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James E. Brenneman



Teaching & Research Interests

  • How the Bible Came to Be and Why that Matters (Canon Criticism)
  • The Bible as a Literary Masterpiece (Literary & Rhetorical Criticism)
  • War, Peace, and Violence in the Bible
  • Wisdom, Women, and Word (The OT’s Feminist Self-Critique)
  • Joshua: The Bible’s Most Dangerous Book or Reading Joshua Backwards
  • Reading True and False Prophecy in Scripture and Life
  • Creation Care and The Green Bible
  • Implicit Bias in Bible Translations (Text Criticism)
  • Conflict in Scripture as a Model for Peace-making
  • Torah Spirituality in the Hebrew Bible
  • Reconciling Religion and Science
  • Salsa, Soul, Spirit: Intercultural Leadership
  • Intercultural Transformation of Institutions of Higher Learning 


Rev. Dr. James Brenneman, or Jim as he prefers being called, is president and professor of biblical studies at Berkeley School of Theology since the Fall of 2017. Just prior to his call to BST, he completed nearly twelve years as president of Goshen College in Indiana.

Dr. Brenneman has chosen to align his vocation with the work of serving the church. He is an ordained Anabaptist/Mennonite minister and the founding lead pastor of Pasadena Mennonite Church where he served for twenty years. Jim has served on the faculty at Episcopal Theological School at Claremont in Old Testament scholarship and as an adjunct faculty member at Claremont School of Theology and, as an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary.

A Goshen College graduate, Jim pursued an interdisciplinary degree, combining Bible, Biology and Natural Science. He went on to attend Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and completed a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. At Claremont Graduate University, he earned a Master of Arts degree in Religious Studies and a PhD, with a focus in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies. Dr. Brenneman is the author of On Jordan’s Stormy Banks: Lessons from the Book of Deuteronomy published by Herald Press and Canons in Conflict: Negotiating Texts in True and False Prophesy published by Oxford University Press and has written numerous book chapters and articles on biblical, theological and church-related themes. An experienced public speaker, he has delivered dozens of lectures and presentations on a variety of topics related to his scholarly interests and pastorate and other church leadership experience. With a seed planted for transformational cross-cultural study while at Goshen, Jim has spent time in international scholarship related to his theological studies. He was awarded a grant from the Eli Lilly Foundation for sabbatical study in Jerusalem and London, returning to the Holy Land and Middle East some nine times for study and leading learning trips there.

Ordained in 1986, Jim is a credentialed minister of Mennonite Church USA. He joined the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference in 1990 and served on the Council on Faith, Life and Strategy of the Mennonite Church. From 1991 to 2002, he was president of the Center for Anabaptist Leadership and School of Urban Ministry in Los Angeles, and was a founding leader of the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program in Los Angeles. Jim is currently a member of the ABCUSA Ministers Council of Northern California, the Interfaith Council of Alameda County, Rotary International, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Council of Presidents & Board of Trustees at the Graduate Theological Union.

Jim is married to Dr. Terri J. Brenneman, a clinical psychologist and they are parents of one son, Quinn.


I wish for students to discover the appropriate blurring of distinctions between “worldly” wisdom and the wisdom of God that invites them into relationship with God on a far grander scale than afforded otherwise by limiting knowledge to a strictly Christian worldview. As an interdisciplinary learner – as a biology, natural science, and Bible undergraduate major – I ask myself and, now my students, several questions: If Christians believe that God was self-revealing in nature (Rom.1:20), why then is this not also special revelation? Or, if we believe that God was self-revealing in Ancient Israel (or in Christ), why then is this not also natural revelation? Must holy or “revelatory” readings of history (heilsgeschicte) and wisdom (liberal arts) be so systematically dichotomized when our own Scriptures refuse such systematic categorization? The Bible as Canon (a set of many books with many points of view) serves as a most profound creative model of education for someone seeking a seminary degree. Between its covers, the Bible contains numerous examples of liberal-arts-like education (or “natural” “worldly” revelation) and plenty more examples of what we more often narrowly call “special” revelation. Both forms of education contained in Scripture, under the canopy of the one God, might better be called “spiritual formation.” What better place than a seminary, with a generous orthodoxy, for students to experience multiple streams of “revelation” in creation, in Scripture, in art, in science, and in ordinary life? Is this not special natural revelation? Is this not natural special revelation? Is this not biblical revelation embodied?

