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!


Unknown said...

Are you aware that the picture on the top of your blog is of the statue of Jesus at the Mormon Temple visitor's center in Salt Lake City?

Matthew D. Montonini said...


Thanks for the info. And no I was not aware. I have had some ideas of using a different picture for some time now. Maybe this will be the catalyst I need to change it.