Cover image for The Usefulness of Scripture: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Wall Edited by Daniel Castelo, Sara M. Koenig, and David R. Nienhuis

The Usefulness of Scripture

Essays in Honor of Robert W. Wall

Edited by Daniel Castelo, Sara M. Koenig, and David R. Nienhuis


$52.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-1-57506-960-9

288 pages
6" × 9"

The Usefulness of Scripture

Essays in Honor of Robert W. Wall

Edited by Daniel Castelo, Sara M. Koenig, and David R. Nienhuis

“An eclectic compilation of interpretive biblical scholarship in recognition of the outstanding career in both church and academy of Robert W. Wall.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
Robert Wall began his teaching career at Seattle Pacific University in 1978. Now, forty years later and in celebration of his seventieth birthday, colleagues and former students have gathered to produce this volume in honor of their friend and teacher. The results are sure to delight all of those who have studied under or been friends of Professor Wall.

The essays are grouped under two general themes: theology and methodology (with an emphasis on Wesleyan biblical hermeneutics, canonical perspectives, and the implications of these approaches for church life and work) and biblical texts/themes, especially with a view to the relationship of the study of Scripture to the life of the Christian. In both of these areas, the contributions bear in mind Wall’s conviction that academic study and spiritual life need not—in fact, should not—be kept apart.

The contributors to this volume include Frank Anthony Spina, Andrew Knapp, Shannon Nicole Smythe, Daniel Castelo, Anthony B. Robinson, Eugene E. Lemcio, Sara M. Koenig, Jack Levison, Laura C. S. Holmes, John Painter, and Stephen E. Fowl.

“An eclectic compilation of interpretive biblical scholarship in recognition of the outstanding career in both church and academy of Robert W. Wall.”
“All in all this is a collection of theologically rich, exegetically sensitive, and interpretatively wise essays. It is a suitable tribute to a scholar whose work has developed in all those ways over many years. I commend it to readers who would like to see good examples of a canonical approach in practice, both on a conceptual level and in the handling of specific texts.”
“Taken as a whole, this book demonstrates Scripture’s usefulness in a variety of ways: useful for honing one’s interpretative, critical skills (Knapp, Koenig, Castelo, Lemcio, Painter), useful for enabling an “ecumenical reading” that values and honors other faith traditions (Spina), useful for redeeming a christological focus in the entire Scripture (Smythe), useful in forming disciples and for spiritual, ethical practice (Robinson, Levison, Holmes, Fowl). The book also helps one to appreciate the nature of Scripture as having many voices, requiring hermeneutical acuity. It will offer the reader profit with delight.”

Daniel Castelo is a Christian theologian who is currently researching and writing in the areas of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) and Latino/a studies.

Sara M. Koenig is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University and Seminary, Seattle, Washington.

David R. Nienhuis is Professor of New Testament Studies, Seattle Pacific University and Seminary, Seattle, Washington.


Introductory Matters

List of Contributors




Published Works by Robert W. Wall

Part One: Essays on Theology and Methodology

Israel as a Figure for the Church: The Radical Nature of a Canonical Approach to Christian Scripture (Frank Anthony Spina)

The Role of Historical Criticism in Wesleyan Biblical Hermeneutics (Andrew Knapp)

Reconsidering Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Barth and Goldingay in Conversation (Shannon Nicole Smythe)

Inspiration as Providence (Daniel Castelo)

But As For You: Pastoral Leadership in a Post-Institutional Time (Anthony B. Robinson)

Part Two: Essays on Biblical Texts and Themes

“Son of Man” in Psalm 8, Psalm 79, and Daniel 7: An Exercise in a Contrapuntal Biblical Theology of the Septuagint (Eugene E. Lemcio)

Canonical Complexities of Biblical Balaams (Sara Koenig)

The Spirit in Israel’s Story: An Antidote to Solipsistic Spirituality (Jack Levison)

Transformed Discipleship: A Canonical Reading of Martha and Mary (Laura Sweat Holmes)

The Place of the Johannine Canon within the New Testament Canon (John Painter)

Bound and Unbounded Desire (Stephen E. Fowl)



