Response to 40-Year Survey: Timothy L. Johnson

In this post we continue our series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” See additionally the 1989 letter from the Board of Ministry (following the 10-year study) as well as responses from Katherine Hamilton and Mark Novak & Carol Lawson.  

It has been a personal pleasure for me to engage with the February 2017 issue of the Covenant Quarterly, as the issue of women in ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church intersects in several ways with my life and ministry.

Personal Intersection

I began seminary only months before the decision was made to ordain women at the June 1976 Annual Meeting of the ECC. As I think back on my years in ministry, I am particularly grateful for that 1976 decision. In each of the churches I have pastored, I have ministered with women pastoral leaders. I am married to an ordained clergywoman whom I have had the pleasure of working with as well as witnessing her ministry in other contexts. I was blessed to graduate from North Park with five women in the spring of 1980. I believe this was in a graduating class of forty. In my current role at NPTS, I have the privilege of being involved in the vocational development of gifted women and men for ministry. Most years the student population is close to 50% women.

It is noteworthy that a majority of the students in NPTS’s master of divinity program are men, while a strong majority of students in programs like the Certificate in Spiritual Direction are women. Those distinctions are significant but do not negate the fact that the composition of the current student body is vastly different than it was when I was a student. This marks the fact that real progress has been made in the past forty years. I have the joy of observing gifted women enter our seminary community, expand their knowledge base and ministry skills, develop their pastoral identity, and depart for the purpose of serving in Christian ministry.

There is, however, grief to be recounted. It was a personal delight for me to observe at our most recent Midwinter Conference one of my female classmates, Mary Miller, receive the honor of being named distinguished alum of NPTS for 2017. Mary has served the ECC well as an exceptionally gifted servant leader. As a colleague and friend, Mary has been a blessing to me over my decades in ministry. Honoring Mary also serves to honor those other early women in ECC ministry. It also causes me to remember one classmate who was also exceptionally gifted for ministry but had to choose to serve in another denomination because of the way things unfolded for her. That memory illustrates the impoverishment to our denominational body when inadequate provision is not made for a major change in our denominational culture. As it has frequently been noted, it was both curious and unfortunate that the same assembly that voted to ordain women also voted not to embark on a strategy to promote and educate concerning the matter.


Kelly Johnston’s biography of  Jean Lambert was a particularly apt way of unpacking the concept of the pioneer. Along with Mary Miller and the other four women I graduated with in 1980, Jean Lambert was certainly a pioneer in for women in ECC ministry. I had not been aware of the letter Jean had written in 1989 on behalf of the Board of the Ministry. It was and is a strong letter, and it describes well the pioneer role of our earliest female colleagues in ministry. As I was glad for the honor bestowed on Mary Miller at Midwinter, I was reminded of what a good thing it was that Jean Lambert was honored by the ECC in 2006 (Irving C. Lambert Award for excellence in urban and ethnic ministries) and NPTS in 2008 (honorary doctorate). She established solid ground for women pastors and theologians in the ECC. I was personally struck by some of her work referred to in Johnston’s article.

Lambert’s contribution to Amicus Dei opened my eyes to the richness of “Mission Friend” terminology. This work was a major influence in my Doctor of Ministry work at Hartford Seminary (1986-1991). One of the things Lambert did well was to show how Pietist essentials, such as the “priesthood of all believers,” offered a path toward a  less hierarchical, more egalitarian church. These essentials are given strong expression in the third article of this issue of the Quarterly. Denise Kettering-Lane reminds us that even though the early giants of Pietism likely did not have women ministers in mind, their theological principles are given rich expression through the reality of women in ministry.

