Dawn, Marva J. 1948- (Marva Jenine Dawn)

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Dawn, Marva J. 1948- (Marva Jenine Dawn)


Born August 20, 1948, in Napoleon, OH; daughter of Herold C. (a teacher, principal, and musician) and Louise (an administrator and teacher) Gersmehl; married Myron Sandberg (a teacher), June 10, 1989. Education: Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia College), River Forest, IL, B.A., 1970; University of Idaho, M.A. (English), 1972; Western Evangelical Seminary, M.Div., 1978; Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, S.T.M., 1983; University of Notre Dame, M.A., 1986, Ph.D., 1992. Religion: "Lutheran, with some Mennonite affiliation." Hobbies and other interests: Directing a church choir, playing the Celtic harp, guitar, piano, crocheting, swimming.


Office—Christians Equipped for Ministry, 304 Fredericksburg Way, Vancouver, WA 98664-2147.


Writer, educator, theologian, and minister. University of Idaho, Moscow, instructor in English, 1970-72, campus minister, 1972-75; Concordia Lutheran Church, director of youth and education, 1972-75; Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Olympia, WA, director of special ministries, 1976-79; Christians Equipped for Ministry, Vancouver, WA, cofounder, and director of teaching and writing ministry, 1979—, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, currently adjunct professor of spiritual theology. Washington State University, campus minister, 1972-75; Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Schaff Lecturer, 2000. Inter-Lutheran Commission on Campus Ministry in the Pacific Northwest, member, 1973-83, vice-chair, 1978, chair, 1979-82; Inter-Lutheran Task Force on Ministry to Single Adults, member, 1980. Western Evangelical Seminary, visiting professor, 1981.


American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature, JustLife, Bread for the World, Evangelicals for Social Action, Christians for Biblical Equality, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Sane/Freeze, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, Advisory Board for Peace, Justice Resource Center.



To Walk and Not Faint: God's Comfort From Isaiah 40, Christian Herald Books (Chappaqua, NY), 1980.

To Walk in the Kingdom: God's Call to Discipleship from Luke 12, Christian Herald Books (Chappaqua, NY), 1982.

I'm Lonely, Lord—How Long? The Psalms for Today, Harper & Row (San Francisco, CA), 1983, revised edition, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1998.

Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1989.

(Editor and translator) Gerhard von Rad, Holy War in Ancient Israel, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1991.

The Hilarity of Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1992, published as Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church, 1997.

Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1993.

Joy in Our Weakness: A Gift of Hope from the Book of Revelations, Concordia (St. Louis, MO), 1994.

Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995.

Is It a Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church's Children, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1997.

A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1999.

Morning by Morning: Daily Meditations from the Writings of Marva J. Dawn, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.

Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.

Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 2003.

Talking the Walk: Letting Christian Language Live Again, Brazos Press (Grand Rapids, MI), 2005.

Joy in Divine Wisdom: Practices of Discernment from Other Cultures and Christian Traditions, Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, CA), 2006.

The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, the World Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2006.

Contributor to anthologies, including The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, edited by Eskenazi, Harrington, and Shea, Crossroad/Continuum, 1991; and Different Voices/Shared Vision, edited by Paul Hinlicky, American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1992.

Contributor to periodicals, including Word and World and Lutheran Education.


Marva J. Dawn is a writer, educator, and theologian whose books reflect her deep religious convictions and her desire to reach out to others seeking to live a religious existence, especially those who are experiencing spiritual quandaries in their own lives. In Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture, Dawn provides "an especially helpful guide to the literature on church growth, authentic contemporary worship and music, and doing theology in congregations," commented Michael W. Spangler in the Christian Century. Clergy "can plan appealing and accessible worship services without ‘dumbing down’ to the lowest common denominator of popular culture," Spangler noted. Dawn does not encourage changing or homogenizing styles of worship simply for the sake of drawing in more attendees to church services. In addition, she decries the trivialization of the role of music in earnest worship and the increased tendency of services toward superficial dalliances with religious issues rather than deep communion and communication with God. Dawn encourages a return to more traditional worship styles while avoiding the looser, more "seeker-sensitive" styles of some modern churches. "While the book reads like a rambling diatribe lamenting the idolatries of popular culture to which the church has accommodated, beneath the verbiage Reaching Out performs a helpful service by grounding the whole question of worship to the nature of the church," remarked Christianity Today reviewer Robert W. Patterson. "Reaching Out represents a prophetic voice raising probing questions about worship that evangelicals ought to consider, even if they may not agree with all of its conclusions," Patterson added.

Is It a Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church's Children addresses a fundamental question at the heart of the continuing relevance, and in some cases, existence, of churches and congregations around the country. "Why is it that even children who grow up in the church don't seem to get the message?," asked a reviewer in Presbyterian Record. Dawn observes that persons who have grown up in the church often make the same choices about sexuality, use of resources, and other worldly matters as those who have not received a foundation of religious teaching. Even congregations that believe they are effectively serving the needs of their younger members often are not being as helpful as they think. In the book, Dawn offers practical suggestions for transforming the church and the congregation into genuine communities that can serve the needs of children and young people, while offering them a reasonable alternative to secular influences. "Read within the community of faith, the book can help us reflect on our experiences of childhood and parenting, elicit our concerns and dreams for children, and provide a context for strengthening the church's commitment to having the heart of God for children," commented Diana R. Garland in a Christian Century review.