David R. NienhuisFrom the stories I’ve heard over the years, most first encounters with Rob Wall are memorable. Mine certainly was: I met Rob in the autumn of 1986, right at the start of my freshman year at Seattle Pacific University. I was a gung-ho eighteen-year-old planning on a future in youth ministry, so of course I signed up for as many theology courses as I was allowed to take. Thus, at 7:30 a.m. every weekday morning, I made my way to Peterson Hall for Rob Wall’s “Introduction to the New Testament” course. I was enthralled. Confused, certainly, and frequently incredulous, but still I ate it up and found myself hungry for more. Then as now, Rob was a formidable presence in the classroom. With a lecture style that is part homily, part blitzkrieg, there are not many students brave enough to ask questions. I’m fairly certain I didn’t raise my hand the entire quarter. But that did not keep me from earning an A on the mid-term exam, and with it, an invitation to join Rob one afternoon for a meeting in his office. I have a mental image of that meeting imprinted on my consciousness. Indeed, every time an intimidated freshman sits down to meet with me, I recall that first one-on-one encounter with Rob. He was young then, just in his later thirties. I steeled myself as I entered the room expecting to meet the same imposing figure I’d come to know in class. Much to my surprise, the person I met instead was warm-toned, soft-spoken—almost introverted even—more concerned pastor than stern prophet. I remember he asked me questions about my life. He asked how class was going. He asked about the hopes I held for the future. When I told him I wanted to be a youth pastor, he paused and looked me in the eyes long and hard. This is the imprinted image in my mind, Rob staring at me, and it is accompanied by my recollection of the words he said next: “First quarter freshmen don’t typically get A’s on my exams. You obviously have all the necessary goods to be a theology major, but you should be thinking beyond your immediate course of study. Any youth minister worth his salt will plan on going to seminary. We can advise you on what schools you should consider. . . .”I’m sure he said more than that, but these empowering words were the ones that had a lasting impact. I was a first-generation college student, and had never before been told I was academically capable, much less that I should already be aiming toward graduate school. That one gracious meeting opened up a whole new vista of vocational insight and, indeed, when I trace the early development of my professional life as a teaching scholar, that meeting with Rob stands out. Afterward I headed downstairs to my work study job as an office assistant for Les Steele, and I must have had a rather giddy look on my face, because he flashed his trademark grin and asked, rather knowingly, “So, how was your meeting with Rob?” I responded breathlessly, “He told me I should be thinking about going to seminary!” Les chuckled in response and said, “And with this you have learned the true version of the first of the Four Spiritual Laws: God loves you, and Rob Wall has a wonderful plan for your life.”What most impressed me about Rob way back then turned out to be the very thing that continues to set people like Rob apart in the world of contemporary biblical scholarship. Somewhere between the general intellectual inheritance of Enlightenment modernity and the anti-intellectualism of my American evangelical upbringing, my eighteen-year-old self already took for granted that an academic career would force a wedge between scholarly discipline and Christian discipleship. Some served the academy, and others served the church— and I’d been repeatedly warned of the dangers the former held for a life of authentic faith.Yet in Rob (and, indeed, most of the theology faculty I met at SPU) these distinctions were confused: here was one who produced rigorous, guildshaping scholarship as an expression of his discipleship to Jesus; here was one who did not simply cultivate separate professional identities in the guild and the church but united them, truly, in his own person. At that time in my life I was not yet acquainted with Charles Wesley’s prayer that children be trained to “unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety: learning and holiness combined”— but in the years since, I and countless others have witnessed the fruit of this union in Rob’s life and work.It seems clear that his upbringing and academic training combined to make this orientation an inevitability. I am not the one to tell that story in the detail it deserves, but anyone who has spent time with Rob will have heard him recall memories of his grandmother, the traveling holiness preacher and end-times theologian, along with stories of his beloved parents, who led the family in Scripture study each night after dinner and encouraged Rob’s pursuit of academic excellence. One also hears Rob tell of the many years spent at Dallas Theological Seminary, which cemented in him an explicit and indissoluble connection between the intellectual practices of biblical studies and the spiritual habits of the life of faith. Indeed, it was not the school’s dispensational hermeneutics but an intense focus on “learning and holiness combined” that Rob took from his years at DTS. In his own words: “The methodological stuff is pretty easy to change with new information and maturity; it’s this connection between the mind and the heart that’s much more difficult to cultivate and to keep. I’ve long ago given up on dispensationalism, but it’s hard to forget holiness.”The unashamed binding of Scripture study to spiritual formation was, until relatively recently, a minority view in the mainstream, Society of Biblical Literature crowd—something confessed in private, perhaps, but not proclaimed from the lecture podium or the writing desk. And while there are of course those today who still insist on maintaining a sharp distinction between the etic and the emic pose, between the object of study and the subject doing the studying, it is now far more common to hear scholars affirm without reservation the sort of things Rob has insisted on from the beginning of his work: that this fascinating text we study is, first and foremost, a graceful provision of God for the benefit of the life and work of the church. According to one of Rob’s recent formulations, the Bible is conceived as a particular and portable place, built over considerable time by the church under the direction of God’s Spirit; and biblical interpretation is that worshipful activity of entering into a sacred place to gather with other readers across history and cultural settings to hear a pertinent word from God.Rob’s persistent word is this: The Bible is not merely interesting, it is useful. Indeed, the Bible is Christian Scripture, a carefully constructed holy text, given by God through the work of human hands, for the express purpose of cultivating a people set apart to perform God’s work in the world (2 Tim 3:15–17).Hence, when Richard Hays observes, “For many years, Rob Wall has been out ahead of most of us in the field of New Testament studies,” he’s not simply speaking in his characteristically gracious manner; he’s acknowledging a fact about the state of the field. The basic range of commitments now commonly accepted as mainstream among adherents of the so-called “theological interpretation of Scripture” have been upheld by Rob consistently through nearly forty years of faithful teaching and writing.We are indebted to Rob for his creative, critical, and prescient work in leading us to a deeper appreciation of the usefulness of Scripture. It should come as no surprise, then, that a collection of essays gathered in his honor should strive to reflect the “learning and holiness combined” that characterize his life and work. Some of the chapters that follow are more doctrinal and methodological in focus, while others are more text-centered and exegetical in nature—but all of them approach the Bible as the church’s Scripture.These essays are written by pastors, publishers, and professors alike. Five of us have collaborated with Rob on other book projects. Four of us are former students. Two were on the faculty when Rob was hired (and neither were in favor of his hire, it turns out— but alas, we all make mistakes now and again). All of us are colleagues who have learned from Rob and cherish his friendship.So, in honor of Rob’s seventieth birthday, and in celebration of his many contributions to the church, to the academy, and to Seattle Pacific University, we invite you to consider with us The Usefulness of Scripture.[Excerpt ends here.]