From the Editors: Always in Process: Essays in Honor of John E. Toews
On March 27–28, 2008, Dr. John E. Toews delivered two lectures for the “Janzen Lectureship in Biblical Studies” at Fresno Pacific University. These are now published as “Righteousness in Romans: The Political Subtext of Paul’s Letter,” and “The Politics of Confession,” the latter in the previous issue of Direction (for details see the bibliography of John E. Toews on p. 254). Following those lectures FPU also hosted a symposium, organized by Laura Roberts and Will Friesen, celebrating the life, work, and scholarship of JET, as commonly referred to by friends. The articles in this issue by Valerie Rempel, Jon Isaak, Gordon Zerbe, and Jim Pankratz are all based on presentations at that symposium.
Some of us were of the opinion that as a further honor to John, these presentations, along with contributions by some other of John’s colleagues and former students, could be published for wider circulation. We are pleased that Direction accepted this proposal, and we hope that this issue contributes to biblical scholarship in a variety of areas, in a way that extends John’s legacy.
Two articles form the bookends to the issue. The first, by Valerie Rempel, presents a biographical sketch of John’s life, providing us a glimpse into the context and influences of his scholarship, passion, and ministry. The last, by Jim Pankratz, focuses on John’s contribution to Mennonite higher education, especially his intellectual and institutional leadership.
The articles in between take on a variety of topics. Jon Isaak reviews the current situation and promise of “biblical theology,” and leans specifically on his experience as a student of John as he proposes the contours of a New Testament theology relevant for the church. Elmer Martens similarly spans the canon, by showing how a text from the Old Testament, the Aaronic blessing, resounds in the New Testament, and he reflects practically on the implications of such a display of intertextuality. Tim Geddert takes us on another journey into Mark’s theological landscape, showing how the author, by employing texts and allusions from the Book of Psalms, can point to meanings deeper than what lies just on the surface. Gordon Zerbe takes up the thesis of John Toews from his Romans commentary, about the counter-imperial thrust of Paul’s gospel, and applies it to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Al Dueck points to limitations in some current Christian approaches to psychology and therapy, and proposes an alternative that stresses Jesus’ cultural particularity as a Jewish prophet and healer. This issue also includes part two of the multi-generational study of faith and culture by Robert Enns; while scheduled for publication prior to the development of this issue, it is a fitting addition, from a long-time colleague and friend of John. Cory Seibel examines the problem of narcissism among worship leaders in the Ministry Compass column. The Recommended Reading section consists of a bibliography of John’s writings.
The title of the issue, “Always In Process,” derives from Jon Isaak’s comment that John understood the work of assembling and clarifying a biblical theology as always in process: always reaching back to the biblical witness, but also extending forward. The task is thus never fully completed, and in that sense “always in process.” This does not signal that the Bible’s core message is somehow in flux, but rather that the work of engaging its message requires persistent inquiry.
We hope that these essays promote and celebrate the kind of rigorous biblical and theological scholarship that John Toews espoused and practiced. And we hope that John, like Paul, might take some retrospective pride in the work of his students, his own work, and in the work of his colleagues, but that all would, as Paul reminds us, “boast in the Lord” (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:31; 3:21-23; 9:15-18; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thes. 2:19-20).