Challenges facing the Christian educator engaged in spiritual formation today include:

  • Preparing future leaders to minister in the church and out. Such participation may be done vocationally or as avocations in regularly-attended congregations or salons or other gathering places, virtual or face-to-face. The (cultural, ethnic, theological, ecclesiastical) diversity among students requires that the training they receive must not be so far removed from what they experience in their local communities, congregations or parishes as to lack usefulness. This presupposes the church or local gathering as a partner in defining the educational program, not merely recipient of it.
  • Teaching from a stance of shared experience. Increasingly, the teacher must understand students, not so much as objects of the educational experience, but as co-learners in whatever subject is being taught. This will impact the form and style of the traditional lecture-format to that of a more interactive pedagogy. Insofar as more and more students are returning to the classroom after years of experience or some in mid-life career changes, the teacher must maintain a mutual learning stance that incorporates what these students can offer by way of their life experiences. Such a posture presupposes an interdisciplinary acumen, if not curriculum. Even the experiences of first-time youthful students should not be underestimated.
  • Training future leaders to discern and pass on normative Jesus-centered beliefs and practices. Such training should be expansive enough to include ministry within congregations and also service in the marketplace that allows for a healthy diversity of understanding in an age of pluralism. This would mean acknowledging and articulating the importance that normative beliefs and practices play in biblical, historical, theological, ethical, indeed, in all studies, “secular” and “Christian” alike. To the degree normativity is communally dependent, a vision for a renewed ecclesiology, an epistemology centered in the life of Jesus-followers (in and out of church) must be taught.
  • Promoting holistic quests for truth in all disciplines through a common narrative base. We are coming to appreciate anew, in the so-called postmodern era, that all disciplines are narrative-dependent. Sources for discovering and affirming claims to truth need not be mutually antagonistic. Our scholarly disciplines must learn to accommodate avenues of learning in ways beneficial to the whole Christian educational experience that are neither obscurantist nor faith-denying. Or said more positively, we must promote both broadminded and faith-affirming educational experiences.
  • Mastering the art of rhetoric and persuasion. In this age of probable reasoning, “Christian” or “Jesus-centered” apologetics increasingly finds itself playing in the same discursive field as scientific and other inter-religious apologetics thereby opening new avenues for dialog and persuasion that flows in several directions at once.  What does it mean to be persuaded by other religious expressions that draw us closer to God than would be possible were we left alone to more narrowly experience faith from within our own tradition and experience alone?
  • Recognizing the historic effect the shift from a book culture to a screen culture has had on education. In this paradigm shift, educators must appreciate the potential for a theological and missiological revolution as radical as other media shifts were in forming a gentile Christian church out of a Jewish sect (scroll to codex) or Renaissance reformation movements out of a medieval monolithic Catholicism (printing press). There is certain to be a death of sorts to “as-usual” Christianity in all historic Christian institutions followed by a rebirth (and reformulation) not yet fully appreciated. Christian educators should be at the forefront of articulating how to navigate this new reality.
  • Modeling Jesus-centered character. The split between theory and application, theology and ethics, description and demonstration has too easily allowed teachers, pastors, and students alike to divorce their practices from their beliefs. If Christian educators are going to argue for an integrity to reality, for the meaningfulness of worshiping a Christ-like God in this chaotic age, it will be done first and foremost by replicating that integrity in their own persons. Hans Denck, an early (Ana)Baptist mystic, declared: “The one who would know Christ truly, must follow him daily in life.” Or more bluntly put by St. Teresa of Avila: “Actualize all the virtues.”


  • Beachcombing, Sequoia walks
  • Watching cooking & music contests on television
  • Reading historical fiction, novels, poetry
  • Devouring all things political (political junkie)
  • Walking, Farley, our 90lb Labradoodle
  • Going to “historical” movies by myself with a bag of popcorn, large coke, and Snickers bar in hand
  • Motorcycling with our 22-year-old son, Quinn.