Dr. H. Orton Wiley began his now eponymous lecture series in 1951. PLNU’s School of Theology and Christian Ministry has hosted prestigious speakers annually ever since, each giving a series of lectures on a topic relevant to Christian life and ministry.

From February 12-14, 2020, Dr. Brent Strawn (92) spoke to the school over a series of three days revolving around the idea of “rethinking the Bible as the poetry of God.” 

Strawn’s history with PLNU extends beyond his years as a student. His mom was a staff member, also teaching several courses in speech and communications, while his dad served as a dean and professor of math and computer science. Strawn grew up surrounded by PLNU’s vibrant community, even attending preschool at the early childhood development center on campus, along with his older brother Brad (88), who now teaches at Fuller Seminary. 

In 2014, both Brad (left) and Brent (right) were honored at PLNU’s homecoming as rising alumnus.

For Strawn, being asked to return as a speaker was “a real honor because the school’s been a sacred place in my life’s journey. I knew of and respected these lectures as a student.” When returning to his alma mater, he brought his father to see him speak and said that the whole experience was surreal.

“The overwhelming feeling of gratitude extends to how I feel now but also what I [received] as a student. I felt remarkably well prepared.” He has spent his career balancing his teaching with research of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, part of what drove his topic for the Wiley Lectures. He explained that these passions started because “my professors put me on a path I’m still trying to follow now.” 

Watch Dr. Brent Strawn speak to students at chapel.

Strawn maintains a fierce enthusiasm for his subject matter and continually makes it his mission to share the understandings he has gained with others. Being able to do that for students sitting where he once sat and for faculty who helped mold him created a special atmosphere for this year’s lectures. 

This annual lecture series is put on to highlight Christian life and ministry, with a Wesleyan perspective, while hearing from a distinguished speaker who is able to engage with the university in topics ranging from the church’s history to the philosophy of biblical studies. Within that tradition, Strawn said his topic of the Bible as poetry is important for, “the reader [who] must assess what they are reading because it changes the expectation they have of it.” 

Over three days, he made a case for this belief while holding a space for conversations. Freshman psychology major Zach Lyons was in attendance and said, “The lecture challenged my perception of the Bible. Viewing the Bible as poetry rather than a narrative is a very new perspective.” 

Related story: A look at ministry in today’s church.