President’s Top Five

We are now post-Labor Day, and I know what you’re thinking: It’s that time of year! For putting away those white shoes you can no longer wear. For going back to school. For the UPSem President’s Top 5! I know you’ve been eagerly anticipating it—checking your email daily to see whether it’s appeared—so let’s get right to it.

This Top 5 is all about the UPSem faculty. Our students love taking classes from them, being mentored by them, and finding lifelong resources in them. I love teaching with them and planning the future of the Seminary with them. They are a tremendous asset for congregations and their leaders, academic guilds, and groups engaged in involvement for social justice and public witness. Let’s consider (in no particular order) why.


Faculty Speakers Bureau


One: They are available. To your church and to your organization. Do you have folks who want to think more biblically, reason more theologically, educate more credibly, practice the faith more pastorally and prophetically? Well, have I got a resource for you! The UPSem faculty.

You say you don’t know what expertise they might bring to your congregation, organization, or cause? You don’t know whether their areas of specialization intersect with your group’s areas of inquiry? You want to know more about what they might offer from their years of scholarship, research, and teaching? Well, look no further than right here. Check out this collection of scholars from all around our country and our world and the topic areas they’re eager to share about.

Want to know more? Go to the Seminary’s Faculty webpage. Learn more about them. Find out how to get in touch with them. Some of the finest theological teaching available is literally right at your fingertips.


Recent books by UPSem Faculty


Two: They don’t just read books (which they do a lot!!) They write books (which other scholars and pastors read a lot!!). Here’s a sampling of some of some of their work from just the past few years that you’ll find in the UPSem library, or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine booksellers.

Rachel Baard’s latest book, Sexism and Sin-Talk: Feminist Conversations on the Human Condition, provides, according to reviewer Shannon Craigo-Snell, “a significant contribution to the field of feminist theology by tracing and analyzing the various feminist critiques of the content and consequences of patriarchal doctrines of sin.” You don’t know much about sin, you say? Well, as Craigo-Snell puts it, “The doctrine of sin is, in Baard’s view, ultimately a sign of hope.” Really? “It declares that the evil, destruction, and suffering that we see around us are not what we were created for and not what God intends.” Aren’t you intrigued? Don’t you and your folks want to know more about how sin and hope go together?

John Carroll has written a couple of books in the last few years, and I am particularly intrigued (and you will be, too) by The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. In this work, Carroll helps us understand the nature and role of the Holy Spirit by focusing on biblical references to the Spirit. Book Reviewer Jihyung Kim applauds the work, saying, “I strongly recommend the present volume not only to seminarians, but also to pastors, laypeople, and even scholars…” If you want to know what scholars say about the Holy Spirit—and especially what Carroll, after his careful reading of scripture—has to say about the Holy Spirit, then this book is for you.

What if you want to get away from sin, and, filled with the Holy Spirit, you want to engage in worship? I’ve got something for you, too. Actually, Paul Galbreath has. According to Davidson College Professor Douglas Ottati, Galbreath’s Re-Forming the Liturgy: Past, Present, and Future is “a theologically astute book in the Reformed tradition that is alive to the dynamic promise of past practices, attentive to biblical and sacramental cornerstones, and alert to how today’s worship can engage our compelling ecological crisis.” Martha Moore-Keish, of Columbia Theological Seminary, says that Galbreath “focuses on how real-life communities might embody authentic Christian faith more fully—not just in church buildings, but beyond the walls, in the care for the earth as a place of God’s presence.”

We’ve got books from great theologians, biblical scholars, and practical theologians. But now you’re looking for something recent to read on church history. UPSem has got you covered. Christine Luckritz MarquisDeath of the Desert: Monastic Memory and the Loss of Egypt’s Golden Age is so new there aren’t any published reviews of it just yet, but let’s just say she has the scoop on the way the church in the late fourth century was tearing itself apart over the teachings of church father Origen and his views about the incorporeality of God. Those last three words? That’s church history and church theology all mashed up together right there! Those last three words also give you a sense of the depth of the issue and thus the ferocity of the debate. An archbishop of Alexandria convened a council that declared that Origen’s later followers, many of them desert monks, were heretics. This declaration was therefore particularly impactful for monastic communities in the Egyptian desert. The archbishop’s determination to end what he saw as heresy brought the Golden Age of desert monasticism to an end. Violently, tragically so. Learn more about it from this excellent book.

Historian Stan Skreslet has written a book that doesn’t come out until January. So, while I’ve not yet had chance to read it, or to read what someone who has read it has to say about it, I can tell from its title that it will help us learn a great deal about past and present missionary endeavors, particularly as constructed by folks in their own country. Look for Constructing Mission History: Indigenous Agency and the Making of World Christianity in early 2023.

