Thursday, July 31, 2008

Getting to Know Jonathan Pennington

Jonathan T. Pennington, Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was kind enough to answer some questions as part of the "Getting to Know" series that I started awhile back.

Here is the interview:

(1) Give us a bit about your background, your family, etc.

My wife Tracy and I have been married for 15 years, having met in college in Campus Crusade for Christ. We've been blessed with six children, aged 12 down to 3, whom we homeschool. There is a lot of joy and a lot of action in our household; never a dull moment!
I grew up in a moderately Christian home and fell off the rather deep end during my adolescent years. But God had other plans and I was converted in college through CCC. I was faithfully discipled by a series of men in college and afterwards and these mentors had a big impact on my vision for ministry, church, and family.

(2) Talk about your academic journey from your undergrad at Northern Illinois to your time at Trinity and eventually at St. Andrews where you studied under Richard Bauckham and Philip Esler.
As an undergrad I studied history and teaching and was very involved in the campus ministry. During my later years of college I was discipled by a man who exposed me to more rigorous theological study (of the Reformed flavor) and I began to get a desire to attend seminary. Being in northern Illinois and being very involved in the Evangelical Free Church, Trinity was the natural choice. After getting married my wife and I worked in the corporate world for a few years and then I started attending Trinity. It was an incredible experience -- so incredible I managed to stretch it out over six years' time (1996-2002). I received a very good education and was well-prepared for future study, especially in the field of NT. My main mentor was Robert Yarbrough, but I also received much help from
D. A. Carson and David Pao.
During five of my six years at TEDS I was also an associate pastor at an Evangelical Free Church about two hours away from school. The driving was a bit of a chore (although gas was only about $1.10 a gallon in those days!), but it was a wonderful way to do seminary, being involved in full-time ministry at the same time. The church was very supportive and these were very rich years, including seeing our family grow from one child to four. God did much to confirm my calling and ministry both in the church and at school. During my last two years I was asked to teach elementary Greek at TEDS. This was a great opportunity for which I was very thankful (and fearful!). Both my professors and the church were behind me and encouraged me to pursue my growing dream to get a PhD and teach NT full time. The advice given to me by several profs was to get the best degree I could and this was apparently to go to St. Andrews and study with Richard Bauckham (particularly Carson's suggestion). By the grace of God it all worked out and I was indeed offered a place to study with Richard. We had a wonderful time in Scotland and made some very dear friends among the other students. God also did a number of beautiful things in providing the money needed to live over there as a large family -- but that's a whole other story.
(3) What lead to your decision to investigate the themes of "heaven and earth" in the Gospel of Matthew?
My work on the theme of heaven and earth in Matthew all started with a simple observation when teaching elementary Greek, namely, that sometimes ouranos ('heaven') in the Greek NT was singular and sometimes plural. I began to do a little digging and thought I might have discovered a pattern of singular versus plural usage in Matthew. I pursued this as an independent study project one semester with Carson and this led to my eventual research proposal for St. Andrews. Of course, the project evolved and grew quite a bit once working on it full-time in Britain. It eventually dawned on me that this pattern in Matthew was part of a much larger and much more important literary and theological theme in Matthew -- the theme of heaven and earth, and particularly the way that these two poles serve as contrastive or tensive elements designed to communicate the contrast that exists between God's way of doing kingdom (the 'kingdom of heaven') versus humanity's (all the kingdoms of the earth). This tension not only exists as an important theme in Matthew, but it also looks forward to its needed eschatological resolution in Christ. Christians are in the waiting period and our prayers and living exist under the umbrella of the great Christian prayer -- "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, even as it is in heaven." (Matt 6) All of this has been developed now in my (ridiculously expensive) book with Brill, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew. (The word is that Baker will be reprinting this as a paperback next spring/summer.) Along the way I survey the use of heaven all throughout biblical and Second Temple literature, deal with a number of interesting Septuagintal issues, and make a large argument that the typical 'reverential circumlocution' understanding for 'kingdom of heaven' is hogwash (to use the scholarly term).
(4) As far as Greek and Hebrew pedagogy, how did you get involved with Zondervan in the creation of audio resources for the biblical languages?

