Meet the Author: Our Q&A with Jeff Brown

We sat down for a chat with Jeff Brown, author of Corporate Decision-Making in the Church of the New Testament. In addition to discussing his book, Jeff also touched upon his writing process, influences, and future projects.

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1. What inspired you to write Corporate Decision-Making in the Church of the New Testament?

The book is normally listed in the area of New Testament, but I wrote it as a dissertation for my degree in Systematic Theology. I have had an interest in Church Order since my seminary days. The idea that church members should be involved in decision-making, and not just several leaders or simply the hierarchy has always made sense to me. It seemed to me, as well, that the New Testament described this. So I began the project with an idea I thought was likely true, and wanted to see if it would prove out. It is a lot like trying to prove an hypothesis in the realm of the Natural Sciences.

I had a second motivation: if we find out exactly what the New Testament has to say about group decision-making in the church, it will help toward a healthy church order today, regardless of one’s denomination.

 

2. What does your writing typical process consist of?

Of all that I have published, two books have been academic. Usually, what I write is on a non-academic level. But in this case, I will have to answer about academic writing. Standard dissertation form tends to kill everyone’s interest from the start. So I tried to do some rewriting to make my book more interesting. I see the book as an exercise in Systematic Theology. In my first year of seminary, I was fascinated with my theology courses, and learned that all good theology is based on good Scriptural exegesis, and compared with Historical Theology. Secondly, one needs to interact with a range of theological viewpoints to be credible in one’s statements. So that is how I approached my topic. I pursued every lead I could that had a bearing on any of my arguments. I had to be willing to listen to those who contradicted my basic views as well.

As I began my research, I became aware of the need to add the Social World of the New Testament, which was the environment in which the order of churches arose. I think that by the approach I have used: 1) attention to the Social World of the New Testament, 2) consideration of theological concepts associated with the subject, 3) thorough exegesis, 4) comparison with early church history, and 5) interaction with a range of theological viewpoints, one can come up with credible theology.

 

3. In layman’s terms, what are the main ideas that Corporate Decision-Making in the Church of the New Testament explores?

Thanks for framing the question this way. Theologians tend to use jargon and complicated sentences. My book demonstrates that according to the New Testament, entire congregations took part in some church decisions: from choosing leaders to determining church doctrine. At other times, specific groups made decisions by themselves. The reasons for the decisions and who made them are understandable from the various historical events. In my conclusions I recommend that churches today use the same practices.

 

4. Which writers or academics do you think have had the greatest impact on you and why?

I have to begin with my professors in my undergraduate studies in Biology and Chemistry. Their instruction forced me into academic discipline, and I learned the scientific process well. I am sure it guides my writing to this day. Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, had a significant impact on my thinking when I was a seminary student. It teaches the reader how to develop critical thinking skills, and what books are vital for intellectual life. I was also influenced by Augustus Hopkins Strong’s Systematic Theology. I was impressed by how he put his theology together using biblical exegesis, theologians from a broad spectrum, church history, philosophy, and even the poets. Of course, it is dated, and I have since used other, newer works more heavily. But his volume was and is an intellectual challenge. People usually blink when I tell them I have read it three times. Calvin’s Institutes have had a significant impact on my theology and my thinking. My copy is well-marked. The truth is, whether people praise Calvin or denounce him, if they are Protestants and preachers, they are all more influenced by Calvin’s Institutes than they could imagine. I should also mention two professors who challenged me during my theology and doctoral studies. Rolland McCune and Kevin Bauder.

 

5. Who do you think the book will appeal most to?

My book is intended, first of all, for those who are interested in the subject of Church Polity. But I hope to interest those who haven’t pursued the subject, because all church leaders need to be knowledgeable in it. It is an academic book, so it will not appeal to the average reader. Still, my brother, who did not study theology and never took a Greek or Hebrew course in his life, was interested and read it all the way through.

 

6. What are the most obscure notions the book explores?

Most people would not be familiar with a phenomenon in the Roman Empire called “Voluntary Societies”. These societies would be comparable today to various private social organizations: cultural, ethnic, academic, athletic, etc. Voluntary Societies mimicked the political structure of the democratic Greek city. They were normally small (rarely more than 200 members), and brought people of different social status, even slaves, together. They were quite widespread in the Empire during the early days of the Church of the New Testament. In the last few decades, scholars have begun to pay attention to the influence of Voluntary Societies on the Church itself.

 

7. Who are your favourite authors (at any stage of life / career)?

That one is hard to limit. I will try: Cicero, Mark Twain, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, W.G.T. Shedd, F.F. Bruce, Helmut Thielicke, Stanley Jaki, Michael Polyani, Daniel Berlinski. I have begun reading the Puritans, and really appreciate them.

