Theological society takes root in West

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The group has already drawn interest from over 100 people across the territory.
By Jared McKiernan – 

Imagine The Salvation Army as an incubator for a renewed, theological mind. Considering the organization’s roots, it’s not all that far reaching.
In an effort to foster Christian scholarship and continued spiritual growth, the Western Territory formed the The Salvation Army Biblical, Theological, and Missiological Society (SABTMS).
Organized by an oversight panel composed of officers, soldiers, and others in the territory, SABTMS offers an open forum for the discussion and critical study of biblical texts and their contexts, the nature of God, as well as missions and their methods and purposes.
David Witthoff, Christian Education Director for Discipleship and one of the society’s founding members, said roughly 100 people have already signed up for the free group online, and he hopes interest will continue to mount.
“I just want to see the society foster intellectual life in The Salvation Army, especially in terms of biblical studies, theology and missiology,” he said. “I think theology societies have perceptions of being ivory towers or irrelevant. I want this to be useful…And part of that is just networking. We are each other’s resources.”
The group held its first annual meeting at the Mobilize 2017 Commissioning weekend in Long Beach, California, presenting its first three research papers: “How Truth Motivates” by Lt. Sid Salcido, “Introduction to Canonical Context as Interpretive Framework for Preaching and Teaching the Psalms” by Major Pat Irvine (presented in absentia), and “An Updated Translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and its Relationship to Doctrine 10 in The Salvation Army” by Witthoff. The papers explored everything from the concept of “absolute truth” to the syntax of several biblical passages, and even the writings of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. The presenters read their papers aloud, then fielded questions from those in attendance.
The group’s panel, which reviews all papers submitted, will publish them in the inaugural “Journal of the Salvation Army Biblical, Theological, and Missiological Society” later this year.
Though SABTMS generally targets a Salvationist group, one of its goals is to draw anyone academically and theologically inclined into soldiership, officership and the general mission of The Salvation Army.
“I think the most important part that someone needs to understand is that those who are connected with The Salvation Army—officers, soldiers, or friends of the Army, in direct and in indirect ways—do what they do because of the love of Christ,” said Captain Martin Ross, Del Oro Divisional Secretary for Harvest Initiative and Sacramento Social Services. “The ‘golden rule’ principles of showing love to one another, [which] are fundamentally reflected in our Christian fundamental anchors, should [show] anyone who is contemplating being part of The Salvation Army that whatever we do comes out of a demonstration of genuine love for people.”
Witthoff said he loosely modeled the group after the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), the oldest and largest known organization of its kind. Each year, SBL holds a conference for roughly 9,000 people from over 80 countries with several hundred workshops over four days.
“I could see in the future, if interest grows, we could do one session on biblical studies, one on theological studies, and one on missions,” he said. “If it grows from there, I could see us maybe doing our own conference. And maybe we could have student presenters, with teenagers and college students.
“I’m really thankful to THQ and the program department—that they just let us run with this.”
To sign up, visit

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