Yes, I am part of the Zondervan Empire, as I like to call it, with Darth Mounce at the head and Obi Dan Wallace Kenobi playing an important part. My involvement with 'Z' is a long story going back many years now, but the short version is this. While a seminary student I recorded the first set of vocabulary cassettes (!) and sold them to bookstores all over the country. Things went well and we sold a LOT of them, but it was just getting too much to manage and 'Z' was interested in taking over the project (thanks especially to Dan Wallace and the able editor Verlyn Verbrugge). Thus began a cordial and beneficial relationship with Zondervan. It has always been a pleasure to work with them on many projects now and to several times visit the headquarters in Grand Rapids and doing some recording up there.

(5) What is your philosophy of teaching when it comes to Greek as well as other subjects?

I teach currently at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. Though I'm new to the southern culture and to the southern Baptist world, it has been a great place to teach, with many, many excellent students and some great colleagues such as Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and Brian Vickers. One great thing about Southern is that we have SO many students (something like 4000 now) that I can teach as much as I want and whatever I want. So, I teach a lot of classes on the Gospels (a real passion of mine) as well as Greek at various levels from elementary on up. This past semester I even taught a Greek Composition class where we translated the other way (into Greek) the whole semester. It was great fun and a great learning experience!
In short, my pedagogical philosophy is to be rigorous and expect a lot out of students (I think I have a bit of a reputation for this on campus now!) but to make it worthwhile to my students by being engaging, passionate, pastoral, and humorous in lecture times. I always strive to bring a lot to the plate when lecturing and to never require busy work. The only classes I didn't like in seminary were the ones that I felt like were pedantic and meaningless busy work.

(6) I see you have had some experience as an Associate Pastor at the Evangelical Free Church of Mt. Morris in northern Illinois, where you served for five years. As someone who has had their feet planted both in the academy and the church, how do you see this relationship?

I love teaching seminary because it is a great combination of rigorous, graduate-level teaching and research, combined with a conscious pastoral side. Most of our students will be pastors and my calling is to use my skills in research to model rigorous theological thinking and passionate teaching that can be applied in church life. I could not do what I am doing if I would not have spent those five years in pastoral ministry. And I continue to serve in a pastoral role in church life now. I would encourage anyone interested in teaching NT to get some significant ministry experience. This will form the person and the scholarship in important ways.

(7) What are some current/future projects you are currently working on?

I have another volume that has just been released, this one co-edited with Sean McDonough from Gordon Conwell. It is entitled, Cosmology and NT Theology (Continuum/T&T Clark, 2008), and in it we have commissioned essays on the whole of the NT, asking the question of how each author uses cosmological language and how this fits into their respective theological emphases. In addition to editing the whole thing and co-writing the intro and conclusion, I wrote an essay on how Matthew uses the book of Genesis intertextually to make a theological point about the new creation in Christ. I know edited volumes are a bit of a dime a dozen, but I do hope this one will make a real contribution to a topic hitherto not explored much.
I have also recently completed an essay on Matthew's varied uses of Daniel. This will appear in a volume edited by Craig Evans, on the topic of intertextuality in the Second Temple period (Continuum/T&T Clark).
In the last year or so I also have done a fair amount of devotional writing for a British publication and I have been doing a lot of lecturing in various places on the Gospels and kingdom of God themes. These various lectures are all headed toward an eventual book in the works on how to read the Gospels theologically, tentatively entitled, The Gospels as Holy Scripture: A Theological and Practical Reading of the Gospels.
In addition to all of this, I continue to work on a number of smaller projects, though there is never enough time to do all the writing I would like! Most of my mind and time are taken up with lecturing, church involvement, and most importantly, nerf gun wars, roller hockey, violin lessons, and Dora the Explorer bingo.

Thanks for your time, Jonathan!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Forthcoming Titles

Various exciting titles are on the horizon in New Testament studies. Here is a sampling:

1) Paul the Missionary Realities, Strategies and Methods by Eckhard J. Schnabel (IVP; retail:$32.99; 480 pp.; ISBN:978-0-8308-2887-6; release date: Nov. 08). This looks to be an abridged version of Schnabel's magisterial 2 volume Early Christian Mission.
Here's the blurb:
Eckhard Schnabel's two-volume Early Christian Mission is widely recognized as the most complete and authoritative contemporary study of the first-century Christian missionary movement. Now in Paul the Missionary Schnabel draws on his research and provides a manageable study for students of Paul as well as students and practitioners of Christian mission today.
Schnabel first focuses the spotlight on Paul's missionary work--the realities he faced, and the strategies and methods he employed. Applying his grasp of the wide range of ancient sources and of contemporary scholarship, he clarifies our understanding, expands our knowledge and corrects our misconceptions of Paul the missionary.
In a final chapter Schnabel shines the recovered light of Paul's missionary methods and practices on Christian mission today. Much like Roland Allen's classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? of nearly a century ago, Schnabel offers both praise and criticism. For those who take the time to immerse themselves in the world of Paul's missionary endeavor, this final chapter will be both rewarding and searching.