Practical Considerations

A a Covenant, we are fortunate that each decade since 1976 persons have offered careful analysis of the ECC’s progress in living into its vote. Lenore Knight Johnson offers fair and thorough insights on where we stand at year forty. Some of her suggestions for improvement I find particularly helpful. It is a given that we are congregational in our polity, and I think the advantages of this far outweigh the disadvantages. Yet there is no doubt that congregational polity has in large measure limited the suitable placement of many gifted clergywomen. Knight Johnson helpfully points out major ECC events, such as Midwinter and CHIC, as available opportunities for the ECC to draw attention to gifted women preachers.

I would add our Covenant camps to that list. This was brought home to me recently when my daughter Chloe came home from a youth retreat at Covenant Point and enthusiastically reported what a great speaker Ramelia Williams was at this event. As the father of a sixteen-year-old young woman, I celebrate that she has had ample opportunity to hear gifted women preach, including her mother. It is my hope for Chloe and others like her that each decade going forward will mark dramatic progress for our denominational family when it comes to women in pastoral leadership.

Timothy L. Johnson, graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 1980. After twenty-five years of parish ministry, Tim returned to NPTS in 2005 to serve as field education director (currently also interim academic dean). Tim’s wife Kari Lindholm-Johnson is an ordained Covenant pastor who is currently the artist-in-residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. They have two children. Gabe is a sophomore at North Park University; Chloe is a sophomore at Von Steuben High School.

40-Year Survey Response: Ordered Ministry

In this post we continue our series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” See additionally the 1989 letter from the Board of Ministry (following the 10-year study) and Katherine Hamilton’s response

Lenore Knight Johnson provides a comprehensive study of the state of credentialed clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church four decades after its 1976 decision to ordain women. Her research expanded the first and second decadal studies that included only ordained women who earned their MDiv degrees from North Park Theological Seminary. As she reported, the number of women serving in credentialed ministry has grown dramatically since the first and second decades of this analysis. She appropriately acknowledged a broader range of women called to serve in ministry – and actively doing so – beyond the category that was originally studied.

Carol Lawson

While the “threshold position” of the senior/solo preaching pastor is still seen as the benchmark for progress in our denominational position, we do celebrate the increased number of credentialed women who are serving in a variety of roles. Yet we acknowledge we are not yet where we want to be as a denomination. We too have heard stories of female colleagues who struggle to find a call or who desire to move to another ministry setting but have difficulty making that next step. We can always do more to support women in ministry, and we work hard toward finding specific ways to do so.

As mentioned in the article, our Commission on Biblical Gender Equality wrestles with these exact questions and statistics at each of their meetings since its creation in 2002. After completing educational material Called & Gifted for the 30th anniversary of the 1976 decision, the Commission devoted itself to seeking ongoing ways to advance its advocacy, knowing we had not yet achieved a fully welcoming culture.

We are particularly excited about Project Deborah. This initiative was briefly mentioned in Knight Johnson’s article, but since the February publication the Commission has expanded Project Deborah to enhance our commitment to identifying gifted and godly women in our ministry settings who may be called to lead and serve the church. A downloadable video curriculum with discussion questions is now on our website, along with seven vignettes of women sharing ways they have been mentored and encouraged. It’s an important initiative because it highlights ways in which male clergy have stepped up to encourage women. We think this is a critical element. (Our Commission blog invites writers and readers to share in this journey.)

Mark Novak

In working with Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), we have learned that many Christian communities are in this same journey. CBE is excited about the Project Deborah initiative and have asked our Biblical Gender Equality Commission for permission to use and advertise these resources within their circles of influence.

Develop Leaders also hears the disappointment of clergywomen who are seeking a call and feel less than welcome by some local churches. The challenge of congregational polity is real, not imagined. There are wonderful stories of women who are ultimately celebrated in their role as pastor, if not always initially. And there are times that the Methodist Church’s placement of pastors is envied rather than resented. We are committed to continually working with the Council of Superintendents promoting advocacy for clergywomen to be equally considered for all pastoral positions. We hope that some of the comments in the article represent a narrative that has been corrected. But we recognize that this is an ongoing challenge and one we do not take lightly. Continue Reading

40-Year Survey Response: Katherine Hampson

In this post we continue our series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.

