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The Village Church Forum — The Kingdom of God



The weekend of Jan 19-21 (2018) I had the great honor of visiting for the third year in a row The Village Church Institute (Dallas, TX), which is run by my friend, Dr. JT English. JT has created what, in my opinion, is the best thing going in church-based theological education. I have been thrilled to come down and teach intensive weekends for him each January. Such beautiful and thoughtful people!

For this weekend I taught a broader church-wide forum on the Kingdom of God, followed by five lectures for the Institute on the Kingdom of God in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the rest of the NT. I then preached on Sunday at The Village Church of Denton for my good friend, Beau Hughes.

Here is the forum lecture on the Kingdom, including Q&A with JT:

Here is the handout mentioned in the lecture:

TVI KOG Lecture Handout – What is the Kingdom of God (Pennington Jan 2018)

Finally, here is my sermon on Luke 3 from Denton:

John the Preparer (Luke 3:1-20)



Experience some great music. Win a signed copy of my book.

My daughter, Mandy Pennington, adds a lot of beauty to the world. She is an extremely hard working and talented musician (and student and writer and music theory tutor and literary editor, etc, etc, etc.).

Her latest album of powerful, original music has just released and in my humble opinion, it is excellent!

To help spread the word I’m giving away 5 signed copies of my Sermon on the Mount book. For a chance to win one, follow these simple steps:

1. Purchase or download her album, Now and Then(Streaming is good too, but please purchase or download.)

2. Listen through it and then share on Twitter, Facebook, etc. which is your favorite song, tagging her (@MandyPMusic)

3. Direct message me @DrJTPennington and tell me that you did steps 1 and 2.

I will randomly choose five people and contact them. Then I’ll mail the book to you!

Thanks for your help in spreading the word!


Outline for my Wabash-ETS 2017 Talk, “Developing as a Theological Teacher”

ETS 2017 Wabash Session

9:00 AM—9:40 AM

Jonathan Pennington

Developing as a Theological Teacher

The Importance of the Title


Driving Conviction


Five Areas of Professorial Life:

  • Teaching
  • Scholarship
  • Supervising / Advising / Mentoring
  • Administration / Academic Leadership
  • Career Development




+ Personality Types and Teaching:


Two Big Rocks to Get into the Jar


  • Being knowledgeable and scholarly is necessary but not sufficient for excellent teaching.



  • Education is intimately interwoven with Christianity and the Gospel itself.



Cornucopia of Applications of this Vision

  • Approach the design of your courses from the perspective of teachingyour knowledge not from the starting point of merely scope and sequence.
  • Keep in mind that good and powerful teaching is not the transfer of knowledge but training and leading students to see and how to see. This is education — helping others to be knowers. (See Dru Johnson’s sparkling, Scripture’s Knowing)
  • Good teaching involves credibility and trustworthiness and love, so focus on being that kind of person if you want to be an effective teacher, not just a thrower of ideas.
  • Try out different pedagogical techniques and evaluate how they worked. Make adjustments to your syllabi at the end of the semester for the next semester rather than waiting until the week before class next time!
  • Think of assessment as a part of excellent pedagogy. Don’t assume tests and other assignments will actually help learning.
  • Seek the magic middle between lecturing and other pedagogical techniques.
  • Have as a goal to write at least one new lecture / one new topic within a class every semester that is based on your reading and research.
  • Seek out mentors and have discussions with colleagues about what they’re doing.
  • Automate and delegate aspects of grading that can be and make a commitment to doing what you should do for your students.



Some Resources:

On the theoretical side:

  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom
  • Jens Zimmerman, ed., Re-envisioning Christian Humanism


