Left Behind Elitists

23 10 2014

I have just returned from South Korea where I did an academic lecture on premillennial dispensationalism at Hoseo University. My very basic overview of the five aspects of Premillennial Dispensationalism: tribulational views, millennial views, dispensational categories, the Darby system, and biblical interpretive perspectives created quite a stir amongst students and faculty, which only goes to prove the impact that premillennial dispensationalism has had on the Christian community world-wide. I chose this topic in honor of the recent reissuance of the Left Behind movie.

Since the movie came out on Friday, October 3, 2014, there have been numerous blog responses. I point you to two in particular that reflect my own views on the details of the biblical text and its interpretation:

Nobody Is Getting Left Behind (Because the Rapture Is Never, Ever Going to Happen)
Why ‘Left Behind’ should be… left behind

Given these interpretations of the theology found in the Left Behind series I would like to take the conversation to the next level.

LeAnn's Book

The Dean has written this book on the subject of today’s post.

What has not yet been said in any blog that I have read is that premillennial dispensationalism is an elitist theology.

It purports that a select group, referred to as the “true church” will be whisked away by Jesus in what they call the “rapture” to become the Bride of Christ. The Bride of Christ is, in fact, understood to be equal to Christ, in that the union between Jesus and his Bride is likened onto the union between a man and a woman on earth, i.e., the two shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24).

Given this theological understanding, when Jesus returns (a second time) to judge the peoples of the earth and establish his 1000 year reign, he will, of course, bring his bride with him; so that, Jesus, the Christ, and his Bride, being one flesh, will reign together over all the earth and her inhabitants, i.e., those still remaining after the great judgment. Those remaining on the earth will be of course, the Jews, as their inheritance is earthly, but only the Jews that accept Jesus as messiah, and the Gentiles that have converted to believe in Jesus as messiah since the rapture.

Premillennial Dispensationalism is an elitist doctrinal belief system that purposes to exclude any and all that are not premillennial, pre-tribulational, futuristic, Darbyites, who hold to the dualisms between Jew and Gentile, and adhere to the hierarchical rules “established by the Bible” (their language not mine).

They understand their interpretations of the Bible to be “absolute truth.” Consequently, they understand themselves to have a special revelation and status given to them by God that places them in an elite camp.

The entire doctrinal belief system necessitates a separatist perspective and lifestyle, an emphasis on individual salvation, and adherence to a homogeneous set of doctrinal beliefs. It does not in any way foster tolerance for an inter-racial, inter-cultural, and inter-faith context, and certainly has no tolerance for many of the social issues we struggle with in our nation and world today.

Their hope and belief is in the vindication they will experience on rapture day.

If you are interested in more details on this doctrinal belief system as it is portrayed in the Left Behind movie (and novels) I point you to Are We Living in the End Times?: Current Events Foretold in Scripture . . . And What they Mean by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and The Authorized Left Behind Handbook by LaHaye, Jenkins, and Sandi L. Swanson.

May our Christian faith be a living faith expressed thru acts of compassion to all of God’s creation (Mtt 25:31-45).

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD
Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament
American Baptist Seminary of the West at
The Graduate Theological Union
Berkeley, CA
October 22, 2014

A Visit to South Korea

17 10 2014

Dean Flesher and Dr Sam Park are in South Korea visiting with friends and colleagues there. ABSW is grateful for our connection to Hyupsung University and many others.

Dean Flesher with Dr Sam Park and Dr Youngil Kim at Hyupsung University where they met with 100 students to promote ABSW academic programs.

Dean Flesher with Dr Sam Park and Dr Youngil Kim at Hyupsung University where they met with 100 students to promote ABSW academic programs.

Pictured: Visiting Professor Dr Youngil Kim Dean Flesher Dr Sam Park Dr Hyung Suk Na Mrs So Hee Na Dr Malte Rhinow

Pictured: Visiting Professor Dr Youngil Kim, Dean Flesher, Dr Sam Park, Dr Hyung Suk Na, Mrs So Hee Na, Dr Malte Rhinow

Photographer Dr Jeong Ae Han

Photographer Dr Jeong Ae Han

ABSW Welcomes Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant Editors of Disquiet Time

13 10 2014

We asked the editors of Disquiet Time for a brief paragraph about what they think will be helpful/interesting/weird/encouraging about presenting Disquiet Time at a seminary. What they submitted ended up being more lengthy than anticipated, but it was so good, we just thought we’d leave it as it was. Hope to see you at our event in November.

coverA virtual panel discussion in Christianity Today magazine posed a question to three authors whose recent book releases point to their most profound spiritual and ecclesiastical concerns.

