Lectureship and Symposium Feature John E. Toews

By Megan E. Richard

John E. Toews, PhD was the featured lecturer for the Janzen Lectureship in Biblical Studies, March 27-28 at Fresno Pacific University. Additional hosts for the lecture series included MB Biblical Seminary and the Council of Senior Professionals.

The Lectureship was created in 2003 in the name of Edmund Janzen, former president and faculty member who served the University for thirty-five years and is now retired in Fresno. The goals of the Lectureship are to promote careful scholarship in biblical interpretation, as well as the witness of the Christian church. The Lectureship is open to university and seminary faculty and students, pastors and lay leaders.

MB Biblical Seminary and the Council of Senior Professionals hosted the opening lecture and a dessert reception, Thursday night on the Seminary campus, with over 100 in attendance. Introductions and greetings were given by MB Biblical Seminary President Jim Holm; Fresno Pacific University President Merrill Ewert, and Gordon Zerbe, Associate Professor of New Testament at Canadian Mennonite University. Holm chose the occasion to unveil a commissioned portrait of Toews to honor his eighteen years of service to the Seminary as Professor of New Testament (1977-1995), Academic Dean Emeritus (1980-1992) and Acting President (spring of 1984 and1989, February1992-May 1993).

“The Politics of Romans” was the title of Toews' first lecture. Claiming that the text of Romans is profoundly political as well as theological, he compared examples of Paul’s language with that of the imperial language of the day; showing how words meant for the emperor were now being ascribed to Christ. According to Toew’s research, Paul was countering imperial ideology in order to build up house church members in Rome as followers of Messiah Jesus, a new radical community, and in the process committing treason.

Fresno Pacific University’s College Hour hosted the second lecture Friday morning entitled “The Politics of Confession.” Toews spoke mainly to the University students as he expanded on his thesis, “The confessions of the early church were simultaneously theological and political.” Again he compared Paul’s language to that of the imperial language using confessional texts from 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 1:3-4, 15:12; Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. In his closing, Toew’s challenged the students to discover with him what it means to live with allegiance to Christ alone.

The Lectureship was extended this year to include a Symposium Friday afternoon and evening banquet celebrating Toews' 40 year contribution to the Mennonite Church, Mennonite higher education and scholarship. Symposium contributors included: Valerie Rempel, PhD, Associate Professor of History and Theology at MB Biblical Seminary who presented "Holding to the Center: The Life of John E. Toews"; Jon Isaak, PhD, Associate Professor of New Testament at MB Biblical Seminary, who spoke on "New Testament Theology in the Tradition of John E. Toews"; Gordon Zerbe, PhD who presented "Citizenship and Politics According to Philippians: An Engagement with John E. Toews' Romans"; and Jim Pankratz, PhD, Academic Dean at Conrad Grebel University College who spoke on "Leading from the Front".

Toews served in the Biblical Studies departments of Fresno Pacific College from 1961-1968 and Tabor College from 1973-1977. Following eighteen years of service at MB Biblical Seminary (1977-1995) he was President of Conrad Grebel University College from 1996 until his retirement in 2002. His service in denominational leadership has included the Board of Reference (later Board of Faith and Life) 1984-1996, Secretary of the General Conference of MB Churches from 1993-1995 and leadership at study conferences. He continues to teach courses in biblical studies at both Fresno Pacific University and MB Biblical Seminary. Among his many scholarly achievements he is the author of the volume on Romans for the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series and has edited The Power of the Lamb and Your Daughter’s Shall Prophecy. He and his wife Arlene attend College Community Mennonite Brethren Church in Clovis, California.

Posted: April 02, 2008