Boersma’s Brilliant Imagining of Melito & Origen on Reading Scripture

I’m joyfully reading and thoroughly enjoying Hans Boersma’s Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church. So many insights and so well stated!
In the midst of countless margin-marked paragraphs and bent-corner pages, the highest point so far has been pages 103-104.
Here, after a thoughtful exploration of how both Melito and Origen read the Passover narratives Christianly — with some pointed differences but still both reading it sacramentally — Boersma concludes his Chapter 4 with an extremely helpful imagining of M&O speaking to us today. He imagines what they would say to us modern readers when we ask certain questions about their interpretive habits and approach, particularly when we often charge the Fathers with arbitrariness and/or distorting of the text. Well worth reading carefully as a great summary of much of what is going on in pre-modern exegesis:
“We don’t care too much what you call the kind of scriptural reading that we are engaged in. You may call it typology, allegory, theoria, analogy, spiritual reading — it really doesn’t matter that much. Each of these terms is suitable to express what we’re trying to do. Our reading is indeed ‘other’ than what the words themselves convey in the sense that we look to the word on the ‘surface’ of the text as merely sacraments: words that contain in themselves the greater reality of the Christ event. The words are the outward sacrament; Christ is the inward reality of grace. History and spirit, sacrament and reality, are indeed different things. So typology or allegory does look for something ‘other.’ But if by ‘other’ you mean something completely different, something unrelated, then, no, we’re not ‘speaking other’ than what the words themselves convey. We’re simply exposing the deeper, underlying meaning that is inherent in the text itself.
  It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the suspicion that we whimsically impose random notions onto the text. Never have we encountered that concern before. If it’s true that we simply uncover a hidden meaning that is present already in the text – if there is a real presence of Christ and his church in the ancient narratives — then this cannot possibly be an arbitrary thing; we can find only what’s already there!
  Furthermore, arbitrariness is something that you get by removing the biblical text from its proper surroundings of the believing community, away from its liturgical setting and its confession of faith. The context within which a christological reading of the text makes sense is that of the church. Therefore, the ‘right’ by which we move from history to spirit, from temporal to eternal realities, has everything to do with the Bible being the church’s Bible. And that implies, we believe, that in an important sense the Bible belongs not to the academy.”
Of course, to appreciate more of what is going on behind this imaginative summary you need to read Boersma yourself to see the details of what is being said.

My PhD Induction Ceremony Remarks (Aug 2017)

In August and January each year we welcome into our PhD program students from all over the world who will study in a variety of concentrations. All of these students spend four days with me before the term starts in two introductory courses, Foundations for Theological Study and the Graduate Research Seminar.

I also use this introductory week with our new students to holdBroadus Chapel an Induction Ceremony. This is a beautiful evening service in our historic Broadus Chapel. After the professors process in we sing a hymn, hear a welcome, and then I give brief remarks. This is followed by a charge read by a senior PhD student and a spoken response from the inductees. Then, while a brief bio is read for each of the new students they come forward, sign our official book containing the charge, and then are pinned by me. After this they cross over and sit with our current PhD students. The service ends with a recessional of the professors and the students (followed by a nice reception). It has become a very meaningful part of our PhD community and culture here at Southern.

For my remarks there are some things I repeat each time but I also usually say a few new things as well. Some have expressed interest in what I say and so here are my remarks from August 8, 2017.

PhD InductiInduction Ceremony Bulletinon Ceremony

The Calling to the Doctorate of Philosophy

The Christian philosopher Dru Johnson has written several insightful books about epistemology, the study of how we know things. He says this about what it means to know from a biblical perspective:

“Knowing well entails listening to trusted authorities and doing what they prescribe in order to see what they are showing you.” (Scripture’s Knowing, p.16)

There is much insight to be unpacked in this singular and salutary sentence:

It is possible to know lots of things but know them wrongly as opposed to knowing them well

  • Knowing entails listening to another – reminiscent of the Apostle James’ reminder that we should be quick to listen, not quick to be teachers; we may also recall the popular adage many a parent has spoken to a verbose child – “God gave us two ears and one mouth; use them proportionally.”
  • Knowing is a process of listening to trusted authorities – there are people who are above us in knowledge, experience, wisdom, position, and authority and only the fool spurns this. Rather, listening to trusted authorities is the way of wisdom and flourishing.
  • Knowing entails doing – one can read manuals and watch How To YouTube videos all day long but to truly know and understand something, whether it be boomerang throwing, carburetor repair, having children, or writing a book, requires the experience of doing it before one can be said to truly know.
  • Knowing is really about seeing, about seeing the world in a certain way.

“Knowing well entails listening to trusted authorities and doing what they prescribe in order to see what they are showing you.”

This sentence is not only a piece of insightful verbiage about the philosophical category of epistemology but also a very appropriate vision for us as we gather on this evening to consider the calling to a Doctorate in Philosophy, particularly a PhD in a confessional Christian environment.

