Biblical Interpretation for Caribbean Renewal—The Jamaica Theology Conference is Almost Here (Sept. 8-9, 2017)

The Jamaica theology conference that I’ve been helping to plan is coming up in just four weeks. It will be held on the campus of my alma mater, the Jamaica Theological Seminary (JTS).

Various details about the conference are now finalized. You can download a one-page conference flyer here.

The keynote speaker had already been announced. He is Dr. Steed Davidson, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

THE ZENAS GERIG MEMORIAL LECTURE—FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

Dr. Davidson will give the sixth annual Zenas Gerig Memorial Lecture. This lecture will not be just for the conference; it will be a public lecture available to the entire community.

Dr. Zenas Gerig was the founder of JTS (in 1960), and its first Principal (he later became the first President). I got to know him when I attended JTS in the seventies; he taught the first formal Bible courses I took at JTS (on the Pentateuch and the Historical Books).

Dr. Gerig was an amazing man who had a significant impact on the church and on theological education both in Jamaica and in the rest of the Caribbean. Not only was he a prime mover behind the Caribbean Evangelical Theological Association, but he founded the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST) in Kingston in 1986.

Dr. Gerig passed away September 14, 2011 and I had the privilege of delivering the first Zenas Gerig Memorial Lecture in September 2012 (my topic was Abraham’s test in Genesis 22, and that presentation has since become a central component in a new book I am working on).

Dr. Davidson’s lecture will be on Friday night, September 8. It is entitled “The Hazards and Opportunities of Sola Scriptura for Caribbean Biblical Interpretation.” Dr. Garnett Roper, current President of JTS, will present a formal response.

You can download information about the keynote lecture, including bios of Dr. Davidson and Dr. Roper, here.

PAPER PRESENTATIONS—SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9

After the keynote lecture on Friday night, the conference proper starts on Saturday (September 9), with a variety of paper presentations on topics related to the conference theme, “Biblical Interpretation for Caribbean Renewal.”

We have papers lined up from various theological disciplines and perspectives. Some presenters are coming from the US and Canada, though most are currently living in Jamaica, including professors at Jamaica Theological Seminary and the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology. I will be giving a paper myself, as will Dr. Eric Flett, who was the Zenas Gerig Memorial Lecturer in 2015.

The following paper titles indicate the diversity of topics to be discussed:

  • The Parable of the Good Samaritan: A Political Reading from a Caribbean Perspective
  • The Anatomy of a Church Healing
  • The Inclusive Vision of Isaiah 56 and Contested Ethical Practices in Scripture and the Church: Toward a Canonical Hermeneutic of Discernment
  • Food for Thought: The Work of the Spirit and the Dynamics of Disgust in Acts 10
  • Word, Sound, and Power: The Religious Imagination of Rastafari Hermeneutics
  • Chiastic Contours, Caribbean Hermeneutic, and the Book of Acts
  • The Biblical Interpretation of Demonic Possession and Voodoo-Like Possession as the Identity of Evil In Haiti
  • Black Identity in Light of Slavery, God’s Sovereignty, and Scripture
  • Pastoral Priorities for Biblical Interpretation in the Caribbean
  • Contextual Interpretation and the Canonical Narrative: Toward a Holistic Understanding of the Bible

You can download a tentative conference schedule for Friday and Saturday, showing when the various papers will be presented.

And you can download a full list of presenters, paper titles, and abstracts of all the papers here.

CONFERENCE REGISTRATION

Registration is very inexpensive and can be done online on the conference page at the Jamaica Theological Seminary website. Discounted registration is available up to August 15.

Questions about registration can be directed to Dr. Winston Thompson, Vice-president of JTS.

CONFERENCE CO-SPONSORSHIP

The theology conference is sponsored by the Jamaica Theological Seminary and will be held on their campus, at 14-16 West Ave., Kingston 8, Jamaica, W.I..

The conference is co-sponsored by the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology and the United Theological College of the West Indies.

This interdisciplinary theology conference celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Maybe I will see you in Jamaica!

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Biblical Interpretation for Caribbean Renewal—Theology Conference in Kingston, Jamaica (September 8-9, 2017)

The Jamaica theology conference that I’ve been helping to plan is coming up in just over a month (I had posted a final Call for papers a while back).

KEYNOTE SPEAKER – DR. STEED DAVIDSON

The keynote speaker is Dr. Steed Davidson, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Dr. Davidson, who is originally from Tobago, will kick off the conference with a programmatic lecture on Friday evening (September 8) entitled “The Hazards and Opportunities of Sola Scriptura for Caribbean Biblical Interpretation.” Then on Saturday (September 9) there will be papers on a variety of topics related to the conference theme: “Biblical Interpretation for Caribbean Renewal.”

