Presenting Paper at the AAR New England Maritime Regional Meeting

A few weeks ago I was asked to submit a paper to a conference happening at Boston University because of another paper I had presented almost a year ago. The topic was much different then (Jewish-Christian dialogue), but I enjoyed my experience very much, and am pleased that my proposal was accepted. It will be my first time presenting research at an event held by the American Academy of Religion.

Title: “Problematizing and Renegotiating Histories of Satan.”


In this study, Williams explores two major methodological issues that are involved with histories of Satan. The first is development-based studies on the biblical śāṭān that was initially observed by Peggy L. Day. The second points out the problem with depending only on Christian and secular receptions of Satan. There are numerous examples of Satan in Jewish sources that are not consulted. At the end of this study, some potential solutions will be suggested.

My topic for this paper was formulated during my master’s thesis at Pepperdine University, but it remained largely undeveloped since it was largely tangential.

Seaver College Highlights (Thank you!)

Seaver College Highlights (Thank you!)

Pepperdine University recently sent its Seaver College Highlights out to alumni and friends of the University. I did not receive one, but several friends showed it to me. There was no expectation that this would happen! So…thank you! It is an honor. I deeply appreciate having my research featured here. Going to Pepperdine was one of the greatest privileges of my life.

Check out the rest of it if you can (Link).

The Joy of Sharing Scholarship

One of the activities that I have come to look forward to during Winter Break is my preparation for academic conferences in the coming year. There are several times during the year when calls for papers are announced, but some of the conference announcements from December-January provide some of the greatest opportunities. I look forward to conferences because I can share my scholarship. Though, I have discovered that it is not so one-sided. My projects transform through these conferences because they become part of a group effort. It is invigorating!

Here are two of the conferences I submitted papers for:

  • Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference, Lipscomb University: Nashville, TN (June 2017).
  • Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Boston University, MA (November 2017).

The projects I hope to present at these conferences cover a pretty wide range of topics. I drafted an initial paper proposal for a topic that I did not get to finish in my Genesis class last semester called: “Explorations in the Existential Death of Israel in Gen 47-50.” My paper examines the influence of Augustine on the interpretation of death in Gen 3, and applies it to interpret Jacob/Israel’s death as borderline hypostatic. The next paper I submitted is called: “The City of God ’s Stratification of Peace Across Two Cities: St. Augustine’s Interpretation of Ps 147.” I worked on an early form of this paper for my final project in my Formation of Christian Traditions class last semester. Like the previous paper, it derives the topic from Augustine, but in this one I focus more on the City of God as a way to explore Augustine’s unique interpretation of peace. My last paper requires more work for it to be ready, but it is tentatively called: “Frankenstein’s Pedagogical Deficiency as Spiritual Death in Mary Shelley’s Reception of Gen 3.” I intend on submitting it to the SBL annual meeting because I feel as though it is time for me to take the next step. It was mostly written in my Genesis class, but I am modifying its focus for the larger audience.

When I say Merry Christmas to friends and family, I will probably be writing at the same time!

My joy in sharing research often begins in the classroom. I make it a point to think about what I could possibly research further when the class ends. In this sense, the assignments from a professor begin the collaborative process. The following step is to figure out which conferences are appropriate fits for my project. This is probably one of the most important steps because it can transform the focus of my work. Some conferences want more theoretical submissions while others want an application for every day people. I try to work on my paper in line with a conference’s theme because it opens up avenues of interpretation that would not exist otherwise. It is a great way to figure out if my research is capable of “finding its way” (making sense in the world) outside of my own echo-chamber. I could go on and on, but these are just some of the reasons why I immensely enjoy academic conferences.

Merry Christmas!

The featured image for this post is from my second conference presentation at U.C. Berkeley. I met a lot of awesome people there, especially since Common Ground provided several unique opportunities for graduate students.

