religions at a Christian Seminary,” held December 1 on the Perkins campus.
Tamara Bayo, Jonathan Colley and Elmer Doty were students during the Spring term of 2021 in the course on Interfaith Studies, Comparative Theology, and Christian Ministry, which included a study of world religions and how to dialogue with people of other faith traditions. They wrote papers which were originally presented virtually at the 2021 Parliament of the World’s Religions international conference in October. Their writings tackled questions such as “How can interfaith studies transform theological education?”, “What are the theological grounds for interfaith dialogue and cooperation?” and “What can Christians learn from other faith traditions?” Ruben L.F. Habito, Professor of World Religions and Spirituality, moderated the panel.
“The panel discussion went so well that I invited the three students to present the papers again to this semester’s Interfaith Studies class and opened the event to the public,” Habito said. “The students in this class had very pointed and thought provoking questions, and engaged with the panelists in lively discussions.”
Here are brief summaries of the students’ presentations:
Bayo, a Catholic layperson, described her experiences after she was diagnosed with cancer at age 44. “Chemo, radiation and surgery became the constants in my life,” she said. “Critical illness is terribly lonely. I was quietly lying in a bed confronting my mortality. In those moments, I experienced a sense of peace like no other.” The room at the doctor’s office where she received her chemo treatment became her home and the nurses became her community.
“I felt unconditional love for those in the midst of terrible suffering,” she said. “It was a community I never wanted to leave. Every culture and religion was represented, yet nothing divided us because we were rooted in love. We were connected by something we simply could not explain.”
Bayo said that she chose a Methodist seminary because of the diversity of the program. She wanted the opportunity to study the world’s religions in a non-judgmental environment that showed profound respect for all spiritual believers.
“Knowledge, authenticity, respect, love – I believe these are the keys to encountering each other in the spiritual, philosophical and religious conversation,” she said. “These allow us to find our spiritual home. You cannot speak to someone’s soul if you don’t understand their background. We must learn to speak to the human soul.”
Bayo attends Mass daily and teaches youth. Often, she’s asked how she can remain a Catholic “when they clearly don’t respect women.” Thoughtful study is critical to progress and positive change, she said.
“I have so much to learn,” she said. “It’s a daunting task at times, but my eyes have been opened.”
She added, “I have never met two people who wholly believe precisely the same thing … or who practice their spirituality in exactly the same ways. I remain wholly Catholic while opening up my heart and mind to experience interfaith practices fully.”
“What we all truly seek is vastly outside of what the human mind can grasp,” she said. “No one is exclusively correct. Can we release control? Can we respect each person’s journey to their truth?”
Jonathan Colley, a second year M.T.S. student who calls himself a “Baptist seeker,” tackled the subject of exclusivity. Colley described his own skepticism when faced with the challenge of writing a comparative paper on Buddhism and Christianity.
“I thought, that’s impossible,” he said. “There’s not enough in common. My faith hinges on Jesus being the incarnate God.”
Colley added that many Christians view other religions with the mindset of, “That’s a cute story, but mine is the real one.” They fear that, by valuing other faiths, they risk cheapening their own.
“Christians to have a responsibility to temper our dogma, but also to keep influencing the conversation,” he said. “That allows truth and allows God’s revelation. It’s important not to feel more special than anyone else. Remember that our role is not to be right. It’s to be culture makers, makers of a better normal.”
He cited The Truman Show, a film in which the main character, Truman, lives inside a artificial world constructed as part of a nonstop reality show. Truman doesn’t know about the show – or that he’s the star.
“Moviegoers asked, ‘Why has he never challenged his fake reality?’” Colley said. “But we all accept the reality with which we have been presented. That is a human thing.”
Colley said he’s focused on two truths: “Everyone is hurting, and everyone is looking to be valued. Our job is to surrender to God.”
Elmer Doty, a retired executive, noted that he started his M.T.S. degree program in the fall of 2020, and this panel discussion was the first time he’d set foot in person on the campus.
Trained as a physicist and engineer, Doty spent 45 years working in the corporate world, often with people from other cultures and worldviews, especially East and Southeast Asia.
From his study of world religions, Doty said, he has gained appreciation of the ways that the fundamental goals of the world’s faith traditions overlap. But he’s concerned that religion still sows division and distrust at a time when unity is needed.
“If there has ever been a time in the history of humankind when global unity will be critical to our survival, it will be in the coming years,” he said. “Humanity requires a global faith community to deal with the challenges that we face.”
Speaking as a scientist, he shared his grave concerns about climate change and the future of the planet. He described the combined effects of exponential population growth and economic growth.
“The coming decades are certain to present unprecedented challenges, which may well constitute an existential crisis of humankind,” he said. “In a time that is already too late I find myself living in a splintered country, where our institutions are no longer trusted, where science is rejected, and where leadership and media alike profit by amplifying our most destructive tendencies.
“Truly this is a God-sized problem. This is where religion has to rise to the occasion.” But instead of promoting unity, religions choose to encourage division and rancor. I’ve seen it in the Middle East. I’ve seen it in India. I’ve seen it in Southeast Asia. And I’ve seen it in Dallas.”