And once you’ve finished learning about the past, return to the present and future with Safwat Marzouk’s Intercultural Church: A Biblical Vision for an Age of Migration. As a pastor of an Arabic immigrant church in Jersey City, a pastor in Egypt’s Synod of the Nile, a leader in interfaith dialogue, and an Old Testament scholar, Marzouk researches alternative ways for Christians to live in polarized and divided societies by becoming more intercultural as church. Reviewer Chad Beck writes, “For Safwat Marzouk, the presence of ‘the undocumented, asylum-seekers, and refugees in our midst grants the church a chance to learn again God’s call to be an ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse body of Christ.”

James Taneti’s most recent book, Telugu Christians: A History, focuses on the history of a particular community in the intercultural church: Telugu Christians from the 16th century until present times. This social history analyzes how social aspirations of the community, local worldviews, and historical contingencies shaped their beliefs and practices. Taneti’s work with international communities doesn’t end with his historical publications; he is also the director of UPSem’s Syngman Rhee Global Mission Center for Christian Education. In this role, he helps prepare the way for students, scholars, and leaders of the world church to attend UPSem, and for UPSem’s domestic students to see Christianity at work in the global context.

When you’ve finished with these theological, biblical, liturgical, and historical studies, you’ll no doubt be ready to preach—or to hear someone else preach—not only to be inspired, but also to be taught. Rich Voelz has just the book for you: Preaching to Teach: Inspire People to Think and Act. After reading and analyzing Voelz’s book, commentator Mason Lee writes, “Preaching today can seem harder than ever. Every week presents a crisis that needs a word from the Lord, and the list of issues to address only seems to grow. In such times, how might the recovery of the ancient image of the preacher-as-teacher provide us with the vision and clarity we need to preach faithfully here and now?” In this book, Dr. Voelz aims to provide an answer.


Three: When they aren’t writing their own books, UPSem faculty members are writing chapters in books and journals with and edited by other scholars. They have also been providing consequential leadership in the church and in the public square. Sam Adams has been on a literary tear in this regard. He has a co-authored a translation of and commentary on Ben Sira coming out soon from Yale University Press: Ben Sira: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. You know all about the importance of Ben Sira to the understanding of our faith, don’t you? You don’t? You need to read this book. Adams also has chapters in two other books he has co-edited: “Where is Ezra?” and “Wisdom Literature in Egypt” from The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Wisdom Literature. Adams is working hard to bring some wisdom to us. Consider also Sirach and its Contexts: The Pursuit of Wisdom and Human Flourishing, which he recently edited. And when he isn’t writing and editing his own books, he’s doing the incredibly important work of editing one of the most widely read theological journals in the world—our theological journal, Interpretation!

Rubén Arjona has been just as busy in the area of pastoral care and theology. He has recently published two journal articles: “Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther” (Pastoral Theology) and “The Criminalization of Mexicans in Contemporary American Politics” (Journal of Pastoral Theology). His timely article “Ajo, limón y miel: Reflections from the Aztec Capital about Care in a Pandemic” is forthcoming in the book Injustice and the Care of Souls.

Carson Brisson, who publishes a great deal in our own Sharon and Brook, has also written for the prominent journal The Christian Century. His article “In the Deputy’s House” was awarded first place for 2021 essays in short format, personal experience, by the Associated Church Press.

Sung Hee Chang has edited and contributed chapters to a series of studies (three books!) dedicated to Explorations in Theological Field Education. Her three contributions in the three books—“Engaging in Faith Formation,” “Mentoring for Faith Formation,” and “Learning Through Unlearning”—will be as helpful for the supervised ministry supervisor as for the students learning with them. Chang has published numerous other recent articles exploring ministry (and minister!) formation. “Formation and Flourishing for the Church in the World” and “Ministerial Formation through the Lens of Suffering” are representative samples.

While Melanie Jones has been leading the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership and teaching her regular classes in theology and ethics, she has also been busy contributing published chapters that expand the theological discourse around contemporary issues of faith and justice. For the book Religion, Race, and COVID19, she wrote a chapter titled “Who’s Saving Whom? Black Millennials and Revivification of Religious Communities.”  African American popular culture and theology collide informatively in her chapter “The Slay Factor: Beyoncé Unleashing the Black Feminine Divine in a Blaze of Glory” in The Lemonade Reader. Those of us who were graced by the life and ministry of Dr. Cannon will find particularly exciting her chapter “The House that Cannon Built and ‘The Hinges Upon Which the Future Swings’” in the book Walking Through the Valley: Womanist Explorations in the Spirit of Katie Geneva Cannon.

