What Is a Story?

by David B. Capes

“A story is a way to say something which can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say it.”  –Flannery O’Connor

I was inspired recently by a statement Flannery O’Connor made about “story.”  She was a gifted southern writer whose stories continue to garner attention. Flannery OConnor

One day someone asked me a question.

Question: “What is propositional-based thought and how does it apply to us?”

The person is referring to the introduction in one of The Voice products where we observe that people do not respond to propositions as well as they respond to stories. This, of course, is nothing new. People have been telling stories for thousands of years. Humans are hard-wired to tell stories, remember them and pass them along to others.

Not long ago when people were sharing “the gospel,” they would boil it down to a set of manageable propositions:

1.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

2.  But you are a sinner separated from God.

3.  Christ died for your sins and helps to bridge the gap between you and God.

4.  So put your trust in Jesus to be saved and you .

Now these propositions are true, but they make little sense when isolated from the greater story of God’s plan and purpose for the world and us.

Let me illustrate it this way.  Here are some lines from one of the greatest films of all time (Casablanca 1942):

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”

“Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world and she walks into mine.”

“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life.”

Now these are some of the most memorable lines in the film. But without the rest of the story you have no clue what it going on. They might punctuate the story, remind you of the story, illustrate the story, but they are no substitute for the story itself.Casablanca

Imagine deciding whether or not to marry someone based on a resume. You might say, “Well, he looks good on paper.” No. We would never do that. On a first date you don’t exchange resumes or give a list of your strengths and weaknesses (you don’t, that is, if you expect a second date!). No. You sit down over a good meal and begin to tell your story. You talk about where you come from, what you love to do, what it was like to be the older brother or sister in a family of four, or whatever is unique to your own story.  This is how we woo a potential partner and how we make friends, by telling our unique stories to those willing to listen.

God did not give us a list of propositions to follow. He could have, but he didn’t. Instead he gave us 66 books that detail an amazing story of love and redemption. Get to know the Story of Scripture.  It will change your life.

Retrieving History

by David B. Capes

Adjunct Professor, Stefana Dan Laing, has recently published her book, Retrieving History: Memory and Identity Formation in the Early Church (Baker Academic, 2017).  Laing is the assistant librarian at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Houston, TX) and has taught for HGST for a number of years.  She has also taught at Houston Baptist University and Beeson Divinity School (Birmingham, AL).  She earned her PhD at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in church history, with an emphasis on the first few centuries of the Church.  She will be back at HGST teaching in fall 2017.Laing Retrieving History

Laing’s book is not just an introduction to first five centuries of the Church; there have been plenty of them of late.  Her point seems to be that here we are as Christ-believers in the 21st century and our identity is formed more by our culture than by our faith.  She thinks, and I agree, that the Church has an identity crisis.  We reflect more of the culture today than our own heritage.  Culture today has a tendency to focus on who or what is trending.  It is whatever is happening at the moment.  She asks a great question: would the saints of the past be able to tell the difference between Church and theater?

She writes: “While Israel was admonished to “remember” and to stand at the crossroad seeking out the ‘ancient paths,’ the church today is merely looking around rather than looking back.”

Laing’s book has a lot to do with memory.   But you can’t remember what you didn’t know in the first place, so she helps us understand our past.   She helps us to “retrieve history,” with its beauties, wonders, and warts.  She has chapters on the martyrs, the saints, and what it means to write a history.  History is more than “what happened,” as Laing delicately shows us.

Dr. Laing is not only concerned with the shape of the church in the second through fifth centuries (AD); she is deeply concerned with  the shape of the Church today.  She wants to help us through the current identity crisis by helping us know from where we have come.  To borrow a line from “The Lion King” (and adapt it just a little): “We are more than what we have become.”

This is a book that can and ought to be on your reading list this summer.  Not only do people like George Kalantzis, Bryan Litfin, and Paul Hartog recommend it.  So do it.  I can’t wait to really sink my teeth into it.

F. F. Bruce & W. E. Vine

Most pastors I know, and a few laypeople, have a particular book in their library.  It is typically referred to as “Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.”  It was originally published in four volumes but is available now in a single volume.  Vine’s refers to W. E. Vine.