This definition of knowing is appropriate for us because it accords so squarely, beautifully, and truly with what we are called to do here as Christian scholars. Our pursuit of knowledge, deep knowledge, complex theological and biblical and philosophical knowledge, all within the rich and all-encompassing truth of Christianity is a Knowing that is about submission in order that we may see and understand.

Pursuing a Christian Doctorate in Philosophy is an act of glad and grateful submission to the Greatest Philosopher, Jesus Christ.

The Bible reveals Jesus as the Teacher, the Sage, the Philosopher-King who invites us to takyokee his yoke upon ourselves, to trust him to guide us, shape us, form our thinking and habits and desires in accord with the coming kingdom of heaven, to slip our necks, our whole bodies, souls, hearts, and minds under the oxen yoke of his control. And as we do this – and only as we do this – will we come to see God, ourselves, and others rightly and truly.

“Knowing well entails listening to trusted authorities and doing what they prescribe in order to see what they are showing you.”

Now what does this have to do with you and tonight’s induction ceremony?

Tonight we are standing at this milestone inviting you, new PhD students, into this final stage of your formal education, this terminal degree, the highest recognized degree one can earn in any field, the Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Have you considered why it is called a doctorate of philosophy when most of us are not studying “philosophy” in the modern sense of that? And after all, doesn’t the Bible warn us against being captive to philosophy?

The reason this very old and venerable degree (one we’ve been offering at Southern for 125 years) is called a doctorate in philosophy is because “philosophy” is the older term that means originally, “love of wisdom” and then more generally, a devotion to the life of learning.

A truebyzantine-jesus philosopher, unlike a mere scientist or technician or medical doctor, or other forms of skilled and valuable labor, a philosopher is one who labors to understand things at the meta-level, how the world works, what humanity is and how it functions, and how it all fits together. Philosophers – especially those who earn the lofty title of Doctor of Philosophy – are those who are called to use their intellectual gifts and labors to lead society.

Last year the New York Times ran an insightful little piece about philosophy and its role in the university. It noted that this older understanding of philosophy (and theology) was sadly lost when philosophers sold out this high calling for something much less – trying to be like every other field of study in the university, very narrow and specific. The result was the loss of its influence and relevance.

But we are gladly using the term Doctor of Philosophy in its older sense of one who loves and seeks the wisdom to understand how the world fits together and works.

And friends, when this is combined with and studied within the context of Holy Scripture and a confessional Trinitarian orthodox understanding of the world we have the highest intellectual calling that God has given to humanity.

So today you are entering and we are welcoming you into a vision, a calling, a privilege, a joy, a mutual labor, a community of co-learners, a fellowship of philosophers, a throng of theologians, a cohort of Christian thinkers – not because we are inherently better people than non-PhD folks, or more loved by God, or necessarily paid more – but because we are people who have received a special calling from God. So release the kraken of your heart, soul, mind and strength and embrace this beautiful gift of the yoke of Jesus PhD calling!

And with a calling comes a responsibility.

And so as we begin a new school year and welcome you into our PhD community here at Southern, Induction Class of Fall 2017, we want to stir you up with this vision of our shared calling AND we want to challenge you to take this beautiful mantle upon yourselves with joy and sobriety.

“The Life of the Professor” — My Talking Points for our New Faculty Workshop

I was asked earlier this week by the provost here at Southern to come in and speak to our new professors. We have a large and growing faculty and in this recent batch there were a few recent PhD graduates who are facing the intimidating beginning to their lives as professors. I am sympathetic and remember those days well. Impostor Syndrome 2.0!

I put together a brief talk that focuses on three areas of the life of the professor — Teaching, Scholarship, and Mentoring.

Here are my far from perfect and far from comprehensive talking points for those who might be interested.

Continue reading

Aquinas on the Meaning of Christ Fulfilling the Law (Matt 5:17)

aquinasstone   I’ve been studying and teaching the Gospel of Matthew for 15 years now,  yet until the last couple of months I have never read Aquinas’ massive, thoughtful, and edifying commentary on the First Gospel. I have still not read most of it but I’ve dipped in at various places and now especially have been blown away by his comments on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). I regret that I did not sit and chew on Aquinas’ insights before completing my own commentary on the Sermon; a loss to myself and my readers. Second edition, deo volente!