Meditation on the Wilderness Motif and Suffering

Time in the wilderness is not considered to be meaningless in the Bible, especially as it is depicted in Jesus’ 40-day test in Matthew’s Gospel. The life of Jesus exhibits numerous allusions to the Hebrew Bible. Many believe that Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (Num 32:13), but more to it, Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai (Exod 34:28) and Elijah travelled for 40 days in the Sinai wilderness (1 Kgs 19:8). Engaging in this spiritual activity threatens us with a counterintuitive way of being, which is personified through the Devil’s presence with Jesus in the wilderness. Surprisingly, it is easy to sympathize with the Devil’s temptations. When Jesus is implored to turn stones into bread, we must ask: why must Jesus avoid satiating his hunger? Both Jesus and the Devil reach back in Scripture to explain the basis of their claims, but the presentation of the narrative implores us to sympathize with Jesus. Through this story of Jesus, we are asked to reconsider the context of our desires because a walk through the wilderness breaks down the barriers between this earth and the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was testifying to the crucial need for us to be hungry for God. We often starve for certainty, but Jesus’ way of overcoming his temptations model a way to resist that desire for control.

Passing through the wilderness gives Jesus the opportunity to model a pathway of conceiving a theology of suffering. For in his first response to the Devil that humanity shall not live by bread alone (Matt. 4:4), Jesus resonates with the Deuteronomic focus on remembering, alluding to the wilderness and the God-given manna (Deut. 8:3). Through this testing in the wilderness, the Israelites were being humbled before God with the manna’s function as both sustenance and a sign of hunger. In the wilderness narrative of Matthew, Jesus, the representative of Israel, must face this test as well. The spiritual power of Jesus is shown to be a reality that breaks into our world. At the end of his test following the departure of the Devil, Jesus is ministered to by angels. Jesus succeeded in capturing the essence of the relationship between God and Israel, which forced the Devil to give up his mission to strand Jesus in that wilderness forever. The veil between heaven and earth is lifted through Jesus, and his identification with human frailty led Jesus to this possibility (see: 2 Cor 12:9). The wilderness provides a channel for us to perceive the Kingdom’s reality and soberly interpret the human condition through a life patterned after a suffering savior. Reclaiming our hunger for God allows Christian community to act in the place of those angelic ministers. Uncertainty is not a time to be ruled by panic. It is a time to draw closer to God and look for ways to be a ministering angel to others.



A simplified version of this meditation will be available in the Upper Room Magazine. The picture for this blog post is William Blake’s depiction of the affliction of Job by the śāṭān.

Thoughts on Religious Diversity at Nashville’s Parthenon

The opportunity to explore Nashville is not something I often have time to do, but I was recently able to attend a lecture at the Parthenon that was spectacular. I had never gone to the Parthenon before since I am such a new resident. The beauty of what I saw quickly made me feel that I would need to return again soon. Though, as I listened to the lecture, its content reminded me of my observations about the religious diversity I have seen in Nashville.

As far as the Parthenon is concerned, the outside of the building was mesmerizing. It was impressive to see such a work of architectural mastery, but it was even more mind-blowing that ancient people were able to construct something just like it. The Nashville Parthenon is, of course, a copy of the original Greek one. Inside the Parthenon I saw a large statue of Athena. It’s big. Athena shines with a distinct golden brilliance and it is at the foot of that statue that we had the lecture. The topic of the lecture was concerning the religious diversity of a city in Asia Minor near Corinth.

There are a few points from the lecture that really pushed me to think about this ancient city and my contemporary experience. One of the points of the lecture was to illustrate how the city was intensely polytheistic. You could expect to see a statue of Poseidon on the docks as well as one of Isis on the south end of the bay. A Greek city had its traditional deities, but this Egyptian goddess was a surprise to me at first. Syncretism was occurring in a big way between Isis and Aphrodite. It was amazing to see how connected the world was even then. There was also an interesting point about a memorial building that had collapsed centuries ago. The speaker thought that it was potentially built to be a place of honor for Phoebe, the great benefactor of the Apostle Paul. He kept it tentative because there is no direct evidence, but it is possible. Then, the most wondrous aspect of the lecture was an archaeological finding of a blue stone that had Aphrodite on the front, Osiris on the back, and a prayer to “Yaw” on the sides. So, this object has deities from Greek, Egyptian, and Hebrew religion on it.