Recently a friend of mine, Frank Couch, sent me some information which I find compelling and likely true, but I’ve never read it before.  It is in a document from Robert F. Hicks, and it indicates that when Vine was writing his now-famous book, F. F. Bruce, who was destined to becomeone of the finest NT scholars of his age, was hard at work with him.Vine's expository dictionary

Hicks it seems is now in charge of the works of the late W. E. Vine.  He knows Vine’s immediate family and his personal secretary, John Williamson.

Hicks came to understand through his contact with the surviving family members and his secretary how important F. F. Bruce was to proofing, correcting, checking and adding to Vine’s important work.  Bruce and Vine had a great deal in common.  They both belonged to the Brethren Church.  In the USA, this denomination is known as the Plymouth Brethren.  Both men also had a good deal in common academically.  Both trained in the Greek classics.  Both were well versed in textual criticism and knew the Greek manuscripts behind the New Testament.   In addition, both scholars knew well the Greek Old Testament and were familiar with how NT writers read and incorporated the OT into their letters, history and Gospels.

From what Mr. Hicks relates, F. F. was a major contributor to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, a bit of information which I did not know but I now pass on to you.   I have to admit that I felt I graduated on from Vine’s decades ago when I picked up my copy of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.  As Bruce himself notes in the forward  to the single volume versions of Vine’s:  “this Expository Dictionary comes as near as possible to doing for the non-specialist what is being done for the specialist by Kittel’s encyclopaedic Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.”  I now repent in sackcloth and ashes because I’ve had a chance to go back to Vine’s and see what a massive and important work it is, even if it is a bit dated.  Vine’s finished his work in the late 1930s, so it is nearly eighty years old.

Vine himself gives praise to Bruce in the Preface to the 1939 edition: “It is with a sense of deep gratitude that I express my indebtedness to a friend Mr. F. F. Bruce, for his wholehearted assistance in going through the typescript and making corrections and valuable suggestions previous to its being printed, and in proofreading subsequently, whose efficiency, as a classical scholar, and whose knowledge of the originals, have enhanced the value of the work.”


Turabian 8.0

“Turabian” is short-hand for a style guide authored initially by Kate Turabian and published by the University of Chicago Press.  It represents the writing standard of most colleges and seminaries in matters of theology or biblical studies.  The published style guide covers just about any research eventuality and should be consulted for serious research.  For most of us . . . most of the time, it is enough to consult a short version of it.  Fortunately, the University of Chicago offers just such a handy, online version.

Here is a link:

Students often make mistakes in underlining or italicizing the names of series rather than books, referring to the editor of a series as the author, forgetting volume numbers on journal articles, or mixing up long and short forms of a footnote citation.  If you want your work to be clean and professional, Kate Turabian can help you do it.


by David B. Capes

Almost everyone these days shows up to class with a computer.  I’m not sure exactly what people do on them because I only see the back side.  They could be checking their email or posting on Facebook or, please God, they may be taking notes or keeping up with the class PowerPoint.  writing

There is some new research which has come out which says that the act of writing is better than typing on a computer or other digital device when it comes to learning and retaining information.  Why? First because writing engages a different part of your brain, a part more suited to memory and learning.  Second, writing forces you to process information in a different way.  In other words, it forces you to think more about what you are doing.  People can type and be nearly oblivious to what they are typing.  Third, research shows that it creates a better pathway for your memory and helps to facilitate recall.  Last, writing things down is a different kind of kinetic experience (moving) which gives you an edge when it comes to remembering and understanding concept.

Now, I have to admit that I have sensed this for a while, but it has been confirmed by a number of things I’ve read recently from Michael Hyatt, who is a leadership guru and a giant techie.  Still he has had to admit that going back to the old fashioned way of taking notes and writing down tasks is superior to just typing it on a screen.

One last thing.  I alluded to it earlier.  Computers and technology have a way of distracting us from what we should be thinking and doing.  We’ve all seen families out to eat in a restaurant, and all are on separate devices.  Instead of talking to one another and enjoying the meal together, they are distracted by what might be the phone.   I have seen students on Facebook or email in class instead of being on track with a lecture or class discussion.  Not a pretty sight, especially if your the professor.  These devices do one thing well; they distract us from what is truly important.