I am a first-generation Filipina-American, currently pursuing my MDiv at an interdenominational seminary and working towards ordination to word and sacrament in the Evangelical Covenant Church. My path to seminary and ordination has been a “bottom-up” journey from within the local context, facilitated by key connections and relationships. I was initially given lay leadership opportunities within the church. As my gifts and calling were developed and affirmed by senior pastors (at the time both men, one white, one Asian), I eventually pursued seminary training and now ordination. All along the way, my local church pastors have been unwavering advocates, modeling that advocacy in our multiethnic church, as well as making space for me to preach and further develop my gifts.

Katherine Hampson

There are strong echoes of my experience in the 2016 Covenant clergywomen survey with regards to many women’s “non-traditional route” into ministry; the necessity of advocacy, structural, and spiritual support; and the importance of local church male pastors making space for their female counterparts. I would be curious to see how these factors operate specifically within the intersectionality of race and gender for clergywomen of color, and for multiethnic and ethnic-specific/immigrant congregations.

The Covenant’s affirmation of both racial righteousness and women’s ordination and leadership are crucial cornerstones for women of color serving in ministry. Yet cornerstones alone do not a strong structure make. Family and cultural issues can add extra layers to the stained-glass ceiling for clergywomen of color. When I told my parents that I was preaching for the first time, they indirectly (and indelicately) voiced their disapproval by asking, “Oh? Was the pastor away? Could they not find any man around to preach?” In Asian-American contexts, cultural patriarchy may be a significant factor in a congregation’s decision to not hire a female pastor, even if she is affirmed and ordained by the denomination. Her résumé may be put aside on the grounds that she will not be a “good fit” for the church –  yet assumptions regarding the form and definition of “fit” remain unchanged and unchallenged.

It would be fruitful for future surveys to examine whether the cultures of immigrant and multiethnic congregations tend to break down or build up gendered notions of ministry. Another avenue for ongoing exploration is whether clergywomen’s experiences differ in Covenant church plants and in pre-existing churches that choose to affiliate with the Covenant. Would ECC church plants be more willing to hire female pastors than, say, a newly-affiliated church that comes from a more conservative background? It is interesting to note that more majority-Asian-American churches join the Covenant through denominational affiliation than through church planting. How does this affect their view on women in ministry and pastoral leadership?

In local Asian-American church contexts, the presence of advocates has the potential to bear more weight than any top-down denominational stance. Having an older male authority figure express affirmation for women’s pastoral leadership, model support, and actively advocate for structural and cultural change can have significant influence on local church culture and structure. This was true in my experience.

The 2016 survey stresses the need for clergymen to advocate for their sisters to live out their call to vocational ministry and create spaces for them to serve. I would urge my brothers who pastor in primarily Asian-American contexts, whether in multiethnic or ethnic-specific immigrant churches, to further examine the significance and weight of their voices. I would encourage them to be all the more intentional about dismantling structural and cultural barriers for women in their local contexts, while also affirming through word and deed the call and gifts that the Lord has placed upon their sisters in ministry.

Katherine Hampson serves as pastoral intern at Highrock Covenant Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, while she pursues her master of divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Opinion: The Future of the Seminary is Tied to the Future of the Church

In this post, North Park Seminary professor Jay Phelan responds to Gary Walter’s and David Kersten’s articles, published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. Do you agree with his sentiments? Dialog with Phelan, Walter, and Kersten in the comments section (link located below article title).

Jay Phelan

Jay Phelan

I deeply appreciate the commitment that both President Walter and Dean Kersten have made to the Seminary. Since I have spent more than twenty-five years of my life and ministry serving North Park, I have a vested interest in the school not only surviving but thriving. As President Walter makes clear, these are challenging days for American seminaries. I know these challenges intimately not only because of my years at the seminary, fourteen of them as president and dean, but because of eight years on the board of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Over those eight years I was privileged to work with and learn from some of the brightest minds in theological education leadership.