2) The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John: An Exploration in Biblical Theology by Larry R. Helyer (IVP; retail: $32.00; 362pp.; ISBN: 978-0-8308-2888-3; release date: Nov 08 ). I appreciated the detailed work that Helyer brought to his work on Second Temple literature, so I am anticipating the same with this volume.

Here's the blurb:

What is biblical theology?
Is there a unified message of the Bible?
In this practical textbook Larry Helyer introduces you to the goals and practice of biblical theology and the problem of the unity of the Bible. He then explains two evangelical approaches to biblical theology--dispensational and covenant theology.
In the heart of the book Helyer turns to three major witnesses of the New Testament: Jesus, Paul and John. In these three witnesses he finds the climax of the biblical message and the key to unlocking the message of the Bible.
Here is a book that introduces students to the big questions in evangelical biblical theology and then takes them into the heart of the New Testament. Students will gain an appreciation for biblical and New Testament theology, and how the New Testament unlocks the central message of Scripture. This clearly written survey will equip students for a lifetime of studying Scripture.

3) New Testament Survey by Robert G. Gromacki (Baker Academic; price:$39.99; 448 pp.; ISBN:978-0-8010-3626-2; Publication Date: Aug. 08 This is not so much anything "new" per se, but it comes in a new format, paperback.

Here's the blurb:

Before coming to grips with an individual verse or passage in the New Testament, Bible students and expositors must understand how it relates to the theme of the book. This nontechnical survey offers readers a working understanding of the New Testament by providing the theological tools necessary to synthesize biblical passages into themes. It incorporates historical and cultural backgrounds without becoming a book on manners and customs and deals with the actual text of Scripture without becoming a verse-by-verse commentary. Pictures, charts, and outlines aid comprehension. This classic text, which has served students well for many years, is now available in paperback.

4) Hebrews (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament) by James W. Thompson (Baker Academic; Price:$24.99; 336pp; ISBN:978-0-8010-3191-5; Publication Date: Oct. 08)


Hebrews, the second of eighteen volumes in the Paideia commentary series, brings the insight of a veteran teacher and writer to bear on a New Testament book whose rich imagery and memorable phrases have long shaped Christian discourse. The Paideia series approaches each text in its final, canonical form, proceeding by sense units rather than word-by-word or verse-by-verse. Each sense unit is explored in three sections: (1) introductory matters, (2) tracing the train of thought, (3) key hermeneutical and theological questions. The commentaries shed fresh light on the text while avoiding idiosyncratic readings, attend to theological meaning without presuming a specific theological stance in the reader, and show how the text uses narrative and rhetorical strategies from the ancient educational context to form and shape the reader.

"With a firm grasp on the theological, ecclesial, historical, social, and literary issues, James W. Thompson has produced a commentary on Hebrews that is clear, compelling, and helpful. In Thompson's hands, this often difficult biblical book breaks open with new power and meaning."--Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

"A carefully crafted work like Hebrews deserves a commentary that concentrates on the text itself, not on opinions and arguments about it; that provides necessary historical information reliably and concisely (here, ancient rhetoric); that stimulates the user to think about matters raised by the text. Thompson's commentary does all these things well because he has thought about Hebrews judiciously and deeply."--Leander E. Keck, emeritus professor of Biblical Theology, Yale Divinity School

5) A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to "Left Behind" Eschatology eds. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (Baker Academic; Price:$24.99; 208 pp.; ISBN:978-0-8010-3596-8; Publication Date: Feb. 09) Unfortunately, there is yet to appear a list of the contributors to this volume.


Twentieth- and twenty-first-century American evangelicalism, particularly at the popular level, has been virtually saturated with the eschatology of dispensational premillennialism. The distinctive teachings of that system, in particular its affirmation of the pretribulation rapture of the church, have become so pervasive that many evangelicals would be hard pressed to identify an alternative approach. Popular novels that disseminate dispensationalism to a wider readership have only furthered that trend.
The contributors to this volume provide a thoughtful alternative. They present compelling arguments for historic or classic premillennialism--a position widely held throughout church history (and popularly advanced in the writings of George Eldon Ladd).
An introductory chapter examines the differences within premillennial eschatology and considers reasons for the widespread popularity of dispensationalism in the twentieth century. This is followed by biblical, theological, historical, and missiological studies that reexamine classic premillennialism, particularly with regard to its understanding of the return of Christ.
The authors, all respected scholars in their fields, present arguments for a return to an eschatological theology that was widely held for many centuries. Their engaging studies should be of great interest to evangelical readers--both within the academy and in the church.

