Behind the Scenes of Scripture First with Stephen Lawson

The six essays in Scripture First fall naturally into three pairs: two on the biblical text, two on church history, and two on contemporary practice and application.1

For the church history essays, one of the contributors is Stephen Lawson. Stephen is Assistant Professor of Theology and Dean of Students at Austin Graduate School of Theology.

In the writing process, different things work better for different people. So, Stephen was kind enough to participate in an interview to provide a look behind the scenes of his process for developing his essay.

How did you come up with the idea for what you wanted to argue in your essay?

If I recall correctly, this was the easiest part. Daniel Oden reached out to me and asked me to write something about primitivism. Finding the topic is easy when it’s someone else’s job!

Once he asked me to write about primitivism, I was already fairly clear about what I wanted to argue, since I had been working on the questions surrounding historical methods in theology for several years.

Though my recent research—responses to the development of historical reasoning in theology in post-Enlightenment German thought—seems far from the question of primitivism in American religious history, they are related. What I have learned from studying debates over the use of history in theology has affected the way that I see my own ecclesial tradition.

So, the Scripture First project gave me an opportunity to return to some of the themes that I had been working on already.

Did you divide your process between research and writing? If so, how?

I did not need to do a lot of new research for this essay. Many of the examples that I point to in the essay were things that I had already read. However, I hadn’t done much work on the idea of primitivism itself.

I was helped by two books, both of which were edited by Richard Hughes: The American Quest for the Primitive Church (University of Illinois Press, 1988) and The Primitive Church in the Modern World (University of Illinois Press, 1995).

The essays in these books were helpful in thinking through some of the questions that arose as I composed my own essay. So, I read those two books, glanced through a few dozen relevant articles, and then began writing.

This was a fairly quick essay to draft. I delivered the first version of the essay at the 2018 Christian Scholars’ Conference. Later I expanded it, making it around twice as long.

How did you structure the time you needed to research and write the essay?

I work in big blocks of time, especially when it comes to drafting new material. I can squeeze editing and brainstorming into an otherwise busy day, but I have always needed large blocks of time to write new material.

For me it takes a lot of effort and time to get into the “groove” of composition. It is not something that I can start and stop easily, though I wish it were! As a parent of young children it would be great to be able to produce a few hundred words in a random quarter-hour of free time, but I just can’t.

When working on your essay, what tools did you use?

I use Microsoft Word. I used to use Zotero to manage references, but I fell out of the habit. I was frustrated with the way it handled non-English sources. Friends have told me that there were settings which I was not navigating correctly. They are probably right.

But I’ve not been using any reference software. One of my friends said that because his footnotes weren’t produced by a reference software he was going to start marketing them as “handcrafted” footnotes.

What closing advice would you offer to emerging biblical scholars as they work on papers for academic conferences and collaborative volumes like Scripture First?

Be interested in everything. It’s okay to focus; that’s what scholarship requires. But be open all kinds of things, not just your specialization. So, read widely and charitably.

If you are a biblical scholar, try to keep up with what your theologian and historian friends are up to (and vice versa). If I were only interested in my area of research, I probably wouldn’t have attended the conference session which resulted in my participation in this book.

Scripture First is available directly from the publisher, Amazon, or anywhere books are sold. With your order, you’re also eligible to claim three additional free bonuses.

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Behind-the-Scenes Resources from Making Scripture First

Scripture First: Biblical Interpretation That Fosters Christian Unity is now available.1 And with your order, your eligible to claim some additional bonuses.

These bonuses focus especially on helping you see behind the scenes of the process for producing Scripture First. As you look ahead to doing similar projects of your own, the bonuses give you the opportunity to hone your craft by learning from our process in producing Scripture First.

In particular, the bonus resources you’re eligible for with your Scripture First order are

  1. a video recording of a conversation with Daniel and me about the process of producing the volume,
  2. a video walkthrough of the hand exercise that Scott Adair proposes in his essay, and
  3. a copy of the spreadsheet I used to create the modern author index.

1. A Conversation with the Editors

To give you a look behind the scenes of what went into producing Scripture First, Daniel and I recorded a conversation for you where we talk through that process.

We also reflect on some things that we thought went particularly well along the way, in addition to some of what we gleaned about the bumps in the road.

2. Scott Adair’s Hand Exercise

In his essay, Scott Adair discusses some of the main the doctrinal and ethical content encapsulated within Christian baptism. After unpacking this content, Scott also proposes a hand exercise for teaching and recalling this content.

You can easily follow along with Scott’s description of this exercise in his essay. But since “a picture is worth a thousand words,” this video walks you through the exercise visually as well.

3. My Spreadsheet for Creating the Modern Author Index

As Daniel and I talk about in our discussion, we split the indexing work for Scripture First between the two of us. Daniel took “ancient works,” and I took “modern authors.”