For the board of ATS, the future of seminaries, and of theological education in general, is closely tied to the future of the church. Many seminaries are in crisis because the churches they serve are in crisis. The tide of Christendom is receding. And while mainline churches have struggled for years with declining membership and dwindling resources, in recent years it has become clear that evangelical churches are facing some of the same challenges.

Recent statistics indicate that evangelical churches are losing their young people at an even greater rate than mainline churches. This is not a problem that will be solved by outreach and evangelism alone, as important as both are. As the seminary needs to rethink what it means to prepare women and men for ministry, so the church needs to rethink what it means to worship, serve, witness, and teach in a post-Christian era. The Evangelical Covenant Church is historically well-placed to explore new ways of being church. Pietism has always stressed life over theological correctness, and for many people young and old this has a great deal of appeal at a time of deeply divisive theological conversations. Both the seminary and the church have stressed the deepening of the spiritual life, focusing on the spiritual formation of both pastors and “lay” leaders. And both the seminary and the church have focused on the importance of issues of justice—on poverty, racism, domestic violence, and social justice generally. The churches and the schools that are able to focus on mission and witness, that are rooted in actions as well as words, in compassion instead of condemnation, will have a future.  I think North Park Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Covenant Church can be such a school and such a church.  To that end, I would observe and recommend the following:

  • In an era of biblical illiteracy and theological ignorance, it will not serve us well to lessen our emphasis on the Bible, theology, and history. These must remain at the core of preparation for ministry. We still need a learned clergy and learned lay leaders.
  • Theological education must be a partnership not only between the denomination and the school, but also between the local church and the school. Many of our current students are online students serving in local churches already. In my opinion, local church leaders and seminary personnel need to work more closely together to assure the online student or other already-serving student is getting the greatest benefit possible from their theological educations. Churches also need to take the initiative to recognize, cultivate, and call out talent within their own congregations.
  • The denominational leadership and leadership of the school must work to preserve the distinctiveness of the Covenant. I recommend this not simply to be parochial but to suggest that our biblically centered, theologically diverse, and spiritually committed form of witness and worship are powerful and needed by the wider church. To this end both church and school need to be confident in the gifts they have to offer. For too long we have lived as if we are just a little people with no gifts to bring to the larger community. We need no more “poormeism.”
  • Finally, and perhaps not surprisingly, I believe the seminary needs to be resourced sufficiently to accomplish its tasks. The seminary, like every American seminary, even the largest ones, has faced financial difficulties in recent years. Some severe belt tightening and fiscal discipline have righted the ship. But there comes a time when a more aggressive stance is necessary. If we are going to accomplish the wide-ranging plans recommended by Dean Kersten, we are going to need more resources, especially for technology, student financial scholarships, and for increased spending in our recruitment office. With a growing seminary we will be able to add additional voices at the faculty table.

I am retiring this year and am very thankful and humbled to have spent my career at North Park. I am confident in its future and its leadership. But all associated with the school will need courage, flexibility, and imagination to enable it to succeed in its mission.

John E. Phelan, Jr. is senior professor of theological studies at North Park Theological Seminary. He previously served as the seminary’s president and dean, as well as on the board of the Association of Theological Schools.

Opinion: A Call for Comprehensive Assessment of the Vitality Pathway

In the 1840s, Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the famous Supreme Court justice, was studying medicine in Paris. Mortality rates in European hospitals for women giving birth were at 10–35%. For a thousand years it had been believed that during childbirth toxic substances were released from deep within the mother’s body, causing fever and death. The unchallenged belief of the day was that these women died of “puerperal fever.”