Lakisha Lockhart is one of our newest Christian educators. She, too, has been busy writing. Her most recent article, “Enfleshing Catechesis through Embodied Space,” appears as a chapter in the book Together Along the Way: Conversations Inspired by the Directory for Catechesis. You can also be drawn into conversation with Lockhart via podcast. Check out “Taking Play Seriously” in the Wabash Center’s Dialogue on Teaching podcasts or “Play & Spirituality” at

Dorothee Tripodi’s publications help expand the field of knowledge for strengthening the work of supervising ministers and those they mentor. She has two very helpful articles in the journal Reflective Practice: “Flourishing in Ministry through Resilience: Mentoring as a Catalyst for Resiliency Development and Practices” and “Call to Resiliency: Ministry Formation in Times of COVID-19, Climate Change, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

Rebecca Davis has been publishing educational materials that are particularly impactful in the teaching ministry of the church. She has completed 64 lessons on Family Faith Formation for The Presbyterian Outlook. She has also directed, as project manager, an adult curriculum titled Vocabulary of Faith. For someone who grew up in the church classrooms of Hill Street Baptist Church as a child, I am particularly interested in her “Liberating Sunday School” chapter in a forthcoming book on child advocacy. Speaking of advocacy, much of Davis’ work addresses matters of communal concern. “Trauma-Informed Ministry and Pedagogy,” “Empowering and Dismantling: The Anatomy of Justice,” and “Turning to Scripture: A Plan for Teaching Justice” have appeared in the newsletter for our own Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation.

Speaking of the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation, let me say a word about Rodney Sadler. He has been a gifted leader of this Center, bringing together scholars, journalists, politicians, church leaders, and more to discuss difficult, important, and often controversial issues in the public square from biblical and theological perspectives. He travels the country speaking on issues of racial discrimination and racial reconciliation, social activism and social justice, liberating hermeneutics and prophetic church. His engagements with and for the Center prompt a provocative publication agenda on topics like The Bible and Race, Judgement of the Nations, and Sardis Sermons: Black Preacher in a White Southern Church.

Frances Taylor Gench contributed the essay “A Preface to Reflection on Fruit of the Spirit” for The Presbyterian Outlook. She has also led a critically important workshop, given the times in which theological education finds itself, for the Association of Theological Schools: “Going Online for the Fall? Glean Wisdom from Some with Experience in Online Teaching and Formation.” Gench’s scholarship of supporting the scholarship of others is of vital importance in her role as a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Biblical Literature, the premier scholarly journal for academic scholars of biblical scripture around the world. And did I mention that she is at work on a major commentary on the Gospel of John for the updated commentary series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching?

Cindy Kissel-Ito represents Christian educators and, indeed, UPSem on the PCUSA Educator Certification Council. She has also consulted with the PCUSA’s Mission Agency for the online resource Opening Doors to Discipleship.

Dawn DeVries helps set the agenda of theological discussion as a member of the editorial board of the Scottish Journal of Theology. She has contributed a chapter on Schleiermacher’s Weihnachtsfeier for the Oxford Handbook to Schleiermacher and an article on Schleiermacher’s apologetics for the Wiley-Blackwell Dictionary of Christian Apologists and Their Critics.

Karen-Marie Yust has made UPSem a connecting point for groundbreaking international scholarship. The Lilly Endowment awarded a $4.5 million grant for her Children’s Spirituality Research & Innovation Hub at UPSem. This is a big deal! This hub will encourage scholars and practitioners in multiple areas of educational and theological research to identify implications of their work for religious education and children’s faith formation. The Hub’s work will support congregations and organizations engaged in experimental approaches to children’s faith formation, and will contribute to literature regarding new approaches to best practices in children’s and family faith formation. Yust also serves as president of the International Association of Children’s Spirituality.

Megan Strollo not only teaches biblical languages for UPSem; she also preaches and teaches in congregations throughout the region. She serves as Theologian in Residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia, engaging and consulting with CBF churches, writing curriculum for Bible study, and writing blog posts on various biblical, theological, and pastoral topics.



Four: They teach, too! Yes, the classroom remains a place where UPSem faculty particularly shine. When we submit questionnaires to graduating students, one of the things they always note is their affection and appreciation for the teachers who have mentored and guided them along the way. We have superlative instructors on our faculty who are also visionary about their task of theological education. As they revise their courses continuously, they also reevaluate and have revised the entire curriculum across two campuses to equip our students with the tools they need to prosper in whatever form of ministry they pursue. The relationships teachers and students form in Richmond and Charlotte endure well beyond graduation.



Five: Our faculty represents the church and the world our students will go out from UPSem to serve. The faculty of the present creates the faculty of the future through exhaustive search processes that lead to recommendations of call for the Board of Trustees to consider. I am grateful that our faculty has rightly grappled with the vision of ensuring that the faculty of UPSem’s future is inclusive and diverse. At present, our faculty is equally balanced by gender. One-third of our faculty comes from communities of color in the U.S. or abroad. Indeed, our faculty has international representation from South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, India, South Korea, and Germany. And there is a wonderful ecumenism of different denominations.


Well, that’s a lot, isn’t it? Yes, this issue is a bit longer than my usual President’s Top 5. But that’s because this faculty is a bit busy (and I haven’t even cited every faculty member’s most recent publications, or even all the recent publications of the faculty members I have mentioned!) and it takes some time (and pages) to share it all with you. There is more of the faculty story to tell. Please visit our website and go to the Faculty page, where you’ll find more to explore—and more, I would guess, to be thankful for. Our faculty is one of our greatest gifts. I am grateful to God for who they are and what they do for our students, for our church, and for our world.


Dr. Brian K. Blount
President and Professor of New Testament
Union Presbyterian Seminary