 

8. How has your research developed since the publication of Corporate Decision-Making in the Church of the New Testament in 2014 and have there been any recent developments in the subject or in your thoughts and ideas on the subject?

I haven’t really been able to pursue recent developments in this field since my book was published in 2013. I have had to pour nearly all my energies into our church here in Nuremberg and into the Lay Bible Institute we began seven years ago. I have noticed, however, that my book has been used in academic articles and two other books on church polity. Most books on Church Order have not devoted an entire section to the impact of the New Testament world on Christian church polity. I think this has been intriguing to some who have looked at my book.

 

9. Do you have any future books or research projects lined up for the future? Please tell us about these.

Yes, I have written a short commentary on the Book of Acts in the German language. It is with a German publisher, and should be out in the next six months. In addition, another pastor that I mentored and I have come up with a hermeneutics course for the average Bible-reader (without theological training). It includes both an instructor’s and a participant’s handbook. We are talking now with a German publisher for the course. I am also nearly finished with a manuscript in German on the subject of the Kingdom of God. Most works on this theme begin with the Gospels. In Acts 28, you find that the Apostle Paul began the subject with the Pentateuch (Acts 28:23). The Kingdom of God has its own story in Scripture, really. If you pay attention to it, you understand that Christ is intensively at work now: regardless of belief or unbelief. I am trying to follow Paul’s lead. A fourth project I have is the same subject, on a popular level in the English language. It will take a while. I am writing it for my two daughters, but I will of course look for a publisher.

 

10. Alongside having taking a diverse interest in the world of academia, we would be delighted to learn about any additional projects or hobbies!

I enjoy vegetable gardening. I love hiking in the mountains of southern Germany. I used to play basketball, but I stopped a few years ago, since I could not keep up with the 20-year-olds! I enjoy asking religious opinions and talking about my faith in Christ in the pedestrian zone of our city. People are very often willing to talk, and you can learn a great deal about what people really think about God by doing that.

 

Corporate Decision Making 9780227174692

 

Corporate Decision-Making in the Church of the New Testament is available now.

 

Author Q&A: An Interview with Ambrose Mong

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1. As your new book will not be your first book with us, please could you detail your previous work and inspirations from 2015.

My first book, published by James Clarke & Co., Purification of Memory, is an exploration, from a Catholic and ecumenical perspective, of the theological thoughts of eight distinguished Orthodox theologians. It attempts to demonstrate that, in spite of the mistrust and conflict between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, they actually share a common heritage, which can be a basis for reunification. This work provides an insightful study of eight Orthodox theological movers-and-shakers and compares and contrasts them with their Roman Catholic counterparts. Interestingly, I find that some Catholic theologians are closer to the Orthodox theologians than to their own confessional colleagues and vice versa.

The second book, Accommodation and Acceptance, investigates the works of some prominent Christian missionaries and thinkers regarding non-Christian religions. By their innovations, these pioneers in interfaith relations have blazed new paths for better understanding between people of diverse beliefs in a world torn by conflicts and violence.

My aim in writing this volume is to promote interreligious dialogue and greater understanding among various religions. Through their innovation and creativity, the pioneers in inter-religious relations discussed in this work have blazed new paths for better understanding between people of diverse beliefs. As religion has played an important role in politics and international relations, dialogue between different religions has become urgent in the face of globalization and divisiveness and confrontation between the East and the West.

2. Likewise, how have writing these books led you to your forthcoming title, Guns and Gospel: Imperialism and Evangelicalism in China?

 The first book is on Orthodox theology and the second on Roman Catholic thought.

I wanted to be ecumenical in my theological outlook and thus, I decided to focus on Protestant missionaries in China during the Qing dynasty (19th century). China is now playing a prominent role in global politics and economics. It is important to understand why the Communist government in China is wary of religious influence from outside and why it seeks to control the churches that are flourishing in spite of years of persecutions.

Guns and Gospel attempts to explain why in spite of so much toil and sacrifices undertaken by foreign missionaries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christianity is still a minority faith in China. The book aims at a critical examination of missionary activities taking place under the auspices of gunboat diplomacy and unequal treaties, which eventually increased hostilities of the natives towards Christianity. “One more Christian, one less Chinese,” has long been a popular cliché in China.

Although it failed to win many adherents, in terms of modernization of China, Christian influence was significant. Christian missionaries addressed the issues of education, health care, women’s rights and agriculture. Critical of polygamy, infanticide and foot binding, they fought for the rights of women for equal opportunities. Christian missionaries anticipated the Communist effort in adapting western science and knowledge to reform Chinese society.