Dr. Holmes theorized that the source of the infections was actually the hands of the physicians themselves. Doctors would come straight from working on cadavers to delivering babies without washing their hands or cleaning their instruments. They brought pathogens from the lab to the clinic. Dr. Holmes’ suggestion that the physicians were themselves causing illness was dismissed. Doctors would not consider the possibility that they were transmitting pathogens to their patients. Only with the work of Louis Pasteur, some twenty years later, would doctors accept their role in transmitting disease and change their procedures in caring for their patients.

This response comes from one who is both hopeful that the Vitality Pathway can assist the church I serve and concerned with the actual effects the program has on all of the churches in which it has been implemented. I was first introduced to the term “latrogenic” by Eugene Peterson. “Latrogenic” (“brought forth by the healer”) refers to a disease contracted in the process of being treated, especially by a doctor. While the ECC’s Vitality Pathway has resulted in renewal for many congregations, the experiences of others suggest it may also result in “latrogenic” complications.

The Vitality Pathway, like everything else devised by human beings, is flawed. Being flawed does not disqualify it from being useful. It does, however, mean we need to approach this program with both hope and care. My concern is that the possibility of “latrogenic” tendencies in the Vitality Pathway is not currently being considered, discussed, or addressed.

The Vitality Pathway begins with the Veritas Seminar and the admonition to “tell the truth.” While the Veritas Seminar intends to tell the truth about congregations, I have been unable to find materials that evaluate, or tell the truth about, the Vitality Pathway itself. Specifically, what is the range of experiences of all of the churches that have begun the Vitality Pathway? It is tempting to highlight those churches that have profited from this program. But what of those situations where the Vitality Pathway has failed to help churches produce the desired results?

In light of the Covenant’s promotion of this pathway as appropriate for all churches in the denomination, the Vitality Pathway has a responsibility to inform prospective churches of the full range of outcomes that have actually resulted from this program. It has the further responsibility of mitigating disruptive and divisive consequences that may result.

Therefore, I would urge the Evangelical Covenant Church to undertake and widely disseminate a comprehensive review of the effects the Vitality Pathway has had on all of the churches in which it has been implemented, including those churches that have dropped out of the program for any reason. If the Vitality Pathway is truly sound, it will withstand the scrutiny of a comprehensive review. We ought to apply the slogan “there is no vitality without reality” to the Vitality Pathway itself.

The majority of the women who gave birth in Paris hospitals in the 1840s would have praised the physicians who cared for them; the voices of the 10–35% who died in the hospital were not heard. This illustrates why it is crucial to go beyond highlighting those who thrive to consider those whose experiences range from problematic to damaging to fatal. The Vitality Pathway assumes that churches that do not benefit from, or are injured during, this program have difficulty solely because “toxic substances have been released from within.” This assumption needs to be interrogated.

Karl B. Larson serves as pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Aurora, Nebraska.

How can the church be supportive? A response to Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson’s article, “Supporting Families Living with Mental Illness,” resonates deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence – a journey with which I am all too familiar. I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), and while I do not currently serve in a pastoral position, I do have a ministry. My family’s journey with our child who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder has opened my eyes to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.

  • Offer compassion. During any given Sunday morning, the parents are faced with no shortage of awkward situations involving the affected individual, from physical and emotional confrontations to withdrawal. For parents of children struggling in the areas of mental health, engagement in a public venue brings a cringe factor along with a host of questions. How will other children be affected if my child utters a socially inappropriatecomment? Will I be judged about my parenting skills? How will others perceive my child or sibling? Simple explanations to others (while being sensitive to confidentiality), modeling unconditional love, and communicating with the parents/family go a long way.
  • Educate. Become aware of organizations that provide information about various mental health conditions. Ministry staff may wonder, How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual or family members? Since symptoms fall on a large spectrum, individuals have different needs. Some churches have a Sunday school class that caters to children with special concerns. We give practical suggestions to teachers when they encounter cues indicating frustration or anger.
  • Understand the impact on the entire family. As Simpson notes, “behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted – perhaps even devastated – by that illness” (p. 42). Time, energy, and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected. One idea that has been welcoming to us is when families invite our other children to play at their homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they too are special. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family. 