(One dubs the Millennials an “Ex-Christian Generation,” another calls ours a “post-Christian world,” and a third writes about what it means to be “Almost Christian.”)

The question posed to these authors by CT:

How can churches reach nominal believers before they become ‘Nones’?

One panelist advocates giving “nominal believers a jolt” by confronting them with “the hard truth of what it means to follow Jesus.” He said that nominal Christians must be confronted with the “all-or-nothing demands of the gospel.” If they walk away, he says, “at least they will go freed from the delusion that blinds them to their true need for Christ.”

The second suggests that the church welcome those who have “zoned out” by immersing them with “meaning, belonging, and radical hospitality.” The author says that, “we’re far less likely to lose people around the edges” when churches “err on the side of grace in matters of doctrine and politics.”

The third writer says we must “reimage the church so that it engages all people relationally” and praises programs such as the Alpha Course, a program that introduces the basics of the Gospel and “stress(es) that conversion leads to lifelong discipleship.”

I’d posit that there is a fourth way (and probably dozens more) for believers to engage those who feel marginalized in the church or who describe themselves as spiritually uninterested, adrift, or numb:

Listen to their stories.

Invite them to be honest about their wounds, struggles, and doubts.

That’s all.

Just listen.

And that’s where the contributors to Disquiet Time offer a rich, unique, and wide-ranging opportunity. For these and many other reasons, the anthology is special, as:

  1. In a polarized culture, it’s not divisive.

We invited everyone from our most conservative Christian friend (a professor at Liberty University, no less) to a writer who once identified as Christian but no longer does (she’s a Zen Buddhist monk) to tell their stories. We wanted to listen, and none of the contributors aim to proselytize or judge other people’s experiences of faith. They just tell their stories, and there is great value in that.

An early reviewer wrote,

My favorite part of this collection is that while I didn’t agree with everything the different writers say…I didn’t feel like I had to. Do you know what a surprise that is? I kept waiting to feel that defensive mechanism go up inside me, but it didn’t. There was no expectation of uniformity or call for everyone to fall in line. This collection is such an inspiring picture of what real faith, lived with real people, looks and feels and reads like.

If ministers or theology students find themselves concerned about “reaching Millennials” or about the prevalence of people who describe themselves as a “none,” they will know that, as this recent discussion underscores, “This distaste for polarization is a key feature of the millennials that leads you to call them ‘the mediating generation.’”

Disquiet Time is a book that illuminates the experience of all sorts of people of faith. It points to God’s grace and how big (and how incomplete) are our stories.

A minister-in-training will, after reading the book, more intimately understand the parishioners who come into the church to quit Christianity. Readers will also enjoy seeing the ways that Scripture has buoyed up, informed, and amused many people of faith. Disquiet Time gives readers permission to question, play with, and even rail against the Scriptures.

  1. The voices are various, compelling, and tell honest stories.

Our contributors range in age from their twenties to seventies. Doubt and spiritual numbness don’t belong to the Millenials. Regardless of the decade into which one was born, all people struggle spiritually, sometimes find themselves confounded by the Scriptures, and wrestle with disappointment and doubt. Adolescents, seniors, and even middle-aged church-goers like me wrangle with our faith.

Disquiet Time isn’t geared toward Millenials or “nones” or any other particular cohort. Its agenda isn’t to convert or “jolt,” but to give readers the opportunity to listen to what these particular writers have experienced in their lives of faith.

Both Cathleen and I, over the several months when we were editing chapters and curating the project, were struck by the emotions that the contributors expressed. Well-known authors worried that they couldn’t complete the task. Others confessed to being kept up nights, wrestling with the fear of over-exposing themselves or being misunderstood. But they all had important stories to tell. And they wanted, some for the first time, to say:

“To tell the truth, this is what it’s felt like for me to be a person of faith.