Now, we know that Christianity eventually displaced the other belief systems as more and more people converted over the decades following the initial spread of the religion. In some cases, Christianity was able to retain some of their systems, but for many people following Jesus in a monotheistic fashion was where they needed to be. The pagans still lived on, but they lost the societal influence they once held over these areas.

Religious diversity is not something I expected to see in Nashville. Even as I study at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt, I meet people that have much different theologies from my own. The campus I live on is also very diverse spiritually with Pagans, Muslims, etc. I hope to have more conversations over the next few years, but I know the stereotype of Nashville that I had before moving here did not account for this. Moreover, there is a statue of Athena that would have been looked upon by early Christians as an idol here in the Parthenon, but for me, it is so drained of its spiritual power that it is simply a monument. I think that’s something that I need to think about as Christianity heads into unknown territory in the West. Nashville is diverse in an analogous way to that ancient Greek city, but are their destinies the same? I don’t know. Christians have a lot of work to do and I hope to have a place in that work.

Visiting The Gideons International

Today I had the opportunity to visit  the famous Christian organization, The Gideons International. Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea, my intention here is not to comment negatively on their ministry. Many people have experiences of being handed Gideon Bibles or finding one in its ever-faithful hotel room night stand. The experience interacting with it has made me think about the various motivations driving the denominational divide of American Christianity.

It’s no secret that I am a graduate student at VDS. My time there has been fantastic for many reasons, but one of the most interesting things I have felt about it is the theological culture. The past few years I have studied in academic institutions that can vaguely be described as evangelical. Experiences in these institutions have taught me many, many things about God and about the church. I have grown far beyond what I ever thought I could be in and through them, but I have also seen the bad side of evangelical culture. In this sense, there are many things that VDS and the mainline church does that are quite refreshing. VDS has a very clear and focused activist culture; indeed, it strives to be a relevant force of justice and academics in the world today. This is not to say that evangelicalism does not ever do this, but I think there is room to say that that side of their conversation is weaker. I’ve observed the strengths and weaknesses living in evangelical contexts as well as in mainline ones.

The Gideons have a deep and abiding need to evangelize the world by spreading the Bible and through personal witnessing. The message is not vague. The message is not lacking in its compelling potency, but there are also several things missing from it. One of things I believe about the problems we are facing as a church is the struggle to articulate the compelling aspects of our faith. All churches are hurting in numbers (especially with young people), but the mainline churches are hemorrhaging people. Strangely, the churches that are doing so much for the broader culture in its participation and contributions to the moral climate are the ones that are hurting the most. I cannot take that lightly because I care deeply about their traditions and the people that practice them. Though, I have noticed that for all their honesty, there are often certain elements of that distinctly Christian voice that are left behind or forgotten. Many mainline Christians are often unable to speak to the compelling aspects of their beliefs as strongly as their evangelical brethren. That is one weakness of the mainline church.

Today, I experienced evangelical culture for the first time in a couple months and it is SO different. The way evangelicals talk is different and the problems they perceive are different. I am curious to know what this means about Christian language. We have divided ourselves in such as way that even the way we talk about what it means to be a Christian is spoken in a noticeably different dialect. Overall, I think that the labels of “conservative” and “liberal” are detrimental to the obvious conclusion that we need each other. Evangelicals need mainliners to give them a serious wake up call. Trust me, most mainliners are some of the most morally genuine and passionate people I have ever encountered. Though they have weaknesses, they are often more advanced where evangelicals are now deficient.

Picture Source: The Washington Post/Getty Images