(5) Shifting gears a bit, tell us about the trips to the Holy Land and to the Mediterranean that you have organized for Ashland Seminary.
In the last three years I have organized trips to Israel and Greece. These have been a great opportunity for students to gain a knowledgeable experience of the places where historical events took place. My wife and I have led both of these trips and have enjoyed the experience. More recently, I have reached an agreement for Ashland students to dig at Tel-Gezer. This is a four year project that will give students a chance to spend five weeks in Israel. http://www.gezerproject.org/
(6) What can the student/person expect to come away with after having visited the places that the Bible depicts?
Once a student experiences the land of the Bible, he/she will be able to understand the culture and geography. There are elements about being there that changes the way one thinks about the Bible. I lead a decidedly non-devotional tour. The purpose is for students to allow their classroom to be the land.
(7) John, can you explain your philosophy of teaching?
I believe that education should encourage the acquisition of knowledge for the purpose of appreciating ultimate (and temporal) realities. Such an education should affect the person in terms of who he or she is and enable them to understand their world better. Thus the educational experience should not be merely the gathering of facts but also fostering the development of a worldview. For this reason I believe it is vital to see sister academic disciplines as complementing and not competing with the study of the Bible. All study should be pursued objectively and critically while holding conclusions tentatively when satisfactory answers are not readily forthcoming. Students should be encouraged to welcome truth and integrate it with their own developing worldview.
The discipline of Biblical studies in the context of a liberal arts institution has the unique opportunity to help accomplish these goals. The Bible is an ancient set of documents situated in a culture and time period foreign to the modern reader. It is within this context that the acts of God in the lives of individuals and nations are communicated. It is the task of Biblical studies to examine these documents critically in order to determine the historical meaning and relevance that they represented to the original authors and readers. Once critical analysis and exegesis has occurred, the next task is to interpret its relevance for the modern reader. When this successfully occurs the Bible not only becomes a relevant ancient document but also the source from which paradigms can be constructed. Readers are not only informed about God’s actions towards humanity but also are able to identify with individuals and events in the Bible as they discover their own identity as Christians.
In order to fulfill the above objectives, Biblical studies should stimulate students to think through their beliefs and opinions and know why they hold them. During the process it may be that, to one degree or another, they will alter what they had not thought through very carefully before. Exposure to varying opinions and positions provide an opportunity to learn how to think more critically and eventually arrive at stronger convictions in areas of concern. At the same time, such exposure will help students understand others better with whom they may disagree. If others are like I am, we often find it difficult to be aware of our own biases. When we are willing to question them prayerfully, however, we can expect the result to be greater understanding of the issues concerning us. The culmination of all Biblical studies should be the development of theological truths and principles that will affect the life of the student and, ultimately the world in which they live and minister. If the process of education has not inspired both their intellectual and spiritual life, then the knowledge gained will be of little value outside of the sterile setting of the classroom.
As one committed to the belief that in the scriptures God has revealed what is essential for faith and life, my own scholarly endeavors entail using all appropriate tools in order to gain an appreciation and knowledge of the Bible and of the way in which it has come to us. However, because the Biblical message is the basis for my life and faith, it also means receiving that message in a personal way. Consequently, I seek to engage in study with both a critical mind and a prayerful spirit, trusting the Spirit to lead me to the appropriation of truth on a personal as well as an academic level. I am aware that my endeavor is not merely for myself, but also for all those to whom I minister and relate.
(8) What inroads do you think scholarship can make on the church?
I think scholars would be of more service to the church if we would try harder to integrate our faith and scholarship. There is a dichotomy between these areas that is not healthy. I believe that the Church would benefit from honest interaction with us as we describe our struggles and the way that we have nuanced our faith. We would benefit if there was more room for us in the Church.
(9) What advice would you give anyone interested in doing a PhD in New Testament studies?
1.) Have a ten year plan. If you are serious you need to realize that it will not happen quickly.
2.) Begin to contact professors you would like to work under. Get to know them a bit and talk about potential research topics. This will keep you from being an ‘unknown’ when it is application time.
3.) Treat your studies like a job. Someday you will need to be at an office from 9-5. Start good habits now and you will accomplish a lot more. This will also allow you to have more evenings and weekends free for your family.
4.) Remember that you are in the program to be stretched. If you choose a program that only reinforces your theology than chances are your horizons will not be broadened.
5.) Go to a university. A seminary Ph.D. is not as marketable and will limit your job opportunities. Remember, you need to find a job when you are done.
6.) Try to publish while you are working on the Ph.D. Even book reviews will demonstrate your commitment to learning and publishing.
Thanks for your time, John.