Category Archives: Faculty

Dr. Balentine’s book awarded for outstanding title

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Director of Graduate Studies and Professor of Old Testament Samuel Balentine’s latest book “Have You Considered My Servant Job? Understanding the Biblical Archetype of Patience” (University of South Carolina Press, 2015) has been selected by Choice as an “Outstanding Academic Title for 2015.”

Every year, Choice subject editors single out for recognition the most significant print and electronic works reviewed in Choice during the previous calendar year. This prestigious list of publications reflects the best in scholarly titles and attracts extraordinary attention from the academic library community.

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BBQ Church

Dr. John Vest prepares BBQ for the feast.
Dr. John Vest prepares BBQ for the feast.

By John Vest
Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism

I came to Richmond with a dream. One of the things that excited me the most about this new position—a partnership in evangelism between Union Presbyterian Seminary and the Presbytery of the James—is the opportunity to experiment with new forms of church and Christian community. My hope is that these experiments will serve as learning labs to supplement what I do in the classroom and in congregational consulting.

M.Div. student Thomas Wesley Moore plays banjo with  music leader Rev. Bobby Joe Small.
M.Div. student Thomas Wesley Moore, left, plays banjo with music leader Rev. Bobby Joe Small.

For years I have dreamed and experimented with a “dinner church” worship service I call BBQ Church. The idea is simple: gather people together in a casual atmosphere around a shared meal (with Communion) to talk about God’s presence in our lives and in the world. When a couple of students approached me about doing summer internships in the area of new worshipping communities, I seized the opportunity to give BBQ Church a try in RVA.

Seminary communications director Mike Frontiero and son Ian feast on chicken and pork BBQ.
Seminary communications director Mike Frontiero and son Ian feast on chicken and pork BBQ.

I’m working with three students, one recent graduate, and a member of the seminary staff to run a series of BBQ Church experiments over the course of the summer (in addition to some other evangelism and learning opportunities). Our first event happened in June, and while it was certainly rough around the edges and we identified many areas for improvement, I’d say it was a great success. Even though we only advertised the event for a week on Facebook and through flyers and personal invitations on the day of the event, about 100 people showed up and we had to add more tables and chairs. Sure, many of the participants were friends and colleagues, but many others were folks we had never met before, looking for a faith community or simply intrigued by what we were doing.

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I’m looking forward to the rest of this summer experiment, and seeing where God leads us in the fall and beyond.

Save the date for the next BBQ Church:  Saturday, July 23, 6 p.m. at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, 4401 Forest Hill Ave in Richmond, Virginia. For updates, follow The Joyful Feast on Facebook.

Making the Grade

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The semester is winding down, and it’s time to post grades.  Oh, boy.  It’s not my favorite part of this process.  Sure, some of this has to do with my distaste for sharing bad news.  Who wants to be the one to tell somebody you care about that they’re not measuring up?  I can see my wife, Kathleen, and me looking at one another when one of the girls had acted up:  “Are you going to tell her, or should I?”  You can guess how that often went down.  But most of this has to do with its ridiculousness.  Sure, it’s easy to grade a Hebrew exam:  “That’s not the hiphil, but the hophal!”  But what about a sermon, or a verbatim, or one’s participation in a travel seminar?  Aren’t we trying to form not only competence, but character?  For Christian ministry?  How do you put a grade on that?  “I’ll give you an A for effort, a D for humility, and a B- for perseverance; average C+.  Now, aren’t you happy?”

I write this as I sit in our upstairs library where two of our dear students are typing out their ordination exams.  There’s a heaviness, and a seriousness, and a giddiness/panic in the atmosphere.  Here we go.  All this work, and all these sacrifices, and all this wrestling with call – and now, in a few pages, do I pass or do I fail?  I know what I’m supposed to say, “It’s only a test.  An imperfect test, meant to indicate readiness for ministry.  Just do your best, and know that others have gone before you.  Mess up, try again.  Persevere, you’ll get through.”  But it takes me back to my days with the SAT, and the time I took the Medcats (yes, another possible vocation).  How do I measure up in the eyes of potential colleges and grad schools?  And this is an “ordination exam”!  How do I measure up in the eyes of the denomination, if not in the eyes of God?  Oh, boy.  I don’t like grades.  I’m not sure God does either.

I’ve often joked that I’m glad that ministers and educators don’t get paid “for performance.”  How would you measure it?  Surely not by the hours spent in sermon preparation, or the diligence of visitation.  There’d have to be some standard for effectiveness, not just in what we say, but what we do.  Wouldn’t the faithfulness of the congregation have to show up somewhere on the grade sheet, or at least “signs of increased faithfulness on the Way.”  Oh, boy.  Not sure I want to go there – as I look back over my years of ministry, and watch the tides of faithfulness ebb and flow, in others and in myself.  We’re studying the prophet Micah right now in Sunday School.  I’m wondering how his contemporaries would have graded him?  B+ for creativity, D- for good news, F for charm:  low C overall.  Now, Micah, aren’t  you happy?

I was this week, believe it or not, re-reading part of the Westminster Confession of Faith with one of the students now seated behind me in the library.  We were prepping for the theology exam.  There was a practice question on Election.  Oh, boy.  What’s a pass versus fail answer?  He quite astutely (I wonder who taught him theology!) went to chapter 3.  Listen in regarding the elect: these God has chosen in Christ “out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works [add, or good grades], or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.”  Maybe the main grade to always worry about, and celebrate, is not the grade that someone else gives us, but the grade that God in Christ has placed on us all:  “You are my beloved child.  With you I am well pleased.”  Surely not on the basis of our performance, but due to the depths of God’s love.  A happy rest of the summer, post-grades and post-standard ords, to you all.

Richard Boyce
Academic Dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary, Charlotte Campus
Associate Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Leadership