Mentoring: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives, ed. by Dean K. Thompson and D. Cameron Murchison (Eerdmans, 2018, 240 pp., $30).

Everyone needs a mentor, but how easy is it to find one? If you are a seminary president, is there someone to whom you look for guidance — someone who has traveled a similar path? If you are on the board of a theological institution, have you found mentors among other members, or former members?

From childhood onward, we have been strengthened by mentors. Some touched our lives only for a season, while we have enjoyed the influence of others for lengthier periods. Moreover, since early adulthood, we have been blessed by serving as mentors to others. These experiences have led us to look more closely at mentorship, and to edit a book of essays on mentoring in a theological context titled Mentoring: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives.

We were also motivated by a conviction that we needed to hear additional substantive reflection on mentoring offered by contemporary theological and congregational leaders and by a conviction that diverse points of view can provide theological and practical help to theological schools, including their faculties, students, constituent congregations and institutional supporters; to pastors, church educators and study groups; and to college students, teachers, counselors, chaplains, and deans.

The volume begins with a foreword by Presbyterian Outlook editor Jill Duffield and ends with an afterword by historian Martin E. Marty. “Biblical perspectives” on mentoring are highlighted in initial chapters by Walter Brueggemann and David Bartlett: Brueggemann presents case studies from wisdom literature, early narrative materials, the prophetic tradition, and royal figures, while Bartlett focuses on the mentoring writings and leadership of Paul and on Jesus and his relationship as Lord and friend to his disciples.

A section on “theological perspectives” begins with Thomas Currie’s reflections on pastor theologians who are “open to being mentored” by the prophetic and transformational work of Christ. Thomas Long examines the “preacher as mentor” and “the pulpit as mentoring site.” Rebekah Miles explores ethical issues in mentoring. And Cynthia Rigby describes Jesus as a “feminist mentor,” expanding the perimeters of feminist mentoring, which she regards as “everyone’s business.”

A grouping of chapters on “diverse national and international communities of mentoring” leads with Alton Pollard’s prophetic voice championing the mentoring of African American males and beckoning “toward a new Black future” characterized by “resistance and recovery.” Womanist theologian Katie Geneva Cannon issues a critique of classism, racism, and sexism. For Luke Timothy Johnson, the quest toward sanctity is a key to understanding 20 centuries of mentoring in the Roman Catholic tradition. Cristian De La Rosa’s chapter extols the essential practices of facilitation and accompaniment while mentoring emerging generations of Latino and Latina leaders in the Wesleyan tradition. Kwok Pui Lan completes this section, as she ponders the mentoring of Asian and Asian American students who have been steeped in communal and Confucian-influenced education.

Rodger Nishioka and Melva Lowry are a springboard for “generational mentoring,” as they reach out pastorally to “youth culture” that feels isolated, even abandoned. College professors Douglas Ottati and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty contend that mentoring in higher education should be driven “by a wisdom that supports a humane disposition, attitude, and imagination” rather than by “commercially defined success or meritocratic obsession.” Theodore Wardlaw and Camille Cook Murray conclude this section of co-authored mentoring conversations with an intriguing validation of cross-generational mentoring.

These essays serve as a panorama of insights into the gracious, expectant, and somewhat demanding mentor/mentee relationship. They convince us that mentoring and being mentored are two indispensable means by which character is infused into the social order from generation to generation. In The Road to Character, David Brooks says: “Example is the best teacher. Moral improvement occurs most reliably when the heart is warmed, when we come into contact with people we admire and love and we consciously and unconsciously bend our lives to mimic theirs.” We couldn’t agree more. 

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