A note on a theology of suffering. Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches that “life should be easy and happy” (p. 49). While I agree with her, I would want to warn against the opposite error that views medication and other treatment as a diversion from embracing the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they regard their illness as a “cross to bear” – a view not generally held by those suffering from diabetes or heart conditions. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision with a misguided theology of suffering is not helpful. I believe God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore brain processes and give those affected a better quality of life.

The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together. We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other. My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks. When she was younger, she placed communion cups in trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café that follows our Sunday worship service. Children crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community. The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling. This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian. We are responsible for our response to people in need” (p. 48).

Stephanie Thompson is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Stephanie attends Hope Covenant Church in Orland Park, Illinois, with her husband Scott and their three children. She has a passion for encouraging and empowering people toward finding purpose, healing, and identity through the Holy Spirit as they pursue life in an imperfect world. Stephanie holds a special desire to help families journeying with a child with a medical/mental illness.  A speaker at various venues, she blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @s2thomp.

A Response to Bruce Fields

In this post Dominique Gilliard responds to Bruce Fields’s article on black hermeneutics, published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. Do you agree or disagree? Add your own response, to Fields and/or Gilliard, within the comments section (see link above, under title).

Dominique Gilliard

Dominique Gilliard

In his article “The One and the Many: What Can Be Learned from a Black Hermeneutic,” Bruce Fields correctly articulates that a Black hermeneutic is “not only a way of reading and communicating the messages of the Bible; it is also a way of interpreting the complexities of life” (p. 44). This definition crystallizes why Fields believes the church must expand its biblical and cultural hermeneutic. Fields provides revelatory insight into the interplay between Scripture and culture, saying faithful hermeneutics require “serious study of the biblical text” and “careful communication of the message to an audience in its situatedness” (p. 52). Moreover, he appropriately concludes that “the hermeneutical task is impeded” if either element is deficient.

Fields also fittingly cautions against dismissing our Christian fore-parents. However, he may read Augustine too sympathetically. While Augustine does correctly acknowledge that slavery is a manifestation of humanity’s sinful condition and does not racialize it, does a black hermeneutic not challenge his claim that slavery “can only happen by the judgement of God…who knows how to assign different punishments according to the merits of the offenders” (City of God 19.15)? Moreover, Augustine’s claim that “clearly it is a happier lot to be enslaved to a man than to be enslaved to lust” is a statement that one who has never been enslaved has no grounds to make. It is a statement of privilege that elevates the spiritual over the material and fails to adequately address the concrete realities of oppression, exploitation, and death slavery breeds. Nevertheless, Fields is correct that attention to our Christian fore-parents helps ground hermeneutics in a tradition that transcends us and provides wisdom that guide us, even in our modern context.

I was surprised Fields used the phrase “black on black crime” since statistics reveal that all races are overwhelmingly more prone to commit intraracial crimes. The fact that we routinely say “black on black crime” and not “white on white crime” or “Asian on Asian crime” reflects the correlation between blackness and criminality embedded deep within our nation’s psyche. Employing this phrase only serves to reify and legitimate this correlation. When ghettoized, “black on black crime” is propaganda, a political talking point. For this reason I believe it is imperative to instead name “black on black crime” – when used as a special category – an illegitimate figment of our nation’s imagination.

It would have been helpful if Fields’ description of a black hermeneutic addressed whiteness’s claim to universality (as Lee discusses in his article, pp. 12-13). A black hermeneutic helps reveal how white theology clandestinely became universal – and, in the process, disembodied – theology. Camouflaged in universals, Eurocentric theology was set apart, against, and above contextualized theologies that acknowledge the embodied social locations from which they derive. Consequently, the scholarship of women and people of color became hyphenated, stigmatized theology. A black hermeneutic elucidates and names as white theology what otherwise operates unrecognized under the pretext of universality.

