On Sept. 30, Professor Jarvis J. Williams visited Samford’s campus to discuss the themes of his newly-released book, “Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God,” as part of the 2021 Holley-Hull Lecture, a lecture program which brings in nationally and internationally known scholars to Samford.
Williams is an associate professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he’s taught since 2013. His latest book, released on Sept. 28, 2021, “offers a comprehensive biblical and theological survey of the diverse people of God from Genesis to Revelation, with a final chapter applying the survey to race, racism, and ethnicity,” according to its back cover.
During his morning lecture, he spoke in Reid Chapel on “John 3:16: God Loves the World.” In the afternoon, Williams spoke on “God’s Vertical, Horizontal, and Cosmic Saving Action as THE Foundation to a Biblical and Theological Vision for Redemptive Kingdom Diversity for Ethnically Diverse Image-Bearers” in Beeson Hall’s Brock Forum. The first lecture was more sermonic, while the second focused more heavily on academics.
Williams’ first lecture began at 10 a.m. in Reid Chapel. Professor. Roy E. Ciampa, Samford’s chair of Biblical and Religious Studies, introduced Williams as the Holley-Hull lecturer of the year. Members of the Holley family, for whom the long-running lecture program is in part named, were present at the event. Williams approached the podium and prayed over the congregation before beginning his message, which focused on the oft-quoted John 3:16.
“I love John 3:16. It was a very foundational verse when I became a Christian,” Williams said.
Williams started his sermon by recounting a few times the verse had appeared during important moments throughout his life. When he was young, growing up in a small town in eastern Kentucky, Williams said a friend of his was injured in an accident. While she was fighting for her life, he recalled her pastor (who would eventually become Williams’ pastor as well) praying with them. Sadly, his friend passed, and Williams remembered “tears breaking into the room, and grief was very heavy.”
After her passing, a teammate of his at the time broke out John 3:16 for him. Although Williams hadn’t accepted Christ into his life at the time, he soon would. As he wrote in the preface of Redemptive Kingdom Diversity, Williams gave his life to Jesus at the age of 17. After accepting Christ, he began to share his faith with his family, and recalled “pleading” with his uncle, who at the time was a non-believer, to convert. His uncle, to Williams’ surprise, quoted John 3:16 at him, showing him that even to non-believers, the quote was well known.
Finally, Williams discussed a more recent time in his life, which occurred in late 2018. His aunt, Melinda Kay Williams, gave her life to Jesus on Oct. 14 “at the bottom of the ninth of her life,” as he described it, a few months before passing in December of that year. In the preface of his new book, which he dedicates to her, he described her as “like (his) mom,” explaining how she had “(given) up her twenties and thirties to raise (him) like her very own son.”
At her funeral, his sermon was on John 3:16.
“God loved my Auntie and God saved my Auntie,” he recounted.
Williams then began to cover the context behind the famed verse, which, he pointed out, is not an isolated verse, but a section of a larger story about a Pharisee named Nicodemus, and how Jesus taught him about being “born again.” Relaying the story, Williams said the phrase “born again” puzzled Nicodemus before Jesus clarified its meaning, noting how people would often become hung up on the metaphors Jesus used instead of thinking about what they signified. Williams highlighted the fact that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He compared this juxtaposition between his title and his actual spiritual knowledge to many people’s lives today, declaring that it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, how many books you’ve read, or how many A’s you get, because knowledge alone will not save you.
Williams continued by preaching on the subject of the people of God, covering throughout the remainder of his sermon topics such as the hurt caused by the COVID-19. He explained that he’d “lost two dear people to Coronavirus this month,” describing their loss as a deep pain. He also discussed how loving your neighbor includes loving those unlike yourself.
“God loves all ethnicities, all skin colors, all nations,” he said.
He then closed his sermon in prayer.
Ciampa then closed the event, calling Williams a “world class scholar” and a world class leader. He said that many people “traffic in unlived truth,” and that Williams is not one of them. He expressed his admiration for the wisdom and love and grace of his message, and told the crowd about Williams’ next lecture, which would be happening later that afternoon.
Beginning that afternoon at 2 p.m., there was a book signing, complete with a table of snacks and copies of “Redemptive Kingdom Diversity” for sale. This was followed by Williams’ next lecture, which took place inside Brock Forum at 3 p.m.
As he had during his previous sermon, Ciampa introduced Williams and thanked the Holley family for their support. Williams began his more academically-focused lecture by first thanking the university, the students, and the Holley family for inviting him to speak there.
During his presentation, he went over “God’s Vertical, Horizontal, and Cosmic Saving Action in Christ.” Elaborating on what these various terms meant, he explained that “Vertical” focused on saving the connection between God and his people; “Horizontal” focused on repairing people’s connections among each other; and “Cosmic” meant the emancipation and redemption of the whole, setting all of creation free from sin. Throughout the lecture, Williams covered and analyzed a variety of topics in relation to the previously mentioned concepts, such as Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and the concept of justification through faith.
Williams concluded by asserting that we can and must pursue redemptive kingdom diversity, and by encouraging people to have “common grace and common sense or else we will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
There was a brief Q&A section after the presentation was complete, in which Williams answered students’ questions while also clarifying and explaining some of his previously made points.
Williams’ book, “Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God,” is now available for those who wish to learn more, along with his many other published works.
For the Crimson editing staff: The photo is (from left to right) of Dr. Roy E. Ciampa, Dr. Jarvis J. Williams, and Dr. Galen Wendell Jones in Reid Chapel before Williams’ sermon, and was taken by me.