6) The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary by James L. Resseguie (Baker Academic; Price: $24.99; 288 pp.; ISBN: 978-0-8010-3213-4; Publication Date:Apr. 09)


As the only book of its kind in the New Testament, Revelation can be difficult to understand, and for readers without specialized training, the historical-critical approach used in many commentaries can provide more complication than illumination. Here James Resseguie applies the easily understandable tools introduced in his primer on narrative criticism to this challenging book. He shows how Revelation uses such features as rhetoric, setting, character, point of view, plot, symbolism, style, and repertoire to construct its meaning. This literary approach draws out the theological and homiletical message of the book and highlights its major unifying themes: the need to listen well, an overwhelmingly God-centered perspective, and the exodus to a new promised land. Here is a valuable aid for pastor and serious lay reader alike.

7) Colossians: A Commentary (New Testament Library) by Jerry L. Sumney (Westminster John Knox Press; List Price: $49.95 ; 344pp.; ISBN: 0664221424; Publication Date: October 17, 2008).


The Letter to the Colossians offers great insight into the faith, life, and problems of an early Christian church. Understanding this letter to be one of Paul’s prison epistles but aware of the differences between this and his other writings, Jerry Sumney shows how the church struggled with expressing its new faith in the diverse settings of the Greco-Roman world. Paying special attention to the ways of forgiveness and salvation through the power of Christ, this fine commentary shows Colossians’ expansive Christology and expectant eschatology.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mark Seifrid Essay

For the past 5 weeks, now heading into the 6th week, I have been teaching a class on Romans at my church. It has been challenging, exciting, and rewarding. Since I left seminary it is by far the most important thing I have done from an academic ministerial standpoint.

One thing I have been reiterating to the class is Paul's insistence that his gospel is for both Jew and Gentile. Well, that comment is somewhat of a no-brainer I realize, but usually I would follow that up with an inference along the lines of "God has leveled the playing field."

It wasn't until I had the opportunity to read Mark Seifrid's fine essay "For the Jew first: Paul's Nota Bene for his Gentile Readers"(pp.24-39) in the new book To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (Grand Rapids: Kregel; 2008), that I thought I might not have clarified or nuanced my statement "God has levelled the playing field." More to the point, I thought I may have mislead my class into thinking that the gospel eradicates ethnic distinctiveness with regards to the Jews and Gentiles.

Seifrid states the matter beautifully:

We must not fail to see that when Paul enjoins Jews and Gentiles in the Roman house-churches to be of one mind, to accept one another, and to worship God with one voice, he presupposes that each will retain their ethnic identities. God is glorified not in the homogenization of the believing community, but precisely in our recognition that our unity is found solely in the risen Messiah in whom we all believe--in him and nowhere else. Such unity is the work of God, not the work of human beings. Only in this way can the common worship of Jews and Gentiles be a sign of hope for Israel and the world. Paul offers no formula by which to negotiate the form this worship is to take, or what sort of cultural imprint it is to bear. Indeed, in some sense worship may be countercultural to both Gentile and Jews. (37; emphasis mine)

Postscript: I was able to share these thoughts with my class, stressing that when Paul's gospel is approached in this vein, it becomes even more miraculous, as Seifrid again comments:

The entrance of Gentiles into salvation does not, however, result in an indiscriminate, and therefore bland, universalism in which all cultural distinctions are leveled. Rather, it represents a dramatic joining of highly fissile peoples, Jew and Gentile, who are held together solely by the risen Messiah. ...Had their cultural differences been leveled out and their earthly identities done away with, there would have been no cause to celebrate their union in Messiah (see Rom. 15:1-4; 25-26).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Graham Twelftree's website

I am not sure when this happened, but I am delighted to see that Graham Twelftree has a website. Not only that, but it is wholly unique in that it is geared toward students. There is PhD advice, namely, advice on how to choose a dissertation topic, writing advice, access to articles and Twelftree's first book. These are only a few features of this cool site.

On a personal note, Graham and his wife Barbara have always been extremely gracious to me. I have seen them at every SBL I have attended and have always had a wonderful time chatting with them. Graham's book Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999) was one of the handful of studies that inspired me to pursue New Testament scholarship.