In this way, a black hermeneutic is innovative, embodied, and resilient – a corrective to Western Christianity’s disembodied, ahistorical tendency. Against the universal claims of dominant theology, a black hermeneutic insists that all theology emerges from lived experience – that all theology is contextual theology.

Finally, Fields rightly insists that all members of Christ’s body must be present and given a voice at the table for the fullness of the church to be realized. It bears stating that that merely having black faces present does not fulfill this call. Not all black theological reflections are grounded in a black hermeneutic. Consequently, the table must be radically reevaluated; we must not settle for reconsidering who is seated around it, but must insist on interrogating the operative power dynamics of the table itself.

What do you think of the points Gilliard identifies as strengths in Fields’ argument and those he problematizes? Join the dialogue by clicking on the comments link, located under the title above.

DominiqueDominique DuBois Gilliard is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Dominique serves on the pastoral staff at New Hope Covenant Church, in Oakland California. Dominique also serves on the board of directors for the Christian Community Development Association. Dominique blogs at You can also follow him on Twitter @WEB_Ture.

The Theological Role of the Covenant Quarterly: A Thesis

Since its inception in 1941, the Covenant Quarterly has sought to serve Covenant clergy, a fact evident in its original title, Covenant Minister’s Quarterly. I believe this goal begs the question, How has the Covenant Quarterly impacted Covenant theology and identity? I offer two answers to this question: the Quarterly has shaped Covenant identity by (1) modeling Pietism as a theological discrimen and by (2) engaging in disciplined theological reflectionCovQuarterly1941 on contemporary social issues.

Covenant leaders have debated and shaped Covenant theology on the pages of the Quarterly through the story and language of Pietism. The term “discrimen” comes from an article by C. John Weborg, where he defines it as “a configuration of criteria that are in some way organically related to one another” (41:3, 1983). This technical term is needed to underscore the fact that the Quarterly has not defined or enforced Covenant identity according to the standard of Pietism. Rather, the Quarterly has used Pietism in a much more a fluid, dynamic, and imaginative sense that has fostered debate and growth in key areas such as biblical interpretation and social justice.

To give an example of the former, many Quarterly articles approach biblical interpretation with Pietism as a theological discrimen. F. Burton Nelson’s article “An Evangelical Approach to Biblical Authority” (41:3, 1983) is representative. Responding to competing conceptions about biblical authority, Nelson asks whether the Pietist understanding of “life in Christ” might be a viable alternative to traditional evangelical understandings of biblical authority. Nelson here appeals to the Covenant’s Pietist heritage not to enforce a particular system of doctrine but to raise a question.  Rather than closing the conversation, this approach spurs dialogue and debate about life’s essential questions. Nelson’s article reflects how denominational leaders have used the language and spirit of Pietism within the pages of the Quarterly to create a unique space within the theological imagination of the denomination. Examples could easily be multiplied.

A second way the Covenant Quarterly has shaped Covenant identity is by providing the first forum within the denomination for reflecting theologically on contemporary social issues. Articles on race and racism, the civil rights movement, Liberation Theology, immigration, urban ministry, women in ministry, ecumenism, poverty, and missions can all be found within the Quarterly. Some of these articles are raw and unrefined – at times even objectionable by current standards. But they all attempted to serve the Evangelical Covenant Church by initiating dialogue and wrestling honestly with issues of faith and culture.

In these ways, the Covenant Quarterly historically has connected the heritage of the Covenant to its future through theological reflection that seeks God’s glory and neighbor’s good. It is for us to decide whether it will continue to do so.

MeyerAndy Meyer ( is head of electronic resources and interlibrary loan at the North Park University’s Brandel Library. A graduate of NPTS (MA), he is currently pursuing a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois. Andy serves on the seminary’s Library & Publications Committee and as technical adviser to the Covenant Quarterly.