So instead of going to Best Buy to get a new computer for class, just go to Walmart spend a couple of dollars on a notebook and a good pen (or pencil).


David B. Capes, PhD, is Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 



By Dr. Jerry Terrill

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46: 10a)

The theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard writes in his journal about an experience on the coast of Gilbjerg: “It has always been one of my favorite places. As I stood there one quiet evening as the sea struck up with its deep quiet solemnity, whilst my eye met not a single sail on the vast expanse of water, and the sea set bonds to the heavens, and the heavens to the sea; whilst on the other side the busy noise of life subsided and the birds sang their evening prayer…but I saw everything as a whole and was strengthen to understand things differently” (Kierkegaard 42 – 43).tree beside still waters

In modern counseling theory, what Kierkegaard describes is known as “mindfulness.” Mindfulness might be summed up as being aware of your thoughts and feelings in the moment and being able to accept them non-judgmentally. Mother Teresa shares, “Each moment is all we need, not more.” Normally this occurs during a time of prayer, mediation on the Word. “Trusting to God I have found peace, calm, and confidence in God” (Kierkegaard 147).

To quote Mother Teresa, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…the more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. We need silenced to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from within—words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness” (Something Beautiful for God 48).

However, “The light of dawn does not emerge from a void: it emerges from darkness. Darkness is a precondition for light to appear” (Patocka 95). The poet Aton Wildgans states, “What is to give light must endure burning.”

Mindfulness physically, emotionally, and spiritually provides the insights to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12: 2). Paradoxically, this inner transformation through mindfulness occurs by emptying our lives of the external “things” as observed in Philippians 2: 5: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Galatians expands this theme in 2: 20: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Henning Mankell terms this “Clarity that arises in the spaces in between.”

In A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce, we see the main character, Stephen Dedalus, beginning to achieve inner consciousness or mindfulness: “Life became a divine gift for every moment and sensation of which, were it even the sight of a single leaf hanging on a twig of a tree, his soul should praise and thank the Giver” (Joyce 166).

Mindfulness allows us to become present in the moment, a new creation, experiencing an individuated state of congruence through a new stream of consciousness narrated and facilitated by a passionate and loving God.


Dr. Jerry Terrill is Professor of Counseling and Director of the Counseling Program at Houston Graduate School of Theology

Set Up Your Mentee for Success

Mentoring is a partnership process that necessitates engagement from both parties. Both the mentor and the mentee have roles to play when setting the mentee up for success. Therefore, a mentor’s leadership style should consider success as integral to a beneficial relationship. Mentees are more likely to flourish in work environments where they’re held in high regard and respected as individuals. To ensure effectiveness as mentors, our leadership style should demonstrate belief in our mentees, approachability, and knowledge; provide an enjoyable work experience, and an environment for best results.Blocks

Various spiritual leaders can attest to the fact that when people feel valued they are far more effective. For instance, perceive your mentee through the eyes of where they are headed. View them not where they are in terms of accomplishments. Instead, imagine what your mentee is destined to become. Think of effective political and spiritual leaders. Could your mentee be the next JFK? Could your mentee be the next Mother Theresa? Always remember to use your knowledge to aid these mentees on their rise to fulfill their destiny. Don’t assume that their potential will get them there alone. After all, you’re a mentor for a reason. Maintain approachability by providing access to relationships you have built. This will aid the mentee on their road to success because your contacts trust your judgment. In essence, this will help mentees envision that the potential for their elevation is within their grasp. Therefore, achievement is possible and they should not doubt their ability to succeed.

Another way to express belief in our mentees is to provide an environment for an enjoyable work experience and environment for best results. As the mentor, help your mentee identify their strengths and not focus on any potential weaknesses. Remember that in order for a mentee to recognize their full potential, he or she needs the right position in your Church or organization. Don’t be opposed to transferring a talented mentee into a different job post. If you believe in them and express this to them, with your help they will find their way. Early on, identify those skills that will make them a star in the organization. As the mentor, it’s your job to provide access to the resources that will help them succeed.

