The Rev. Dr. Lissa M. Wray Beal is the Professor of Old Testament at Providence Theological Seminary, where she has taught since 2004. She is also a priest in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land in the Anglican Church of Canada, serving as an honorary assistant in a local parish. Dr. Wray Beal completed a BTh at Northwest Bible College and an MDiv at Taylor Seminary (both in Edmonton) before completing her PhD at the Toronto School of Theology at Wycliffe College.
How did you decide to become a biblical scholar? Share your autobiographical journey.
My decision to become a biblical scholar has personal and pastoral roots. I grew up in a church context and from a very young age recall a sense of God’s love. In my teen years that experience became particularly personal. While reading through the book of Romans with a small group, I discovered and responded to the person and work of Christ. That remains a powerful reminder of the encounter scripture facilitates. It also awakened a desire to understand the Bible and its presentation of God’s character and work in the world. That desire has never left me and my life path of theological education and teaching ministry has been a source of joy as on a daily basis my work immerses me in scripture.
On a pastoral level, my early ministry experience was in the pastorate. In preaching, I was drawn to the Old Testament’s stories and the presentation of God’s great actions in history and intimate interactions with humanity; in teaching, I discovered congregants were often perplexed about the value of the Old Testament for Christian discipleship. Seeing the “lights go on” for people as I taught showed me a need in the church that coincided with my own gifts and interests. I wanted to teach, not only in the church but in an academic setting committed to ministerial formation that was embedded in scripture. Although I was at that time in a denominational context that did not value higher education, I decided to begin graduate studies. My hope was to be schooled by the text and those who studied it so as to bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to teaching.
It was during my PhD work that I determined my research and pastoral interests would be best expressed in a seminary. This context focuses my scholarship so that historical, literary, and theological questions are pursued rigorously and find their telos in the whole canon and for the life of the church.
Tell us about your work (past and current). What are you most excited about right now? What do you hope your work will contribute?
Teaching in a small seminary, my course load ranges fairly broadly across the Old Testament. My particular research interests lie within the so-called Deuteronomistic History. This is reflected in my dissertation work which looked at how a particular narrative was shaped and influenced the larger canonical story (The Deuteronomist’s Prophet, LHBOTS 478, T & T Clark 2007), and a recent commentary published on 1 & 2 Kings (AOTC 9, InterVarsity Press, 2014). I am currently writing a commentary on Joshua for the Story of God series (Zondervan). After that, I will explore how the Chronicler shapes the history through another commentary project (Hearing the Message of Scripture, Zondervan). I am also researching theological interpretation of scripture, and have a forthcoming article arising from that (“Land Entry and Possession in Origen’s Homilies on Joshua: Deep Reading for Christian Life” in Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-Historical Perspectives, Wipf and Stock, forthcoming).
My work on Joshua has been very stretching as it is a text that is too often claimed as justification for colonialism and violence. In my Canadian context, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has highlighted many of the injustices First Nations people have suffered. In this context, in what way is Joshua Word of God for the church today? How might historical and comparative study shape the understanding of this book’s message? These are pressing issues for a text that many would prefer to excise from the biblical witness.
Currently, the hermeneutical and theological questions regarding theological interpretation of scripture have engrossed me. This discussion is profoundly shaping my teaching and research and I think it holds great promise for revitalizing the church’s own engagement with scripture.
Who has most influenced you as a scholar? Tell us a bit about it.
In the classroom, Dr. Jerry Shepherd at Taylor Seminary modelled a commitment to thoughtful theological engagement with the Old Testament; he first introduced me to canonical methods of interpretation which I early recognized as ones to explore. Also, Dr. Marion Taylor at Wycliffe College modelled scholarship and generous mentorship. I hope my ministry passes on the legacy I received from them.
I keep returning to the works of Dr. Brevard Childs and Dr. Chris Seitz. Both show scholarship in service of the church. Similarly, Dr. Tremper Longman’s work is always valuable and engaging.
What are the most pressing issues or concerns you have related to the broader field of biblical studies?
Hermeneutical issues, particularly in light of the renewed conversation around theological interpretation of scripture, will I think occupy the believing academy for some time. The changing face of the church and the subsequent changing face of theological education continues to challenge how we deliver theological education.
Mentorship remains a pressing need. Particularly as students can now access some courses online, the challenge of formation increases. I continue to see the mentorship of women as very needful. My context is an evangelical one, and for some women, this is not a particularly supportive environment should they sense a call to theological education and pastoral ministry. Hearing their pain, sharing my own story, and walking with them as they discern biblical, theological, and sociological issues around their calling remains an important (and humbling!) part of my ministry.
Why study the scriptures/biblical text?
In short, I study scripture because I love it! The scope of scripture and the breadth of its interpretive issues will engage me for life. On an existential level, scripture has challenged, confronted, encouraged, and directed me. I see its relevance in our world and the need for the church to wrestle with scripture so to speak prophetically in that world.
What do you like to do for fun?
Gardening! It’s my place to re-create. I also love live theatre and novels as they allow me to experience the world in different ways; holidaying abroad takes that experience to a new level.