PAPER TOPICS FOR SATURDAY

We have papers lined up from a variety of theological disciplines and perspectives, especially focused on the Bible and Caribbean renewal. Here are some of the paper titles:

  • The Parable of the Good Samaritan: A Political Reading from a Caribbean Perspective
  • The Inclusive Vision of Isaiah 56 and Contested Ethical Practices in Scripture and the Church: Toward a Canonical Hermeneutic of Discernment
  • Food for Thought: The Work of the Spirit and the Dynamics of Disgust in Acts 10
  • Word, Sound, and Power: The Religious Imagination of Rastafari Hermeneutics
  • Chiastic Contours, Caribbean Hermeneutic, and the Book of Acts
  • Black Identity in Light of Slavery, God’s Sovereignty, and Scripture
  • Pastoral Priorities for Biblical Interpretation in the Caribbean
  • Contextual Interpretation and the Canonical Narrative: Toward a Holistic Understanding of the Bible
  • The Anatomy of a Church Healing
  • The Biblical Interpretation of Demonic Possession and Voodoo-Like Possession as the Identity of Evil In Haiti

You may register on the conference page at the Jamaica Theological Seminary website by clicking on the form at the bottom of the page (discounted registration is available up to August 15). Questions about registration can be directed to Dr. Winston Thompson, Vice-president of JTS. The registration page will be updated with detailed information about the conference schedule as soon as it is available.

CONFERENCE CO-SPONSORSHIP

The theology conference is sponsored by the Jamaica Theological Seminary and will be held on their campus, at 14-20 West Ave., Kingston 8, Jamaica, W.I..

The conference is co-sponsored by the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology and the United Theological College of the West Indies.

This interdisciplinary theology conference celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

My Six Degrees of Separation from Malcolm Gladwell

I started working on this blog post a long time ago. But I never completed it, due to a variety of writing commitments that took priority.

However, a recent turn of events has brought Malcolm Gladwell, and his family, to the forefront of my mind.

On March 11, 2017 Malcolm Gladwell’s father, Graham, passed away, after suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s for a number of years. My heart goes out to the family, as I remember vividly the passing of my own mom and dad (Jack and Phyllis Middleton) a few years back.

My wife, Marcia, and I met Graham Gladwell and his wife, Joyce, in Jamaica, while walking on the beach at Silver Sands in February 2016. They had been visiting from Canada, where they lived for almost fifty years (Graham was a Brit, and they met in England when Joyce was studying in London). It turns out that both our families were frequent visitors to that beautiful (and relatively inexpensive) Jamaican resort (though Malcolm didn’t accompany them that year).

 

Marcia and Richard Middleton with Joyce and Graham Gladwell

It was after meeting the senior Gladwells that I began thinking more seriously about doing this blog.

The way we met them is interesting. Las Newman, newly retired president of the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST), was with us. He stopped the couple and asked: “Is that Faith Linton?” “No,” the answer came back. “It’s her twin sister, Joyce.”

What the Preacher Forgot to Tell Me

Previous to that chance meeting, I had met Faith Linton (Joyce’s twin and Malcolm’s aunt), also in Jamaica.

While on Sabbatical in February 2009, I taught a three-week course at CGST in Kingston. While I was there, Las Newman (who was then CGST president) brokered an introduction to Faith.

CGST had recently hosted a launch of Faith’s new book, What the Preacher Forgot to Tell Me: Identity and Gospel in Jamaica (BayRidge Books, 2008). Las had written the Foreword, and Malcolm Gladwell introduced and promoted the book at the event.

What the Preacher Forgot to Tell Me is a semi-autobiographical meditation on the importance of creation theology—especially the human status as the image of God—as the basis for proclaiming the Gospel. Having taught at girls’ summer camps in Jamaica for many years, Faith came to see the difference it made to invite young girls from broken families (who had often been abused), with low self esteem, to be open to God’s surpassing valuation of them as his image, rather than trying to guilt-trip them into the faith by focusing on how sinful they were (that’s something they already knew very well).

Since I had written on what it means to be made in God’s image (in chap. 3 of The Transforming Vision, in chap. 6 of Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be, and in The Liberating Image), Faith had wanted to meet me, and I likewise wanted to meet her.

Three of us drove from CGST in Kingston, up and over Mt Rossa (appropriately nicknamed Mt. Diablo), to Ocho Rios on the north coast (this was before the opening of the new highway from Kingston to Ocho Rios). From there we traveled eighteen miles into the rolling hills of the parish of St. Ann, to Cranbrook estate, a farm with surrounding lands that had been converted to a botanical garden and ecological park by proprietors Ivan and Faith Linton (both of whom were retired school teachers).