Lastly, remember to always take the high road with your mentees. Remember to provide encouragement, express acknowledgement, and demonstrate gratitude for their talents. Those are three effective ways to establish your support for your mentee. When mentees have favorable feelings toward their leader, they will rise to the mentor’s expectations. To be honest, people work hard to impress those who impress them. As a positive role model, you provide words of wisdom, access to resources and relationships, and an environment that provides a foundation for their future success.


John C. Maxwell. Mentoring 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2008.


Herb Fain is Professor of Legal and Social Ethics at Houston Graduate School of Theology.


Jesus Fulfills Jewish Ministry Expectations

By Dr. Douglas Kennard

The eschatological expectations among the Prophets and the community of Qumran were for a Messianic teacher, “the interpreter of the Law” (Isa 42:4; 4Q174 1.11-12; CD 6.7; 7:18). Messianic Apocalypse presents the character of the hoped for Messianic teacher as echoing Isaiah 61:1.

[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his anointed one, [and all] that is in them will not turn away from the precepts of the holy ones. Strengthen yourselves, you who are seeking the Lord, in his service! Will you not in this encounter the Lord, all those who hope in their heart? For the Lord will consider the pious, and call the righteous by name, and his spirit will hover upon the poor, and will renew the faithful with his strength. For he will honor the pious upon the throne of everlasting kingdom, freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, and in his mercy…the Lord will perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id for] he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor (4Q521, fragment 2, column 2, verses 1-12).


Such a Messianic expectation hoped for a Jewish King who is a healer, a spiritual teacher of the Law and a rescuer of the needy.Jesus heals the blind

When Jesus announced His ministry in Nazareth, He identified that this hoped for expectation was realized in Him.

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD (Isa 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19).

 Jesus identified that such recovery as during Jubilee was being realized in His own ministry. Later, when John the Baptist was in prison and needed reassurance about Jesus’ ministry, Jesus told John’s disciples that his preaching and the miracles he performed as signs of the kingdom compellingly identified Jesus as the coming One.

Go and report to John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and lame walk, lepers are cleansed and deaf hear, and dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me (Matt 11:4-6).

Here are some examples of how the Jesus of history lived up to the Messianic expectation:

