Northwestern College is filled with incredibly talented faculty who continue to write and publish academic work every year.
This year, dean of arts and humanities and hssociate professor of biblical studies, Dr. John Vonder Bruegge, has been awarded the Vital Worship Grant of $12,000 by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He will be using the grant to continue his work on a book of original translations of Jesus’ parables. Vonder Bruegge will also be partnering with retired theater and worship arts professor Jeff Barker by interpreting the original Greek for a more performance-ready translation. Senior religion major Benjamin De Boer will be working as the research assistant of the project for Vonder Bruegge.
In order to receive the grant, Vonder Bruegge had to go through an extensive application and approval process which includes answering twenty short essay questions on the project ranging from “what is the purpose of this project” to “how do you plan to disseminate your research?”
“It’s cliché to say that it’s not really about the money, but for scholars, that’s actually true,” Vonder Bruegge said. “The most thrilling part is that you put an idea out there—a new and creative idea—and someone sees that it’s an idea worth pursuing and supporting.”
The project began over a year ago when Barker approached Vonder Bruegge with the idea of creating a fresh translation of the parables of Christ. Barker’s specialty has been focusing on the performance of Scripture.
“Not all translations are written for speaking aloud,” Barker soon learned after attempting to memorize Jesus’ parables.
Therefore, the goal of this new book is to create a translation of Jesus ’parables that is more conducive to being read aloud.
“Jesus did not write [the parables] down, distribute them as pamphlets, and say, ‘hey look these over and let me know if you have any questions,’” Vonder Bruegge said. “Yet that’s how they come to us today—as written texts. We thought it would be interesting to bring orality back to the parables, since that’s how they started.”
To achieve this goal, Vonder Bruegge will be doing extensive research on the original Greek text before creating an initial translation of the passages. From the initial translation, Barker and Vonder Bruegge will work together to “hash it out” and mold the work into a translation that “takes both linguistic and performance issues into account” according to Vonder Bruegge. The book will also contain introductory notes and two commentaries throughout—one by Vonder Bruegge on translation and another by Barker on performance.
De Boer will also be supporting the process by helping Vonder Bruegge research and translate the original Greek text as well as investigate biblical commentary on the passages selected.
“I’m so excited for the opportunity to be around two extremely faithful men of God this summer,” De Boer said. “Their knowledge, experience and passion for Christ and the Bible is contagious, and I cannot wait to work alongside them.”
Finishing this work is not Vonder Bruegge and Barker’s end goal, but rather a means to an end.
“Ultimately, we want these parables to be performed in modern worship settings like churches, youth groups and chapel events, and the book is a way to get these new translations into performers’ hands,” said Vonder Bruegge.
Barker hopes to transform the way that churches interact with Scripture.
He said, “My dream is that Christian worshipers will come to church wondering, ‘Which story of Jesus will we hear someone tell today.’”