Doty concluded by saying that his prayer is the world’s religions can serve as a uniting force as humanity navigates the challenges ahead.
“After all, isn’t that what religions are supposed to do?” he said. “And hopefully very soon.”
A festschrift published in November 2021 honors the distinguished career of the Rev. Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins and Director of the Center for Preaching Excellence.
Shouting Above the Noisy Crowd: Biblical Wisdom and the Urgency of Preaching: Essays in Honor of Alyce M. McKenzie (Cascade Books, 2021) was co-edited by Perkins faculty members Charles L. Aaron, Jr. Director of the Intern Program and Associate Professor of Supervised Ministry, and Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament and Director of the Baptist House of Studies.
“A festschrift is a tradition in academia that honors the accomplishments of a scholar or professor within their lifetime,” said Aaron, who started working on the project in 2013. “Alyce’s festschrift is an edited volume of academic essays and sermons contributed by colleagues.”
Festschriften originated in Germany before World War I; the tradition was carried to the United States by scientists who escaped the Nazis. In the second half of the 20th century, the practice was adopted internationally, and the word festschrift was incorporated into the English language.
“Most of the contributors in Alyce’s festschrift are part of the program unit on homiletics and biblical studies within the Society of Biblical Literature, of which Alyce is a member,” said Aaron.
Perkins contributors include O. Wesley Allen, Jr., Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics; Ángel J. Gallardo, Associate Director of the Intern Program; and John C. Holbert, Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics, Emeritus. Aaron noted that the editors made a special effort to assemble a diverse group of contributors, enlisting contributions from Nancy Kasten, a rabbi in Dallas, as well as Black, Asian and Latinx contributors.
“The authors wrote about their interests and research concerning wisdom and preaching,” said Aaron. “They were happy to honor Alyce.”
McKenzie, as the honoree, did not have any input into the festschrift. Typically, a festschrift marks a milestone birthday or career anniversary, but in this case, colleagues simply felt it was time.
“The only occasion was to honor Alyce and her work,” said Aaron.
McKenzie earned an M.Div. from Duke Divinity School and a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. She served 12 years in United Methodist churches before and during her doctoral degree studies. She joined the Perkins faculty in 2000. She is the author of ten books and a frequent guest preacher and lecturer at lay and clergy gatherings. In October of 2015, McKenzie delivered the Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale University, the most prestigious lecture series in the discipline of homiletics. She was named an Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor by SMU in 2012, the university’s highest teaching honor. She is an ordained elder in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. McKenzie is also the Director of the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU, a Center dedicated to fostering transformative preaching in local congregations through peer groups, online resources, an interdisciplinary book series called “Preaching and…” and a variety of workshops.
“Alyce’s work regularly informs not only preachers, but biblical scholars who work on any aspect of wisdom in the Bible, including both the literary genre (e.g., Proverbs, James) and the personified figure of Woman Wisdom,” said Clark-Soles. “My seminary students and I continue to learn from her year after year.”
In the Preface, the editors noted that the guiding image for the book was Proverbs 1:20-33 where Woman Wisdom calls out in the street. The image honors McKenzie’s work reflecting on the biblical sage as foundational for preaching.
“McKenzie’s ministry of homiletic scholarship has called a generation of preachers to pursue wisdom, igniting and feeding the imaginations of listeners along the way,” wrote homiletician Richard W. Voelz in a review of the book. “The essays and sermons in this volume are a collection that not only celebrate McKenzie’s many contributions over the years but extend the sage path she has forged through her teaching and writing.”
Keneshia Colwell seems to have a limitless supply of energy – and she’s putting it to good use. The second-year M.Div. student is attending Perkins full-time and working full-time – and excelling at both. Colwell’s grade average hovers near 4.0 average. In June, she was promoted to her position as Senior Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at UT Southwestern Medical School.
“I don’t know how to sit down and do nothing,” she said. “I don’t sleep much, but I have a system to manage my time that seems to be working.”
Colwell’s interests are wide ranging and her ambitions are big. She is planning to pursue a dual degree at Cox School of Business, earning an M.B.A. in addition to her M.Div., and eventually a Ph.D.
“Originally I had planned to earn an M.B.A. alone,” she said. “But I was invited to preach at a women’s conference in South Africa in 2019, and from that experience, I understood clearly that God was asking me to preach.” In November 2019, she learned that Perkins offered the dual degree option with Cox, and that sealed the deal.
The roots of her calling began years ago, when Colwell began attending Queens of the Word Bible Study in Austin and fell in love with studying scripture. A few years later, after moving to Dallas, she felt called to start a co-ed Bible study.
“I loved getting into the word,” she said. “One day I realized, ‘I could go to school for this!’ Doors flew open, with one teaching opportunity after another, and I just walked into them.”
Colwell is a member of The Potter’s House in Dallas and hopes to one day pursue ordination in that nondenominational church. She’d also like to learn the business side of leading churches and large organizations to aid them in running efficiently and effectively. “I love data, metrics and making organizations work efficiently and effectively,” she said. “I want to learn how to do these things so that I can be a resource for communities that don’t have access to the tools needed to run organizations effectively.”
