I entered college thinking that I was supposed to be a youth pastor. I found a small Christian college in town that offered a bachelor’s in biblical studies. I was going to be a youth pastor. I needed a degree that sounded like that.
So after a semester at the University of Memphis, I started at Crichton College (now Victory University). Long story short, I loved every minute of it. I still count those as the best years. Long story short, it took me a semester to realize that there was such a thing as academic study of the Bible. Long story short, it took me another half of a semester to realize I had fallen in love with it. Bible Interpretation with Dr. Troy A. Miller and about 5 other people around a table three mornings a week probably had something to do with that.
Then I started buying books.
There was nothing wrong with the Max Lucado books that I had been reading to that point, but there was this whole world of insights about the biblical text that I had been ignorant of before. I bought books then that were a bit too advanced for me to read at the time just because it made me feel good that I had them. One of these was Ben Witherington’s The Christology of Jesus. I think I got it because I had seen it listed in his interview in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ and it sounded like it had some depth to it.
I still haven’t read it.
But anyway some of the books I bought I actually did read and I was getting sucked in. It didn’t take me long to discover that I actually had something of an intellect. An inquiring mind had been lurking beneath the shadows all those years but without much to sink its fangs into. Now keep in mind this is 2006. I had just become a Christian and started reading the Bible in 2004. So I still didn’t know much about anything to do with the Bible but I was starting to realize that I enjoyed thinking. And this sort of thinking especially, in light of God having made himself known to me suddenly and dramatically only recently.
Literary theory and criticism, history, sociology, psychology, ancient languages, theology, philosophy–and more–I was finding out that all these disciplines factored into understanding and applying the Bible. And for a budding nerd like me committed to Jesus I knew this was where the project for my life was going to find its place.
I had great professors to help me along the way. Aside from Troy Miller already mentioned, my Greek professor Harry Harriss did so much to show me what we learn biblical languages for in the first place and also managed to teach me unintentionally the power and importance of prayer. Just like Robin Gallaher Branch, an Old Testament scholar newly hired I think my junior year. She, really like no one else I know to this day, can unfold the meaning, power, and relevance of a text having no problem allowing her emotions be expressed and does not stop worshipping God through the entire process. We’ve had many discussions and prayer meetings over the last several years and she has been a huge provider of encouragement.
I knew I was supposed to keep on with this. So I entered Asbury Theological Seminary after graduation and finally had three classes with Ben Witherington, whose writings I had profited greatly from. I read 10 of his books as part of my three classes with him.
I still haven’t read The Christology of Jesus.
I just graduated with an M.A. in biblical studies this past December. I didn’t know so much reading, so much writing, and so much learning could be crammed into 2.5 years. But there you go. My love for this field has grown so much more as a result.
Now that I’m out of school for the first time since I walked into that old kindergarten classroom with the screaming kid, I’m able to develop my interests on my own, and this blog is going to help me do that.
My chief interests:
1) I’ve got a notebook going that will hopefully someday be an actual book on bibliology, or theology of Scripture. At this point, I see this being the major project of my life. If done right, this book will not be completed for, I don’t know, 20 years or so. For some reason it is just in me to write. There are far too many unasked and unanswered questions, asked and unanswered questions, and asked and wrongly answered questions about the inspiration, authority, inerrancy, infallibility, and proper place of Scripture within the church’s thought and practice. I’m going to do my best.
2) The Gospels. This is the part of the Bible that has drawn my greatest attention in the past couple of years. I did both of my independent studies in my M.A. on the Gospels; one on reading them narrative critically–that is, as stories; and the other on their genre–what type of writing they are and what this means for the history they are concerned to relate.
So I’m interested in some of the historical Jesus questions, but again, my goals in understanding the Gospels have primarily to do with how the church appropriates four different accounts of Jesus within her thought and practice. What are the Gospels exactly? What are they for? What did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John really think that they were doing when they wrote these accounts? How do they properly inform and undergird and propel the church’s theology and mission? Unfortunately, in my view, N.T. Wright is just recently doing the best job at answering these questions and saying what I would like to have said, but fortunately, he’s doing it far better than I ever could and people should definitely listen to him over me. Get his book coming out this March: How God Became King.
3) Judaism. The academy has done much better in the past several decades at 1) understanding Judaism and 2) allowing this to properly inform our reading of the New Testament. The results have been nothing short of what one should expect when you actually understand the context of something. Understand the context of a text, a saying, an event, and you’ve done most of the work for understanding that text, saying, event, or whatever.
And now the church needs to catch up. This is a harsh indictment, but I have never heard a preacher (that wasn’t a scholar) comment in detail on Judaism, whether it’s about the law, the Pharisees, etc., and fairly represent Judaism. So, so many of the warped interpretations of the New Testament, and even the Old Testament, have come about because Christians don’t understand Judaism. The payoff of understanding Jesus and Paul and the others for who they are is immense.
And understanding Judaism doesn’t only help Christians relate to our ancient Scriptures, but it would help quite a bit in loving our Jewish neighbors. Another field I’m becoming increasingly interested in therefore is anti-Semitism. Believe it or not, most of the world’s anti-Semitism was tragically spawned by the way people have read the New Testament.
4) Aramaic. I specialize in the New Testament, but I love the Semitic languages of the Old Testament. I think New Testament specialists would be well-served by being more familiar with Hebrew and Aramaic, and I see myself going after Aramaic especially. I have studied the small portions we have of biblical Aramaic that we have primarily in Daniel and Ezra, but I want to dig in to Palestinian Jewish Aramaic, the dialect of Jesus. A very small amount of New Testament scholars knows this language well, and they have made/are making conclusions about the underlying Aramaic of the Greek words of Jesus in the Gospels that not many people are equipped to critique.
So this is somewhere I see myself heading in the future, but I don’t know much about it at the moment.
5) The Septuagint. The LXX is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures produced for ancient Jews who had lost the ability to read the Semitic languages as a result of living outside of Palestine. It shines light on our understanding of ancient Judaism and its theology, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, translation practices, manuscript traditions, etc. It is the LXX that is quoted in most cases when the NT cites a portion of the OT. Beyond that, it is absolutely foundational for Christianity. The breadth and depth of Christianity in its earliest period was due to Greek speakers already having a copy of the Scriptures that they could read.
But there’s still a whole lot we don’t know about the LXX. And I certainly don’t know much at all, but I know I want to get my feet wet in this area and do more with it.
6) The church fathers. I had considered saying at Asbury to do an M.A. in theological studies. The major goal was to study the church fathers, whose writings I have now come to believe are far more important than they’re given credit. The church is neglecting a gold mine by not hearing what these great theologians and churchmen have to say, so hopefully I can help them gain a hearing in today’s world.
I want to start off with Augustine. So be ready to hear more about him.
Ok, that was a long one. I’ll do better next time.