3. What does your writing typical process consist of?

I read as much as possible regarding the topic, from journal articles, books, newspapers, and magazines. Then I start summarising key ideas from relevant texts and attempt some kind of analysis by way of comparison or critique. It is a strange process how I start putting the various ideas and views together to construct coherent arguments. Physical exercises like swimming and jogging are very useful for me to have a clear mind to craft my chapter.

Reading as much and as wide as possible on a topic is necessary to provide a good and comprehensive argument. I normally write a chapter that can stand on its own – that it can be published in an abridged version as an article. Thus when I write a chapter I look upon it as an extended essay. My focus is on one chapter at a time. In many ways, writing a book is like running a marathon. I try not to look at the entire distance, but concentrate on running from one point to another, one kilometre at a time.

4. In layman’s terms, what are the main ideas that Guns and Gospel explores?

Going beyond generalizations, the issue I want to raise here is to what extent the missionaries had become lackeys of imperialism. In this work I propose to study individual missionaries in order to examine their positions regarding western military aggression, the opium trade, and the unequal treaties. It is a critical review of Christian missions against the backdrop of the Opium Wars (1839 – 1860), Treaty of Nanking (1842), Gunboat Diplomacy, Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864) and Boxer Rebellion (1899 – 1901).

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Accommodation and Acceptance: An Exploration in Interfaith Relations by Ambrose Mong

5. Which writers or academics do you think have had the greatest impact on you and why?

Professor Peter C. Phan, who holds the Ignacio Ellacuría Chair of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University. I am inspired by his dedication in exploring ways to make Christianity relevant to modern times. He is very knowledgeable not just in Catholic theology, but in Orthodox and Protestant thoughts as well. In spite of his great achievements as a theologian, he remains a very humble and down-to-earth person.

Professor Lai Pan-Chiu, a Lutheran pastor, from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He was the supervisor and mentor for my doctoral dissertation. Besides being a good scholar, Prof Lai is a very conscientious teacher. He looks after his students very well, directs their thesis with great dedication and care. After graduation, he tries to find suitable teaching and research positions for them. He is a great influence on my theological outlook. Knowing Professor P.C. Lai has been one of the great blessings in my life.

6. Who do you think the book will appeal most to?

The general public, those who are interested in history, East-West relations, post-colonial and religious studies. This can include undergraduates, theology students, seminarians, priests, religious and lay people, who are interested in broadening their understanding of Christianity as a minority religion in Asia, especially in China.

7. What are the most obscure notions the book explores?

This work examines the precarious and ambivalent relationship between the missionaries and the British colonial government that controlled the territories in which they attempted to propagate the faith.

8. Who are your favourite authors to read?

William Shakespeare, James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, John Keats, George Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy.

9. From your author questionnaire, you detail being educated all around the world; how do you think this has influenced your writing?

 My early years in India have deeply influenced my writings. I realize the importance of culture, religious belief or unbelief, and language that conditions our perception of reality and life in general. I am also more conscious of the gap between the rich and the poor, and thus in my writings, I attempt to give voice to the voiceless, the marginalized and downtrodden. I also attempt to provide philosophical and historical backgrounds in my theological reflections. I seek to be open-minded and to understand the thoughts of “others.” At the moment, my research is on liberation theology, migration, religion and the diaspora.

 10. Alongside having taking a diverse interest in the world of academia, we would be delighted to learn about any additional projects or hobbies!

I work as an assistant parish priest in the Church of St Theresa, Kowloon. It is one of the oldest churches in Hong Kong. This gives me chance to interact with people from all walks of life. I swim and cycle regularly and enjoy hikes along many of the spectacular trails here. Like many people in Hong Kong, I enjoy dining out. We take eating very seriously here!

Any additional information you would like our readers to know?

I am very grateful to the editors and the staff in the sales and marketing department at James Clarke & Co. for their great help and support. It is a blessing for an author to have such friendly, competent, and dedicated staff behind him.

Ambrose Mong was born in Singapore and earned degrees in English from the Universities of Calgary and British Columbia. He went on to enter the Dominican Novitiate in Seville and completed his philosophical and theological studies at the University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Ordained as a priest in Hong Kong in 2008, he continued to study at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, completing his M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Religious Studies.

At present he is  assistant parish priest at St Theresa’s Church, Kowloon, HK, and teaching part-time at  The Caritas Institute of Higher Education and at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

He is the author of Dialogue Derailed and Purification of Memory: A Study of Modern Orthodox Theologians from a Catholic Perspective (2015, also available from James Clarke & Co).

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Purification of Memory: A Study of Orthodox Theologians from a Catholic Perspective by Ambrose Mong

Guns and Gospel: Imperialism and Evangelicalism in China is due for publication 29th November, 2016. For more on Ambrose Mong’s previous titles, extracts and reviews, click to see our author page here.