  • The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus to equip Him for divinely empowered ministry (Matt 3:16; 12:28; Mark 1:10; 9:40; Luke 3:22; 4:18; 11:20; John 1:32-33; 3:2; 9:33; 10:38; 14:10; Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2; Gos. Ebionites 4:2).
  • Jews expected the Messiah would teach the Law as the “teacher of righteousness” (Isa 42:4; 4Q17411-12; CD 6.7; 7:18-19; 4QFlor 1.6-11; 4QTestim 13-17; 4Q541; 4QpPs (4Q171) 3:13-16; 1QpHab 1.13; 2:2, 8-9; 5:10; 7:4-5; 11:5; CD 1.11; 20.1, 28, 32). Rabbinic Jews anticipated Messiah to teach the Law in an internalized new covenant form (Gen. Rab. 98.9; Eccl. Rab. 11.1; Mid. Tanh., Ki Tavo, par. 4; Midrash fragment, BhM 6.151-52; Halakbot G’dolot,ed. Hildesheimer, 223 top; Azulai, Hesed l’Avraham 13c-14a; Vital, Sefer haHezyonot, p. 160; Mid. Talpiyot 58a; Yemenite Midrash, 349-50; Yitzhaq of Berdichev, Imre Tzaddiqim, ed. Tz’vi Hasid, 10 [5b]). Even unbelieving Jews agree that Jesus taught the Law in a new covenant form (Matt 5; Josephus, Ant. 18.63-64; b. ‘Abod. Zar. 17 1/t; Hul. 2.24; Qol. Rab. 1.8[3]). However, many Jews rejected Jesus’ teaching as dangerous because his healing and exorcism ministry was so effective in leading some Jews astray into Christianity (Josephus, Ant. 18.63-64; John 11:48-50; b. Sanh. 103a; b. Ber. 17b; b. Sanh. 107b; 43a; 67b; b. Soṭah 47a; Sib. Or. 8.206-7).
  • Jesus acknowledged He was the Messianic King (Matt 16:20; John 4:25-26). Others also acknowledge Jesus as Messianic King, including: angels, Magi (wisemen), disciples, the blind, demoniacs, Pilate, and Josephus (Matt 1:1; 2:2; 8:29; 9:27; 15:22; 16:16; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 27:37; Mark 1:24; 5:7; 8:29; 10:47-48; 11:9-10; 15:26; Luke 1:32, 69; 2:11; 4:34; 8:28; 18:38-39; 23:38; John 1:41, 45, 49; 19:19; Suetonius, Claudius 4 eviction notice from Rome over some claims for Christ; Josephus, Ant. 18.64; Gos. Peter 11; Pliny the Younger, Epistle 10.96.7; Tacitus, Annals 15.44.3). Jesus obtained a present expression of kingdom (Matt 5:3, 10; 12:28; 13:31-33, 41; Luke 6:20) with obtaining kingdom throne upon ascension (Acts 2:30-36; Heb 1:5-13) with a future, grander expression of the kingdom to come (Matt 13:31-33, 43).
  • Jesus healed the blind (Matt 8:9:27-31; 11:5; 12:22; 15:30-31; 20:34; 21:14-15; Mark 8:22-25; 10:42; Luke 4:19; 11:14; 18:42-43; John 9:11; Pilate letter to Claudius contained in Acts of Peter and Paul 40-42 and Tertullian, Apology 21). Disciples continue to heal the blind (Acts 9:18).
  • In the kingdom the paralyzed will walk (Micah 4:6-7). Jesus healed the lame and paralyzed to walk (Matt 4:24; 8:13; 9:6-9; 11:5; 15:30-31; 21:14-15; Mark 2:12; Luke 5:24-26; 7:10; 13:10; John 5:8, 11; Pilate letter). Disciples continued to heal the paralyzed (Acts 3:1-11; 4:9-10; 8:7).
  • Jesus healed the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak (Matt 9:32-34; 11:5; 12:22; 15:30-33; 17:18; Mark 7:35, 37; 9:25; Luke 9:42; 11:14).
  • Jesus cleansed lepers (Matt 8:2-4; 11:5; 26:6; Mark 1:41; 14:3; Luke 5:13; 7:22; 17:14; Egerton Gos. 2; Pilate letter). Jesus’ disciples also healed lepers (Matt 10:8).
  • Jesus raised the dead (Matt 9:18, 25; 11:5; Mark 5:35, 41; Luke 7:11-15; 8:45, 51; John 11:43-44; Pilate letter).
  • The poor had good news preached to them (Matt 5:3, 5; 11:5; Luke 4:18; 6:20-21; Thom. 54, 90) but the structural change of debts being forgiven and release from slavery has not occurred as in Jubilee or anticipated eschatological kingdom (Isa 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). Will Christians continue to work for structural forgiveness and release for captives?


Doug Kennard, ThD, is Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 

Jesus, the Eternal Son

by David B. Capes

I just read a new book by Michael Bird, Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology.  I think it is scheduled for release later this year by the good folks at Eerdmans Publishing.  You may recall he wrote a blog post for us recently on Justification by Faith as a resource to combat racism. Bird Jesus the Eternal Son

Adoptionism was a second and third century “heresy” that has persisted in theological corners to today.  Adoptionism  claims that Jesus was a human being and not inherently divine.  He acquired divine status as God’s Son sometime during his earthly life.  Some say it happened at his birth, others his baptism, still others at this resurrection.  One way to say it is that Jesus was not the Son of God but he became the Son of God.   His elevation from human to divine status is often considered the default Christology of the Ebionites, Theodotians, and Paul of Samosata.  A number of modern scholars (Knox, Dunn and Ehrman) think it was also the most primitive form of Christology expressed in texts like Rom 1:3-4 and Acts 2:36.  Only later, do they say, that a fully incarnational Christology emerge

In this brief and compelling book Michael Bird challenges those scholars who think the earliest recoverable Christology was adoptionism.  Instead he proposes that the earliest Christologies formed a pattern of convictions and practices which featured Jesus at the center of Christian devotion.  Only later, in the second century among the Theodotians, did adoptionism emerge full scale in debates over select texts and how they should be interpreted.   A careful answer to the perennial question: who was/is Jesus?


David B. Capes, PhD, is the Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 


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