After trying a few different methods for producing the modern authors index on a few pages at the beginning of Scripture First, I decided the simplest would be to use a spreadsheet.

Admittedly, I’m much more of a “spreadsheet nerd” than many. But the process had some advantages. In particular, it allowed for easier manipulation of the index data at the different stages of it’s production.

So, if you find yourself needing to produce an index like this at some point, I’m hopeful that having a copy of the spreadsheet I produced might make that process easier for you by giving you a helpful template to begin with.


Scripture First is now available. So, I’d encourage you to go ahead and order it from the publisher, Amazon, or another retailer.

Then, grab your order number, and click the blue button below to claim your order bonuses.

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6 Ways to Make Scripture First

How does Scripture read Scripture, and how can the church follow its lead?1

It’s easy, especially in the long shadow of the Reformation, to pit Scripture against tradition. But the Bible itself suggests there is a fundamental unity between Scripture and the tradition it embodies.

Rightly appreciating this unity sets the stage for more faithful and robust engagement with Scripture.

For the past few years, Daniel Oden (Harding University) and I have been curating a volume of essays to address this intersection between Scripture and its tradition.

Scripture First: Biblical Interpretation That Fosters Christian Unity argues for reading Scripture faithfully along with earliest Christian tradition as the church continues seeking to express its unity better.

The Restoration Movement was birthed from a holy desire to unify divided Christian communities under the authority of sacred Scripture.… These essays exhibit the best characteristics of such work. My hope is that Scripture First will be read widely to the edification and gentle provocation of all still committed to sharing in the mysterious work of the Father, reconciling all things in heaven and on earth in the Son through the Holy Spirit.

Joseph K. Gordon, Associate Professor of Theology, Johnson University

Scripture on Scripture

In reality, Scripture and tradition are not entirely separable. Scripture self-confessedly contains and canonizes certain traditions, thereby asking its readers to embrace them as well.

Scripture First’s two biblical essays particularly stress this point. Daniel Oden’s discusses how the Hebrew Bible develops and interprets its central confessions. My essay expands on this point via the early Jesus movement’s proclamation as summarized in 1 Cor 15:3b–5.

Scripture’s Tradition and Interpretation

Following these essays, two explore the history of interpretation.

Keith Stanglin (Austin Graduate School of Theology) analyzes Thomas Campbell’s thought and the enduring value of Christian biblical interpretation guided by a “rule of faith.”

Stephen Lawson (Austin Graduate School of Theology) highlights the tension reform efforts need to maintain in order to avoid short circuiting precisely aims they want to achieve.

These essays spark creative thought regarding how biblical interpretation impacts Christian unity.… A good read for anyone meditating on the concept of a rule of faith and its role in understanding Scripture and building up the body of Christ.

Susan Bubbers, Dean, The Center for Anglican Theology

Corporate Embodiment of Scripture’s Testimony

The volume’s final two essays take a practical turn.

Scott Adair (Harding University) cites baptism as a marker of Christian identity. On this basis, Scott highlights the hermeneutical relevance of the doctrinal and ethical content latent in baptismal practice.

Finally, drawing on thinkers like Martin Luther, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Lauren White (Lipscomb University) argues readers of Scripture cannot read well at a distance. Instead, readers must risk getting themselves caught up in the text’s witness and finding themselves directly addressed and formed by it.

[T]he authors convincingly advocate methods of interpreting Scripture that focus on the core affirmations of Christian faith—especially those proclaimed at and embodied in baptism. The object of godly biblical interpretation is the formation of the church into the image of Christ.

Douglas A. Foster, University Scholar in Residence, Abilene Christian University


6 Ways to Make Scripture First

In the end, I hope each of the essays will help you make Scripture first in your own practice. As the different essays suggest, this entails

  1. Following how the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament rehearses its core confessions,
  2. Reading Scripture through the core apostolic proclamation,
  3. Centering Scripture’s core testimony when interacting with others,
  4. Being constantly open to Scripture’s correction of interpretive missteps,
  5. Reading Scripture baptismally, and
  6. Engaging Scripture and the Christian community to seek formation in the image of the Son.

To Go Deeper …

Scripture First is now available through the publisher, Amazon, and other retailers.

And after you order, you can also claim several exclusive bonuses. These include

  • A video of Daniel and me discussing the volume and the process of producing it from our perspective as editors,
  • A video of Scott Adair walking you through the pedagogical exercise his essay proposes for summarizing the core content encapsulated in baptism, and
  • A copy of the spreadsheet I developed to produce the modern author index.

After you’ve preordered Scripture First, just come to this page. Then, with your order number handy, click the button below, and drop that number in the bonus claim form along with your name and email address. I’ll then be in touch shortly with each of these downloads.

  1. Header image provided by ACU Press