Scribes for the Reign of God

Faculty collaborative scholarship project

“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ ”—Matthew 13:52

The AMBS dean’s office and Institute of Mennonite Studies host an annual AMBS faculty collaborative scholarship process, Scribes for the Reign of God. It entails sustained conversation among selected scholars working on a particular topic. This study process engages the wider community and others in the course of the academic year, and the scholars’ research yields pieces for print and online publication and oral presentation in class and conference settings.

2019–2020 collaborators: Anabaptism and Creation Care

Malinda Berry, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics

The 2020–21 collaborators were Malinda Elizabeth Berry, PhD, associate professor of theology and ethics; Rachel Miller Jacobs, DMin, associate professor of congregational formation; and Jamie Pitts, PhD, associate professor of Anabaptist studies and director of the Institute of Mennonite Studies, They were joined by guest Scribes Jan Bender Shetler, PhD, professor of history; John Roth, PhD, professor of history; and Jonathon Schramm, PhD, associate professor of sustainability and environemental education and director of the Institute for Ecological Restoration at Goshen College. Their subject was Anabaptism and creation care.

2019–2020 collaborators: Technology

The 2019–20 collaborators were Andrew Brubacher Kaethler, PhD, associate professor of Christian formation and culture; David C. Cramer, PhD, managing editor of the Institute of Mennonite Studies and teaching pastor at Keller Park Church in South Bend, Indiana; Brent Graber, MATS, director of information technology; and Beverly Lapp, EdD, vice president and academic dean. Their subject their subject was technology. Out of their collective research, they led a leadership clinic, “Forming Faith in Digital Spaces: Workshop with Scribes for the Reign of God,” in conjunction with the Pastors and Leaders 2020/Deep Faith conference in March 2020 on the theme Shaping Faith in a Digital Culture. At the conference, Kaethler presented a plenary, “Get Thee Behind Me, Tech: Memory and resistance in a digital culture,” and Cramer presented a plenary, “More with Less: How utilizing digital networks with intentionality can improve your ministry.” 

2018–2019 collaborators: Doctrine of Discovery

The 2018–19 collaborators were Safwat Marzouk, PhD, Mary Schertz, PhD, and Katerina Friesen, MDiv, and their subject was dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. Mary and Katerina are part of the MCUSA Doctrine of Discovery Working Group, and their scribal projects support that work. Mary investigated how seminary curriculum could integrate critical perspectives and discussion around the Doctrine, and Katerina explored how church apologies for the Doctrine may or may not bring healing and justice. 

Safwat’s project examined the exodus narrative, which has been central in justifying the Doctrine of Discovery. Specifically, he investigated the narrative in relation to a recent debate over the use of the exodus narrative to talk about events in Israel-Palestine, with attention to the dynamics of liberation, worship, and conquest.

2017–2018 collaborators: The body and embodiment

“Christian theology today needs to be written . . . on the body and through the body.” –Graham Ward

Allan Rudy-Froese, Associate Professor of Christian Proclamation

During the academic year 2017–18, AMBS faculty members Allan Rudy-Froese and Malinda Berry are engaged in collaborative projects on the theme of “the body and embodiment.”

Recent moves in theology and other disciplines have made the body a central concern for scholarly inquiry. Thought, affect, and will are now widely regarded as embodied phenomena rather than elements of a disembodied soul or mind. The sensual and ephemeral character of human bodies is often celebrated rather than denigrated as an “animal nature” to be escaped. Humans are indeed studied today as human animals, as part of and not “above” nature.

Although developments in the physical and social sciences, the humanities, and popular culture have driven the heightened academic attention to the body, theology has also made a contribution. For example, theologians have revisited the creation stories, the doctrines of incarnation and the cross, ecclesial practice, and “the resurrection of the body” in ways that intersect fruitfully with the wider focus on embodiment, especially as this is understood in terms of gender, sexuality, race, ecology, suffering, and affect.