These are my struggles.

This is what makes me laugh.

This is what confuses me about the Bible.”

  1. It’s fun.

When we corresponded with our contributors, we promised not to censor them. We said, on more than one occasion, Disquiet Time doesn’t need to earn a PG rating. Among other topics, our contributors write about sex, bodily fluids, or the Sunday School hymns that both inspire or have echoed in a toxic, taunting way throughout their lives.

All to say, this weird and wonderful collection of narratives will be of value to ministers and seminarians who aim to understand and articulate spiritual joys and longings, but to all who want to better understand how variously – and particularly – the Scriptures speak to us today.

There you have it.

Join general editors Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, along with contributing authors Tripp Hudgins, Jay E. Johnson, Carolyn Reyes, and Anna Broadway for a lively discussion of their contributions to the new book Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels.

Saturday, November 8
American Baptist Seminary of The West
2606 Dwight Way
Berkeley, CA

Learn more here: http://disquiettime.com/

Follow them on Twitter: @disquiettime

black and white

Top (l. to r.): Jennifer Grant, Tripp Hudgins, Cathleen Falsani Bottom (l to r): Carolyn Reyes, Jay E. Johnson, Anna Broadway




The Jazz of Seminary

10 10 2014


Are you interested in seminary? Would you like to get to know us a little better? Join faculty, staff, alum, and others at The H-Lounge for some jazz and fellowship.

Pocket Watch, featuring our own professor of Church history Dr. Ron Burris on saxophone, will be offering music. Bring a friend! Ron 13

The Jazz of Seminary
October 26
6:00 – 9:00
H Lounge
472 Benucia Rd.
Vallejo, CA

There is a $10 cover charge for this event. Please RSVP below.

From The ABSW Student Moderator

9 10 2014


I am Minister Phoebe Jeter, ABSW Student Moderator, writing to you from the American Baptist Seminary of the West. The student body of ABSW had our first meeting of the school year tonight (10/6/14). There was much excitement in the air as our new and returning students, local and international were eager to find out what were some of the issues and plans concerning the student body. Being a commuter school for working adults can sometimes be challenging to bring everyone together.

Collectively, the students decided to donate $300.00 to St Mary’s Center in Oakland, CA. as their ministry outreach project this semester. Two members of the senior class graciously volunteered to serve in two important open positions, treasurer and secretary, within the Student Government.   The students also decided to conduct a forum on “Seminarian Self-Care” during the Spring student body meeting. This will be a forum by the students, all classes, for the students. A meeting and Thanksgiving fellowship on November 24th will be held to determine the date.


Minister Phoebe Jeter is a senior Seminarian, and Minister-in-Training at St John Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond, CA. She is a retired Army veteran who hails from South Carolina. Her passions include ministering to women and those who are differently-abled. She enjoys outdoor life and traveling.

Prayers for The Journey: Supporting Women in Ministry

22 09 2014

The following post is by our guest, Rev. Charlotte W. Myers. Rev. Myers is President Emeritus for American Baptist Women of the East Bay Area having served as President from 2008 to 2013. Her current appointments are as follows: American Baptist Women of the West, Coordinator of Personal and Leadership Development, Coordinator of Barbara Styles Fund, and Chair of 2014 Leadership Retreat Committee.

I received an email regarding the election of Rev. Young as incoming President Elect for the National Baptist Convention was thought provoking.  Carl Kenney said, “Young received 3,195 of the 6,400 votes cast. He won on a platform that promises to modify the organization’s infrastructure. Masses of women voted for Young despite his opposition to women in ministry. Men who serve with women on staff voted for Young.  No one seems to care.”

Kenney did not mention if there was a popular National Baptist candidate who advocated for women in ministry.  If so, what portion of the vote did that candidate receive?

Pushing back the prevailing bias against women in ministry has been the mantle many of us has bore. Some of us have simply continued to be present and active against the odds of succeeding to receive recognition or inclusion.  We simply show-up, ask for invitations and respond to every opportunity made available to preach and teach the Gospel.  Others have challenged ourselves and the people to embrace the ministries and missions of women.  Hoping to “win-over” increasing support and participation for women in ministry.  Yet, many of us remain in “Associate” positions or are pushed to the margins no matter how gifted or capable.