As one example of the good that comes from reading Aquinas, here is his succinct and systematic treatment of one of the most perplexing and complicated texts in Scripture — what does Jesus mean when he says that he did come to abolish Torah but to fulfill it. Typical of Aquinas (and the entire pre-modern tradition), Scripture is explained by other Scripture, fitting it all together in a thoughtful unity, all the while leaniaquinas1ng on Augustine and refuting various unorthodox readings such as Faustus.

Aquinas says the Lord fulfilled the Law in five ways:

  • By fulfilling the things prefigured in the Law (Lk 22:37)
  • By fulfilling its legal prescriptions to the letter (Gal 4:4)
  • By doing works through grace, through the Holy Spirit which the Law was unable to do in us (Rom 8:3-4)
  • By providing satisfaction for the sins by which we were transgressors of the Law; when the transgressions were taken away he fulfilled the Law (Rom 3:25)
  • By applying certain perfections to the Law, which were either about the understanding of the Law or for a greater perfection of righteousness/justice (Heb 7:19; confirmed by Matt 5:48)

This is the kind of Scriptural reasoning which is so different than how we have come to read, interpret, and comment upon Holy Scripture in the modern period, even those of us who hold to its inspiration and authority. History, backgrounds, literary context, grammar, etc. — all good and useful tools — have often become the norm and the standard rather than this kind of inner-canonical theological reading and reasoning. We now stand in a glorious place in history where we can utilize a myriad of tools along with a massive tradition to help us read, including the great heritage of this high form of theological interpretation. But it may take some re-training of our hermeneutical sensibilities. ARISTOTLEAQUINAS

Video Interview Clips on The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

A couple of weeks ago some folks at my school came by my office for a chat about my new book, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary.

I never know exactly what’s going to come out of my mouth in these scenarios, but having now seen what they recorded I’m glad to say I agree with everything I said!

In fact, I think these clips do give a good sense of what I’m trying to do in the book, though obviously with 350 pages more of detail.

Here are the links. Each short clip is in response to a particular question:

Some Preliminary Thoughts on the Structure of Mark 1:1-8:26

mark and lionI am convinced that the wisest and most beneficial readings of the Gospels will pay attention to the skillful way the Evangelists have crafted their Gospel Biographies as pieces of literature. This crafting is especially apparent and important in the two overlapping but distinct aspects of literary structure (how blocks of material are placed together to communicate various themes and points) and narrative plot (what is the thread of the story and how does it unfold as a plot).

One of the projects I’m currently working on involves writing a summary of each of the Gospels, commenting on it very briefly in units. I have 5,000 words only to introduce and comment upon the Gospel of Mark. This strict word-count limitation actually provides a freedom to force me to not get stuck in the weeds but to keep the big picture and flow of the story as the most important thing.

As a result, I have been thinking a lot about the structure of the first half of Mark and I am offering here my preliminary thoughts on what is going on in Mark’s literary structure.

I have consulted several very good resources on Mark, including Mark Strauss’s Gospels survey book (Four Portraits, One Jesus), James Edwards’ excellent Pillar Commentary (The Gospel According to Mark), and Hans Bayer’s insightful A Theology of Mark, which, uncommonly, is a book on the Gospels mosaic mark and lionthat shows sensitivity to both literary and structure and plot (and recognizes their differences).

Each of these scholars (and most others) see Mark as split into two parts (1:1-8:26; 8:27-16:8), with the Caesarea Philippi Confession as the turning point of the book (8:27-30). I concur. But scholars differ on how much of the first part is the Introduction, what theme holds together the two parts, and what subunits they contain.

Here is my suggestion:

Introduction – The Messiah is Coming with His Kingdom (1:1-15)

Part One – The Powerful Son of God at Work in Galilee (1:16-8:26)

Part Two – The Powerful Son of God Must Suffer in Jerusalem (8:27-16:8)

Nothing overly new or spectacular here. But let me offer a few more detailed observations, particularly about 1:1-8:26 (as far as I’ve gotten in my project so far!).

  • The Introduction – 1:1-15

This section is framed by and includes three references to “the gospel” (1:1, 14, 15), making it hang together as a unit. This serves as a frame of reference for readers (and probably resulted in all four accounts eventually being called “the Gospel according to…”). Throughout this Introduction Mark explains “the gospel” in a variety of ways, thus filling out the readers’ understanding. He describes “the gospel” in 1:1 as the good news “about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,” in 1:14 as simply “the good news about God,” and in 1:15 as the time being “fulfilled” and the “kingdom of God having drawn near.” The banner that hangs over the rest of Mark’s account flows directly from this announcement of the gospel – “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15).