AMBS faculty publish findings of yearlong study of faith perspectives on migration

On December 5, 2017, the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary community celebrated contributions by three members of the AMBS teaching faculty to a new book published by the Society of Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counseling: Where Are We? Pastoral Environments and Care for Migrants. The book offers intercultural and interreligious perspectives on challenges and opportunities related to migration, with a goal of fostering better ways to care with and for migrants.

The essays by Safwat Marzouk, Rachel Miller Jacobs, and Daniel Schipani were products of their participation during 2016–17 in the ongoing AMBS faculty collaborative Scribes for the Reign of God, sponsored by Institute of Mennonite Studies and the AMBS dean’s office. Marzouk is associate professor of Old Testament, Miller Jacobs is associate professor of congregational formation, and Schipani is professor of pastoral care and counseling. At the celebration, they spoke about their research findings.

Safwat Marzouk’s study of Genesis 26, “Famine, Migration, and Conflict,” led him to the conclusion that Isaac’s God-given double identity—that of a sojourner who is nonetheless living by a promise of connectedness to the land—transforms the relationship between the migrant Isaac and the Philistine inhabitants of the land from one of conflict to one of peace. Marzouk observes that a community shaped only by a sense of entitlement to the land may fall prey to a politics of exclusion, while a community only informed by a sense of being alien will struggle with the anxiety of instability. Each aspect of identity—migrant and settler—needs the other.

Rachel Miller Jacobs’s comparative case study, “Congregational Welcome of Immigrants,” documents her research into “how three Mennonite congregations have negotiated, practically and theologically, the reality of migrants in their midst.” In each congregation, she interviewed pastors, immigrants, and dominant culture congregational members. She describes her findings on motivations for welcome of the other, practices of welcome, biblical and theological foundations for welcome, the degree to which immigrants are embedded in their congregations, and understandings of God’s presence and guidance as it relates to the congregations’ welcome of immigrants.

Miller Jacobs identifies her most unexpected finding as the discovery that the immigrants and dominant culture pastors have more in common with each other in the areas she studied than they do with dominant culture congregation members: “Both groups have personal motivation for building an intercultural church; both draw on Scripture specifically and in significant ways to support that vision; both speak about God’s presence and guidance in their lives and depend on God in practical ways.” Dominant culture congregational members, on the other hand, “are much less invested in an intercultural church.” They may not oppose the idea, but “it is not the organizing principle for their understanding of the church and their engagement in it.” Approaches to fostering movement toward greater investment in intercultural church may be an area for additional study for Miller Jacobs.

Daniel Schipani’s contribution, “Faith Communities as Mediating Spaces,” develops four hypotheses:

  • Through practices of worship, community, and service, faith communities can function as mediating spaces between cultural, socioeconomic, and political realities of society at large and the lives of immigrant families.
  • Faith communities can be ecologies of nurture, support, care, and healing for migrants.
  • Faith communities can therefore play a major role in primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of migration crisis and trauma. That role can entail both releasing and receiving those who migrate.
  • Comprehensive pastoral and spiritual care of migrants requires paying attention to bio-psycho-social-spiritual factors and dynamics. Caregiving needs to be implemented along with systemic strategies and adequate communal and social action.

Schipani also provides a model describing five ways host communities and immigrants interact: segregation (forced separation), assimilation (one-way acculturation), adoption (voluntary identification with host culture), accommodation (a transitional phase, moving toward one of the other four), and integration (mutually accepted re-formation, transformation). The five postures combine in varying degrees the values of (1) maintaining integrity and identity and (2) building peace and community. In the movement toward integration—Schipani’s preferred option—the two values converge.

With Martin Walton and Dominiek Lootens, Daniel Schipani also served as editor for Where Are We?  The book includes an annotated bibliography of immigration studies, contributed by AMBS student Rebekah York.

Copies of Where Are We? Pastoral Environments and Care for Migrants can be purchased from the AMBS bookstore, inside the AMBS library in the front corner, whenever the library is open. Or buy the book online.

Photo by Annette Brill Bergstresser. Left to right: Safwat Marzouk, Rachel Miller Jacobs, Daniel Schipani