Richard with Faith and Ivan Linton

It was a delight to spend an afternoon with Faith and Ivan; and Faith and I exchanged signed copies of our books.

Brown Face, Big Master

I found out from Faith that her sister Joyce (Malcolm’s mother) is also an author, having written a fascinating book about being brown (mixed race) and a Christian. The book, Brown Face, Big Master, was originally published in 1969 by Inter-Varsity in England, and has been reprinted through other publishers a couple of times since (Doctor Bird, 2001; Macmillian Caribbean, 2004).

Faith also gave me a copy of Joyce’s book (the 2001 edition).

In the book, Joyce recounts what it was like to grow up in a mixed-race, privileged, educated family in rural Jamaica (her father was headmaster of the local school), but then to experience racial discrimination in England for being “coloured.”

Joyce grew up in Jamaica during a time when the precise shade of skin color mattered (the lighter, the better). This contrasted sharply with my own experience of growing up in Kingston when black power was significantly impacting people’s self image. I can remember Nina Simone’s song, “(To be) Young, Gifted, and Black”—especially the reggae version by Bob and Marcia (1970), which predated Aretha Franklin’s version (1972)—getting a lot of airplay in my teenage years.

So Joyce’s book provided an important (and very personal) glimpse into race and class in pre-independence Jamaica.

Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of his mother’s life, and recounts an excerpt from Brown Face, Big Master, in the epilogue to his own book Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown, & Co., 2008; paperback 2011). Since Outliers is about how context affects success, the epilogue (entitled “A Jamaican Story”) is Gladwell’s attempt to account for the impact of his mother’s heritage on his own life.

I haven’t (yet) met Malcolm Gladwell, though I’ve read most of his books. But it was a privilege to meet his parents and his aunt, as it was to read What the Preacher Forgot to Tell Me and Brown Face, Big Master.

Six Degrees of Separation

In Malcolm’s first book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown, & Co., 2000; paperback 2002), he writes about six degrees of separation, the idea that everyone is linked together by no more than six steps (via other people).

So, if you are person #1, someone you know (person #2) is connected to another person (#3), who is connected to another person (#4), and through one more step (person #5), you are linked to person #6. And this is thought to be able to account for the links between just about everyone in the world today.

According to Wikipedia, the idea of six degrees of separation can be traced back to a short story called “Chains” by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, in his book Everything is Different (published in 1929). The idea then became the premise of a 1990 play by John Guare, called “Six Degrees of Separation.” This then spawned the game “Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon.” And on it goes.

Gladwell himself cites the so-called the small world experiment done in the 1960s by psychologist Stanley Milgram, who tried to find out how many steps it would take to connect 160 people from Omaha, Nebraska to a stockbroker in Massachusetts.

Milgram discovered that half the connections were channeled through just three people, whom Gladwell calls Connectors. Gladwell goes on to illustrate the point by pointing out that thirty of his forty closest friends are ultimately linked to him through one particular person.

This leads to his comment: “Six degrees of separation doesn’t mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.” (The Tipping Point, from chap. 2: “The Law of the Few”)

My Six (or Less) Degrees of Separation from Malcolm Gladwell

So I thought I would share my own “six degrees of separation” from Malcolm Gladwell. It isn’t primarily about my meeting his parents and his aunt.

My connection to Malcolm Gladwell actually precedes those meetings, though I only found out about the connection through my conversation with Faith Linton.

  • The maiden name of Malcolm’s mother (Joyce) and her twin sister (Faith) is Nation.
  • Joyce and Faith Nation are first cousins to Dave Nation.
  • Dave and Barb Nation (Jamaicans who moved to Canada) are aunt and uncle to my wife Marcia.

That may be only four degrees of separation (depending on how you count it)—from Richard to Marcia; from Marcia to her uncle; from Marcia’s uncle to Joyce; from Joyce to Malcolm.

And I don’t even think there was a Connector involved.

An Extra Connection

I’ll just throw in an extra, other bit of linkage—this time between Faith Linton and myself.

Faith’s book What the Preacher Forgot to Tell Me was published by BayRidge Books, an imprint of Castle Quay Books (Canada). This publishing company is run by a husband and wife team—Larry Willard and Marina Hofman Willard.

Marina is an Old Testament scholar, who got her PhD from Wycliffe College, at the University of Toronto.

In October 2014 Marina won the Jack and Phyllis Middleton Memorial Award for her paper presented at the Fall theology conference of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association. This is an annual award given in honor of my parents.

Then in June 2015 Marina and Larry, being publishers, attended the Word Guild gala awards ceremony for books by Canadian authors (held in Toronto).

It was Marina who first let me know (by email from her iPhone) in real time during the ceremony that my book A New Heaven and a New Earth had won the Word Guild award for best Biblical Studies book.

It really is a very, very small world.