Friday, August 04, 2006
Ecce Homo: Introducing Dr. Joel Willitts
My new co-blogger is not, as was forecast, Jeb W. Bush (he turned me down). It is none other than the Rev. Dr. Joel Willitts of North Park University.
Here's my interview with Joel:
1. Joel, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What ministry experience do you have? Why did you want to become a NT scholar? Where did you study? Who are your academic heroes?
I am originally from the State of New Jersey, but when I was a young teenager my family moved to Florida. So I consider Florida my home. Karla and I met in college and were married over 13 years ago. She is from Chicago and since we have now lived in Chicago for nearly 5 years at different points through our married years it too is home. We will now live in Chicago for the foreseeable future as I begin teaching at North Park University.
I never intended to be a NT scholar. In fact, it is werid for me to even think of myself as one. When I graduated from college back in 1993, I thought I would be a youth pastor my whole life. However, through the course of my graduate studies I became intensely passionate about study and teaching, although my passion for ministry to students is still as strong as ever. After 7 years of full time youth ministry in Texas, Florida and Chicago, I changed course and began pursuing NT research. I earned a Th.M. from Dallas Seminary in 2000 and then a M.Phil (2002)and Ph.D. (2006) from Cambridge University.
The scholars who have had the greatest impact on my academic development and are my academic heros are Daniel B. Wallace, Scott Hafemann, Markus Bockmuehl and Scot McKnight.
2. Where do you teach now and what are your research interests?
I teach at North Park University as Assistant Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies.
My research interests are Jewish Christianity, Jesus & the Gospels, Hasmonean & Roman Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls & NT.
3. How does academic study impact your faith?
Simply stated, my scholarship is an expression of my faith and my faith is an expression of my scholarship. I advocate a view of scholar and scholarship that is confessional in nature, by which I mean one that embraces faith-based presuppositions, although not necessarily Christian or even religious. As such, the scholar and her scholarship are humble and accountable within both her confessional community and within the wider scholarly community. Perhaps J. P. Meier's 'unpapal conclave' of a confessional Catholic, Protestant, Jew and agnostic (and/or even an atheist) can be reintroduced here with significant modification (Marginal Jew I). In my approach this conclave would be locked up in the bowels of a library not until they achieved a 'limited consensus', but until they reach a mutual understanding of each other's views; views based on their distinctive presuppositions and consequent procedures. This setting would not be any less scholarly of an endeavour as their views would be defendable and rooted in the history and culture of Second-Temple Judaism. Yet, rather than being forced to create a document that states the least common denominator, they were forced to listen to each other and learn from each other in the context of community; rather than check their convictions at the door and pursue consensus, they participate in full awareness of themselves and the others and pursue understanding; rather than debate in order to win, they discuss in order to understand, acknowledging that the truth is both self authenticating and convincing in the first instance when demonstrated in life.
4. What do think is the calling of a NT professor?
The calling of a NT professor is not primarily to impart historical and exegetical knowledge and analytical skills to students as important as these are. Instead, empowered by the Holy Spirit and at the impulse of the sovereign God a professor's teaching should lead students into a God-enraptured worldview. I believe my teaching must reach deep into the affections and capture the heart as well as the mind. By the grace of God my students will leave my classes not merely with an exegetical and theological toolbox accompanied by an analytic mind, but knowing God better than they know anything and they enjoy him more than they enjoy anything.
5. What is your relationship to the devilishly handsome Michael Bird who is your co-partner for Euangelion?
I have known Mike for over three years now. We were (and are) modern day 'Pen Pals' as he was living in Australia and I in England (now GB and USA). Back then Mike listened to a paper I had given on the Historical Jesus at the annual meeting of ETS and wrote me a letter . . . yes a letter . . . introducing himself. Who actually writes letters anymore? Well that was the start of a great friendship. The more I learn of Mike the more I like him -- he is like a good beer. Theologically we have a great deal in common, although there are some differences (e.g. he has much to optomistic view about the Thrid Quest and he wants to be the next Stanley Porter).
6. What is your favourite book of the NT and what is your favourite NT text book?
My favourite book in the NT is the Gospel of Matthew.
My favourite NT textbook (at least right now) is P. Tomson's book "If this be from Heaven" Jesus and the New Testament Authors in Their Relationship to Judaism.
7. What is distinctive about being an "evangelical" NT scholar?
I think the distinctive is related to what I discussed about faith and scholarship. The word 'evangelical' means different things to different people. Evangelical scholars, in my view, have a high view of Scripture (not necessarily equated with inerrancy) and are missional (scholarship is not just an academic exercise).
8. Why did a gorgeous and intelligent lady like Karla marry a scrawney little chap like you?
My laid-back personality and sense of humor.
We can now look forward to many pearls of wisdom and gems of learning from Joel in his posts, and we can look particularly forward to his inaugural post!
On behalf of Euangelion and Biblioblogdom - Joel, welcome to the Blogosphere!