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2020 Wiley Lectures: Rethinking the Bible as Poetry

PLNU alumnus Dr. Brent Strawn will be exploring what it means to read the Bible as poetry during this year’s Wiley Lectures, taking place right after chapel on Wednesday, Feb. 12 through Friday, Feb. 14. All lectures are located in Crill Performance Hall.

Strawn, who studied religion and Bible at PLNU from 1988-1992, said he chose the topic of “rethinking the Bible as poetry” because “what we think about the Bible, how we get through it in our minds, really impacts then the way we read it, the way we interpret it.”

Ways people tend to think about the Bible, either as a storybook, history book, self-help book or something else, impact our interpretations of Scripture, Strawn said. Strawn said he became increasingly dissatisfied with the dominant construal of Scripture as a narrative storytelling and thinks poetry offers another way to interpret the Bible to make it more practically relevant. 

“The story motif or story rubric dominated all discourse about everything,” Strawn said. “It made sense to me that there had to be a different way to think about the world than story mode or narrative mode, and so I thought about film for instance, or drama, or poetry… Slowly those two things [Interest in Bible and poetry] started coming together.”

Strawn is a professor of Old Testament at Duke University and has authored three books. PLNU theology professor Dr. Brad Kelle said the faculty in the School of Theology and Christian Ministry (SoTCM) invited him to speak at the Wiley lectures this year because “he has a deep connection to this place as a graduate” and is “blending together two things that are of interest to Point Loma generally,” the study of the Bible and how to interpret it and the study of poetry. 

As an academic lecture series, the speakers for Wiley lectures are chosen differently than chapel speakers, who must adhere to Nazarene church teachings. Kelle said Wiley Lecture speakers come from “a wide variety of traditions and perspectives and backgrounds.”

“We do not give [speakers] any kind of guidelines other than just making sure that they know who we are, and who our students are, and that they are appreciative of that fact and can enter into dialogue with us in healthy ways,” Kelle said. “But because they are not preaching in chapel or something, the expectation is different, that this is an academic lecture series that has academic explorations in it.”

Students should consider attending this year’s lecture series because “It’s a chance to talk about and think about the Bible outside of a chapel or preaching or worship service setting,” Kelle said. 

Strawn said he is excited to be back at PLNU. Both of his parents worked at the university, and now-retired theology professor Robert Smith was his mentor and the minister at Strawn’s wedding. Strawn said his time at Point Loma prepared him for what he went on to do in graduate school and beyond.

“I’m hoping that some may find [these lectures] convincing or at least in a helpful way to think about the Bible moving forward,” Strawn said. “I’ll try to be lively… I plan to use and read poetry in the lectures, and not just Biblical poetry, modern poetry as well.”

The Wiley Lectures were founded in 1951 by H. Orton Wiley, a former president of Pasadena College. They’ve been sponsored by the University every year since, and have “a long and storied history,” Kelle said. 

The lectures are free and open to the public. 

Lecture 1 – The Bible is Not a Story

Wednesday, Feb. 12 from 11–11:50 a.m.

Lecture 2 – What Is Poetry and Why Is It Better Than Narrative?

Wednesday, Feb. 12 from 1:30–2:20 p.m.

Lecture 3 – The Bible and Poetry

Thursday, Feb.13 from 9:30–10:20 a.m.

Lecture 4 – The Bible as Poetry

Friday, Feb. 14 from 8:30–9:20 a.m.