Colwell’s long-term professional goals are academic. She’d like to earn a Ph. D. and teach in higher education. For her Ph.D., she wants to study issues at the intersection of theology and mental health in Latinx and African American communities.
“I’d like to look into mental health, suicide and substance abuse,” she said. “Religion is painted as a resource for these problems, but we have no data as to whether religious affiliation actually helps recovery outcomes in the Latinx and African American communities. Right now this is my focus, I am continuing to allow that evolve as I continue in my studies.”
Perkins was a good fit, Colwell said, because of the community’s diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds.
“I have heard about seminaries where they tell you how to think,” she said. “At Perkins, no one is telling you how to think. I saw studying at Perkins as an opportunity to lean into the hard questions.”
Despite her packed schedule, Colwell manages to find time for extracurriculars. She’s involved with FACE (Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment) and serves on a faculty-appointed university committee promoting equity and access at SMU for people of all races, genders and sexual orientations.
To help juggle all this, Colwell spends about five minutes meditating each day, a practice she adopted after taking Ruben Habito’s Spiritual Formation course. She also repeats daily a mantra she devised for herself with the help of a mentor (“This will end well. Whatever comes up, regardless of how this day feels, this will end well.”) and Hebrews 6:10 (“For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.”)
Colwell praised the work of Tracy Allred and Laura Figura in the Student Life Office for helping foster Perkins’ welcoming atmosphere and making her life as a student more manageable.
“I love the community here,” Colwell said. “Tracy and Laura have been intentional about extras like virtual study halls and massages on campus. I work hard and am stressed out all the time. This community values self-care and supporting each other. And differences are welcomed and appreciated.”
At a recent Advent service, worshippers at Embassy City Church joined in singing something a bit different than the typical contemporary fare: a Taizé piece entitled “Wait for the Lord.” Taizé is a meditative form of music that emerged from the Taizé Community, an ecumenical Christian monastic fraternity in France.
The church’s worship pastor, Sarah Benibo (M.S.M. ’20) chose the Taizé piece. It’s significant because, before attending Perkins, Benibo had never heard of Taizé.
“We were encouraged to incorporate foreign language and non-western styles of music in our worship, primarily to remind people that the body of Christ is global,” she said. “Christianity stretches way past our borders. It’s a way to remind our congregations that Christianity is bigger than what we see in our corner of the world.” That awareness of different kinds of music, Benibo believes, has made her a better worship leader.
Benibo oversees music for all weekend and special services at the 1500-member multicultural congregation in Irving, Texas. The nondenominational church’s membership is about 60% Black members, 20% Anglo, and 20% African, Latinx and other ethnicities. Benibo acts as worship coordinator, facilitator and curator – and most weekends, she sings, too. It’s a big responsibility for a recent graduate, but Benibo says her Perkins education prepared her theologically and practically for the job.
“It gave me self-awareness as well as awareness of others,” she said. “I had never heard of social location before I attended Perkins. Now I understand that, being an able-bodied, middle class, African American woman, completely colors and shapes my perspective on theology, on the Bible, and on my interpretation and understanding of the Bible. Being aware of my social location informs and occasionally redirects what I say and how I say it when trying to convey a message to someone with different qualities. As I’m serving a multicultural congregation, I’m aware of my blind spots and my perspective so that I can serve people best.”
“So much of Christianity is about biblical texts,” she said. “Sometimes this can pigeonhole God into a corner; if it is not spoken, if it is not sung with a lyric, it does not hold power. I credit Dr. Chris Anderson and Dr. Marcell Steuernagel for being advocates of music, in and of itself, as a gift from God to humanity. Sound can communicate so much. At Perkins, I learned to embrace music for music’s sake.”
Benibo grew up as the child of a Pentecostal pastor, so she was always familiar with the Bible and the Christian faith. Perkins expanded her understanding of both.
“I have been looking for a singular truth most of my life,” she said. “At Perkins, I learned that two things can be true at once. I can be a believer and I can also question. I can interrogate the scripture and still be a lover of scripture.”
Benibo applied and was admitted to both Perkins and Dallas Theological Seminary.
“I knew DTS would be more similar to the background I came from, but I was hungry for a more varied approach to theological studies,” she said. “And that’s exactly what I got at Perkins. Even if I don’t adopt all of the thinking I was exposed to at Perkins, I became more aware of other ways to see the sacred texts.”
Susanne Scholz’s Old Testament classes, for example, exposed her to womanist theology and scholarship.
“That opened my eyes to different ways to approach texts,” she said. “In the past, in reading Genesis, my focus was on Sarah and Abraham. Now my focus is on Hagar and Ishmael, and how Hagar was treated and how God heard her crying in the wilderness. Before, I didn’t think [Hagar’s plight] was the point of the story. Maybe it is the point of the story. It depends on who is telling the story.”
Before attending Perkins, Benibo said, she had some hesitations.
“I worried: If I open my mind, will I lose my passion?” she said. “But my Perkins education did the opposite. It fortified my faith. I realized that God is not intimidated by my questions, my wonderings or my doubts. God welcomes all of me.”