A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, continues the theme started in Is It a Lost Cause?, looking further at the role of genuine worship in a Generation X society that appears to want a fast-food version of religion. Dawn "excels at demonstrating how good worship and good liturgy meet the very needs that drive us to their substitutes," observed Donna Schaper in Christian Century. Despite a tendency toward superficial religious experience in the younger generation, Dawn sees members of this group as "eager for genuine worship—an activity which she aptly describes as a royal and splendiferous waste of time." For Dawn, "worship is idolatry unless it is a total waste of time in earthly terms, a total immersion in the eternity of God's infinite splendor for the sole purpose of honoring God," she states in the book. In this way, she says, "we waste our time so that others in the Christian community can be more profoundly immersed in the Word, can become more deeply formed, can more thoroughly join us in praise." Dawn's "style is very accessible," noted Robin Brown in Currents in Theology and Mission, who concluded: "This very helpful resource takes the "worship wars" out of the realm of emotion and personal/congregational tradition and sets them squarely in the Word and the world."

Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society uses the September 11 attacks against the United States "as an opportunity to examine misplaced priorities—the pursuit of profits, possessions or power," noted Arthur Paul Boers in a Christian Century review. In the book, Boers states, Dawn "tackles concerns not much addressed elsewhere, reflecting in fresh ways on the challenges of living in our technological society." In her measured critique of the reliance on technology and related gadgetry, Dawn "probes the ways our high-wired technological and commodified society suffocates us with false promises," commented William O'Brien in the Other Side. She concludes that the greatest form of affluence does not involve money or technology or material goods, but "is found when we live in the bounty of God's love," O'Brien stated.

In The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, the World, Dawn offers advice and guidance intended to assist dedicated ministers and members of the clergy whose religious duties consume great amounts of time, effort, and energy. She proposes a four-part structure of resting, ceasing, feasting, and embracing that reinvigorates one's call to serve God. That sense of the call, and respond- ing to it, is what "reclaims us, revitalizes us, and renews us," remarked Michael Washington in Leadership. Through this book, Dawn seeks to provide tools that can "spiritually rejuvenate those who are often burned out from unending service," commented a critic in Publishers Weekly.

Dawn once told CA: "In 1979, seven board members and I founded Christians Equipped for Ministry (CEM) to serve the church by equipping Christians to know God, to study His word, and to grow in joy and ministry. This freelance ministry includes writing and teaching at retreats, Bible conferences, training seminars, and national conventions for youth, congregations, lay leaders, educators, and clergy."

The author added: "I suppose it is true of all authors that the primary goal in writing is to change the world! Three major factors influence my work.

"First of all, in the midst of all the political illusions and the economic chaos of our world, the frenzied chasing after personal happiness and power, I am convinced that the greatest need is for moral renewal. I want my writing to be formative: to encourage clearer thinking and the development of personal and civic virtue.

"Secondly, I am convinced that moral renewal is impossible without spiritual foundations. Logic and experience, intuition, imagination, and tradition make it clear that the Bible is true. Consequently, all of my writing is based on the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and it seeks to explicate their accounts in ways that bring more scholarship to lay readers and more faith to scholars. All of my teaching and writing seeks to form bridges between the head and the heart.

"Third, having been raised in a strongly formative Christian home, I am convinced that ethical thinking and moral behavior are best changed by the nurturing of character in a community of believers who pass on their faith and hope through teaching and modeling and worship. That is why one of my primary goals is to build up the church.

"These three convictions have led to my works on biblical studies, Sabbath keeping, and the nature of Christian community, and to my present projects in sexual ethics and an exposure of the ‘Principalities and Powers’ as they are operative in our modern, technological milieu. I pray that somehow my writings can contribute a wee bit to greater peace and justice in the world."



Christian Century, April 17, 1996, Michael W. Spangler, review of Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture, p. 433; April 15, 1998, Diana R. Garland, review of Is It a Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church's Children, p. 406; January 5, 2000, Donna Schaper, review of A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, p. 36; August 29, 2001, William Brosend, review of Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God, p. 34; January 27, 2004, Arthur Paul Boers, review of Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society, p. 41; October 19, 2004, "Practical Theology," review of Unfettered Hope, p. 35.

Christianity Today, June 17, 1996, Robert W. Patterson, review of Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, p. 50; November 15, 1999, Mark Galli, "New and Noteworthy: Theology," review of A Royal Waste of Time, p. 102.

Currents in Theology and Mission, February, 2003, Robin Brown, review of A Royal Waste of Time, p. 61.

Leadership, fall, 2006, Michael Washington, review of The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, the World, p. 11.

National Catholic Reporter, January 12, 1996, Louis Gervey, review of Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, p. 16.

Other Side, May-June, 2003, William O'Brien, review of Unfettered Hope, p. 39.

Presbyterian Record, April, 1998, review of Is It a Lost Cause?, p. 45.

Publishers Weekly, February 13, 2006, review of The Sense of the Call, p. 86.

Theological Studies, March, 2002, Paul Fitzgerald, review of Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God, p. 214.


Reformed Worship Resources,http://www.reformedworship.com/ (April 10, 2007), biography of Marva J. Dawn.