The debate over women’s capacity for ministry and leadership usually comes down to a dialogue centered on the interpretation of certain biblical passages prohibiting women from teaching and leadership roles.  However, the must perplexing realization is that our congregations continue their preference for male-dominated leadership. There is no denying that among our own people there is at this time a preference for male preachers and pastors.  No doubt the National Baptist Convention reflects and follows this pattern as well.

Then, I noted the names on the email.  Among the names are some of the most successful and accomplished Baptist women leaders and ardent male supporters for women in ministry.  I hope they share and find support for these practical steps to be interpreted into their work on behalf of women pastors and preachers. On the ABWIM website is a list of five-year strategies (2011 – 2015) advocating for increased numbers and participation for women pastors, preachers and teachers:

  • Establish and/or strengthen an active and available network and available resources for women in ministry.
  • Educate church congregations about women in ministry by conducting at least one event in each region and developing the resources to support the events.
  • Charge the ABWIM Advisory Committee to identify a measurable goal for increasing the number of women employed in ministerial positions.
  • Create an award recognizing an ABWIM advocate to be presented at the Biennials.
  • Establish a practice of recognizing inspiring women in ministry from diverse fields using the ABWIM web pages.
  • Create and distribute to women in or considering seminary a resource list of seminary opportunities and events that explore and encourage cultivating a ministerial call.
  • Develop an annual retreat or conference resource for women in ministry to strengthen mutual support and celebrate women’s gifts.
  • Develop specific projects to strengthen support and advocacy for African American women in ministry, Latina women in ministry, Asian women in ministry and Native American women in ministry.
  • Develop priorities for 2016-2020.

I believe, these intentional and provocative strategies can win broad support among our advocates, the Ministers’ Council, and MMBB and have the potential to create a landslide of positive congregational support for the service and call of women in ministry.

Let us pray:  Lord, the righteous judgment of God is intended to make us worthy of the kingdom of God.  We suffer for the sake of the spreading of the Gospel.  We ask only for your justice. Give relief to us and reveal the fulfillment of your promises for women called to serve the ministries of the Gospel. Send us mighty angels and inflict your judgment on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. We fear our separation from the presence of the Lord, if we fail in our commitment to be on one accord with your will for your people.  So, we always pray, asking that our God will make us worthy of his call and willing to fulfill our good resolve to undertake his works of power and faith. So that the name of our Lord Jesus might be glorified in us and we remain in him.  We pray according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A New Year Is Under Way

15 09 2014

Last week I was walking through the halls listening (eavesdropping, really) to our professors and students. Dr. Hall was teaching a session on congregational leadership. Students from across the Graduate Theological Union were present. Horacio Da Valle was teaching Contextual Theology down the hall. When you walk through the halls of ABSW you’ll hear English, Spanish, and Korean spoken. Our student body is local and global. That night was no exception.Ron 13

We’re entering our third week of study here at ABSW and things are humming along nicely. Our on-line courses, Baptist Polity and Intro to The Old Testament, are going very well. As I write this, Dr. Flesher and her Teaching Assistant are diligently recording the lectures for the on-line students in Old Testament. We’re on campus and on-line.

Should we start calling it “on-campus”? Perhaps!

You’ll see us on social media a little more, too. You can follow the seminary at @ABSWBerkeley. Our Dean, Dr. Flesher is on Twitter (@lasnow52) as is our Professor of Worship and Theology, Dr. Davidson (@momentofbeing). They have been encouraging their students to share their work if they are also on social media. Follow the hashtags #ABSWBible, #ABSWTheology, and #ABSWChapel to learn more! It’s a good way to get to know our professors and some of our students. And, of course, we’re also on Facebook.

If you’d like to visit us on-campus, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can e-mail (admission (at) absw (dot) edu) me or give us a call. Plan a visit. Mondays are an especially good day to visit. Chapel is held at 6:00pm and there is a meal that follows. You can sit in on a class as well. We’d love to welcome you as our guest. And keep your eyes and ears open. We’re planning an event in late October featuring saxophonist and Church History Professor, Dr. Ron Burris.

There will be more news to follow!

Tripp Hudgins
Director of Admissions


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