Meet the Author: Our Interview with Margaret G. Sim

Following the successful publication of her new book, A Relevant Way to Read: A New Approach to Exegesis and Communication, we were able to catch up with Dr Margaret G. Sim to ask some questions about herself and her work!

Photo for James Clarke & Co

What inspired you to write this book?

A desire to show how useful Relevance Theory is to the interpretation of texts, even ancient ones!

What does your writing process consist of?

I try to put down the thoughts which have been going round in my mind for months, sometimes years, together with an application to biblical text.

We have seen that you have an extensive academic background in Classical Studies, Linguistics and Divinity, tell us about this journey.

Well, it began with a degree in Classics then continued with an MA in Linguistics so that I had a qualification for working in African languages. While teaching at a college in Nairobi I knew I needed a higher qualification and then did an M.Th. in Biblical Languages followed by a PhD. a few years later.

In layman’s terms, what are the main ideas that the book explores?

Literalness is not privileged; humans re-present the speech and thoughts of others all the time; inference is part of being human but humans are usually unaware of what they are doing!

Which writers or academics do you think have had the greatest impact on you and why?

The late Professor Howard Marshall was a good friend and mentor who exemplified humility, integrity and a desire to help students from a non-Western background.

I find the writings of N.T. Wright and John Barclay very stimulating. The former has been involved in translation and the latter uses principles of Relevance Theory although he might not be comfortable with this identification!

Who do you think the book will appeal most to?

I suspect that it will appeal to students in theology, biblical studies or translation who work cross culturally.

What are the more obscure notions that the book explores and how has it developed?

I suppose that the notion of ‘procedural information’ as a description of how particles work both in Greek and in English seems ‘heavy’ but it is a much more useful methodological tool than trying to find a whole range of potential ‘translations’ for items such as ‘but’, ‘well’, ‘after all’ etc. in English. I deal with Greek particles in the book!

Who are your favourite authors?

P.D. James, more recently Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) for light reading! For serious stuff, N.T. Wright, John Barclay, Richard Bauckham and a host of others.

We understand that you are a member of SIL and Wycliffe Biblical Translators; do you believe these roles to have influenced your writing?

Yes, because my chief desire was to do something useful for translators, particularly African translators.

We notice you have undertaken previous teaching roles such as lecturer and Head of Department in Biblical Studies and Translation at Africa International University. Tell us about these! Likewise, do you believe these have influenced your decision to write?

It was a very steep learning curve to teach at an African Theological College (originally Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology). I had to re-examine how I represented material in a way that was culturally relevant and to examine my own presuppositions. I loved the interaction with students from all over Africa and many of these are still good friends and colleagues. My students urged me to write.

From your author questionnaire, you detail being very involved with language projects whilst living in Ethiopia; such as forming part of the Kambaata translation team and Gamo language project.

Kambaata project was from 1980-1987; Gamo project from 2001-2015.

Can you describe these experiences and if you believe that they have they impacted your work?

We lived in the countryside of Ethiopia beside the teams and gave advice on the original languages (Greek, mainly) and on translation principles: how to deal with unknown ideas, figures of speech etc. It was a very good experience, although not without problems as it was during the period of Communist rule in Ethiopia. It removed any feeling that we might have had of Western superiority and taught us so much about the resilience, faithfulness and love of people who had very little in the way of material possessions. The Gamo project was only a part time involvement, undertaken in holidays from working at AIU, but again the quality of work, from one older man in particular, was so good. He really knew both his own language and the Amharic Bible from which he was translating.

If you have any further comments, hobbies or interests, we would be delighted to hear about these here!

Well, I am the mother of five children two of whom were born in Ethiopia, and my husband and the father of these children also works with me in Ethiopia, Nigeria as well as in Zambia for another project. I enjoy gardening, walking and probably am too interested in politics both here and in the countries we visit!

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In A Relevant Way to Read, Margaret G. Sim draws on her in-depth knowledge of New Testament Greek to forge a new exegesis of the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Locating her studies in the linguistic concept of relevance theory, which contends that all our utterances are laden with crucial yet invisible context, Sim embarks on a journey through some of the New Testament’s most troubling verses. Here she recovers some of that lost information with a meticulous analysis that should enlighten both the experienced biblical scholar and the novice.

Whether discussing Paul’s masterful use of irony to shame the Corinthians, or introducing the ground-breaking ideas behind relevance theory into a whole new field of study, Margaret G. Sim demonstrates her vast learning and experience while putting her complex subject into plain words for the developing student.

 

Margaret’s book, A Relevant Way to Read is available now. For further information, reviews, and to obtain your copy, click here!