Theological Society moves ahead in second year

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Group continues its work to help foster Christian scholarship and continued spiritual growth across the territory.

When some people hear the word “theology,” they think of doctrinal squabblings that all too often become “my theology” versus “your theology.” Of course, one of the best known ways to thwart such squabbling is to engage in open, honest discussion.

Last year, the USA Western Territory set out to cultivate a platform for such discussion when it formed the Salvation Army Biblical, Theological and Missiological Society (SABTMS).

Organized by an oversight panel composed of officers, soldiers and others in the territory, the group offers an open forum for the discussion and critical study of biblical texts and their contexts, the nature of God, as well as missions and their methods and purposes.

SABTMS, which held its inaugural annual meeting at Commissioning weekend 2017, re-upped its invitation for interested parties to listen in on theological discussion, ask questions, and to fellowship with other Salvationists and friends June 10 at the Pasadena Convention Center.

David Witthoff, Christian Education Director for Discipleship for the West and one of the society’s founding members, delivered the keynote address to kick off this year’s meeting. He acknowledged the bevy of narratives circulating within the organization reflecting thoughts on where we ought to put our focus.

Witthoff said there’s the “Glory Days” narrative, which suggests The Salvation Army has seen a decline in certain parts of the world because we have lost a sense of our roots. There’s the “Progressive” narrative,” which asserts that if we could only just love others more freely, we could see progress in our Salvation Army. Then there’s the “Other Church” narrative—“if we don’t raise the standard, and get with the best practices of other churches, we’re going to be left behind.”

Perhaps, Witthoff posits, no one narrative is all right, and no one narrative is all wrong. There’s room at the table for each of them, and if we adopt this mindset, we may find that our own unique perspectives begin to converge on the truth, instead of diverging from Scripture down our own paths.

“The narratives we each hold to and share have great value for our whole community,” he said. “We can learn from each other, and disagreements can lead to accountability, if we let them. Differing perspectives demand the use of our mind to discern the best way forward.”

The caveat, he said, is that while each of our narratives of Salvationism have qualitative and objective value based on how they reflect God’s plan for life and his church, we must be certain not to overlook where truth still resides: in the Word of the Lord.

“All our versions of The Salvation Army will be found wanting if we do not submit ourselves and our stories to the Lord and to his revealed will in the Bible,” he said. “We must hold our narratives accountable to the truth of Scripture. This is our foundation.”
After the address, each of the four paper submissions were read aloud: “Literary Structure and Meaning in the Book of Lamentations” by Major Pat Irvine; “Membership of His Church on Earth as a Soldier of The Salvation Army” by Lt. Jeff Walters; “Dynamics of Youth Ministry” by Lt. Jonathan Taube; and “How Tutoring, Mentoring, and After School Programs Improve Student Performance” by Major Martin Ross.

Ross shared about his goals for his paper submission, which came from a “business, sociological, missiological, spiritual perspective.”

“The Salvation Army, as a Christian, mission-driven organization, as a Church, and as a brand, is strategically positioned in every medium to major-sized city in the U.S.,” Ross said. “And I think if we take a deeper look at what we do, we are heavily in the education system. But I think that with the access that we have, all Salvation Armys should strongly consider tutoring and mentoring programs because they do affect change…When we make an investment in a person’s future, it also gives us an opportunity to share the gospel.

The group’s panel, which reviews all papers submitted, will publish selections in the second volume of the “Journal of the Salvation Army Biblical, Theological, and Missiological Society” later this year. The first volume was published in 2017 by Frontier Press.

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