  • There are two Main Themes that drive the structure and plot of Mark’s Gospel story – Jesus’ Identity and the Call to Discipleship.
    • Each of the subunits in 1:16-8:26 contain and are built upon this dual theme.
    • In fact, the subunits of 1:16-8:26 can be identified by recognizing how each of them begins with a summary paragraph about the disciples:
      • 1:16-2:12 (1:16-20 about the calling of the first fisherman disciples)
      • 2:13-3:12 (2:13-17 about the calling of Levi and other tax collectors)
      • 3:13-6:6 (3:13-19 about the appointing of The Twelve)
      • 6:7-8:26 (6:7-13 about the sending out of The Twelve)
    • Within each of these units Jesus’ identity is increasingly revealed, even as the disciples stumble to understand.
  • There are some important geographical movement markers that hint at more than geography, but theological points. Specifically, Mark seems to be communicating that Jesus’ work is done apart from the synagogue/Sabbath and home, but rather is outside. This conforms with a larger, well-recognized plot and structure theme in Mark, that Jesus’ ministry is “outside” in the sense that it focuses on Galilee, not Jerusalem. As Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem, conflict escalates.

Here is the data on the inside/outside distinction in 1:1-8:26:

  • Disciple-calling and revelation stories tend to happen outside – almost always on or near water, in the wilderness, and once on a mountain.
    • 1:9-11 – Jesus’ baptism and declaration of him as the Son
    • 1:16-20 – the calling of the first disciples at the Sea of Galilee
    • 2:13-14 – calling of Levi “beside the lake”
    • 3:7-12 – gathering of crowds of disciples and confession of Jesus as the Son of God (by impure spirits) after withdrawing to the lake
    • 3:13-19 – appointing of The Twelve on a mountain
    • 4:1-34 – revelatory teaching in parables alongside a lake
    • 4:35-41 – revelation of Jesus’ authority over nature on the lake
    • 5:1-17 – healing of the demoniac and confession of Jesus as the Son in the wilderness of Gerasenes
    • 5:21-43 – healing of Jairus’ daughter and hemorrhaging woman “by the lake” (and then in Jairus’ house)
    • 6:30-44 and 8:1-13 – miraculous feedings in the wilderness
    • 6:45-52 – revelation of Jesus walking on water
  • Conflict stories tend to happen inside the synagogues and/or on the Sabbath, and in houses:
    • 1:21-28 – conflict with the unclean spirits in the synagogue
    • 2:1-12 – conflict with the teachers of the law over the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the paralyzed man in the synagogue
    • 2:15-17 – conflict with teacher of the law and Pharisees about eating in a tax collector’s house
    • 2:23-28 – conflict with the Pharisees about eating grain on the Sabbath
    • 3:1-6 – conflict with the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath in a synagogue
    • 3:20-35 – conflict with Jerusalemites and his own family in a house
    • 6:1-6 – rejection by his hometown people and synagogue
  • There are some exceptions (1:29-34, healing of Peter’s mother in law in his house; 6:37-43, healing of Jairus’ daughter in her house), but this is a notable distinction, it seems to me.

So there are a few preliminary thoughts. I’m sure there is always more to be seen and I welcome any feedback or additional comments!


mark lion


The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing"Jonathan Pennington provides a historical, theological, and literary commentary on the Sermon and explains how this text offers insight into God's plan for human flourishing. As Pennington explores the literary dimensions and theological themes of this famous passage, he situates the Sermon in dialogue with the Jewish and Greek virtue traditions and the philosophical-theological question of human flourishing."

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Reading the Gospels WiselyFor the past ten years I have been working on the hermeneutical issues of what the Gospels are and how we are to read them. I'm thrilled to be finally done with this book!

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Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of MatthewThe theme of heaven and earth is a much-overlooked aspect of the Gospel of Matthew. In this work, rising scholar Jonathan Pennington articulates a fresh perspective on this key interpretive issue, challenging both the scholarly and popular understandings of the meaning of Matthew's phrase, "kingdom of heaven." Pennington argues that rather than being a reverent way of referring to God as is typically assumed, "heaven" in Matthew is part of a highly developed discourse of heaven and earth language.

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