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!


Anonymous said...

Welcome Dr. Joel to the "community." Michael is a great guy.

I look forward to reading your stuff.



Ken Schenck said...

Joel, nice to hear where you have currently landed (just in case you don't remember, we were in Tuebingen in the winter of 2004 at the same time). And kudos to you Michael for a great blog (in the words of talk radio, I'm a sometime listener, first time commenter).

Nick Nowalk said...

Honestly, I'm a little disappointed its not Jack Bauer. Don't worry, I'll get over it.

Anonymous said...

I love Jack Bauer, does that count?
Ken, of course I remember you. I remember seeing you later at SBL. I hope you are well. Did you finish the project you were working on?

Ken Schenck said...

Well, Joel, I finished a book on Philo that came out early last year... but that wasn't actually what I was supposed to be doing for my sabbatical. I've started talking to Baker about following up on the sabbatical research, The New Testament and Jewish Afterlife Traditions.

Hey, tell Scot McKnight hello for me and compliment him on his blog. How does he manage that monster?!

Alan S. Bandy said...

Welcome Joel! If this excellent blog could be improved, then I am sure that you are just the person to accomplish that. I am also pleased to see that Mike would bring on an American. Although, he has just about convinced me of the superiority of Aussie exegetes:)

exegetical fallacy said...

Three cheers for Dr. Willitts! I look forward to some juicy tibits from you bro! Perhaps you can post something on your VIVA experience?


Matthew D. Montonini said...

Welcome aboard! I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Ben Myers said...

Jack Bauer isn't such a good blogger anyway. He can do hundreds of exciting posts in the space of just 24 hours -- but then he tends to fall silent for the next year or so....

Anyway, welcome aboard, Joel!

Michael F. Bird said...

People, am I missing something? Cause I don't have the foggiest clue who Jack Bauer is. Is he some kind of blogging myth created out of a combination of Jack Ryan (Tom Clancey character) and W. Bauer (NT Scholar)?

Jim Hamilton said...

Hey, what a deal! Joel and Mike on the same blog!

I look forward to the fireworks!


Peter Gurry said...

Joel, I think we met at a chapel at Moody once through a mutual friend (Mike Worley). Looking forward to the new co-authored blog. Oh, and Jack Bauer is the main character from the TV show 24. Each show is supposed to be one hour of Jack's life so that the entire season comprises a 24-hour period.

slaveofone said...

Shalom, Joel. Glad to hear about your focus on Second-Temple Judaism and its relation to Christianity. Could you recommend good scholarly books (besides Tom Wright) which have simliar focus?

This idea of an evangelical scholar is something that is quite strange...

I'm not sure about this distinction between confessional and non-confessional... In my mind, the one who does not even believe in Yahweh is making just as much a confession and impression of it on those he teaches as the one who does.

And I'm not sure it's possible to separate scholasticism from mission or faith even if one wanted to. How can one speak only to the heart or only to the head? Do they function alone? Can delving into truth and history not touch the spirit?

I don't think anyone can teach about Yahweh for the sole purpose of teaching about Yahweh and not direct people either towards or away from Him. I came into the kingdom by reading and studying alone with books...and if I leave, I'll leave in the same way. And wherever I happen to be, I'm going to have an effect in the world around me...either towards or away from Yahweh... So I just don't see the point of all these distinctions and divisions...

Anonymous said...

Your point about scholarship is spot on. Still, there are many advocates of the non-confessional approach; just read this article if you are not convinced:

As for books I would recommend that incorporate 2nd temple Judaism into their understanding of early Christianity, I would point to two: O. Skarsaune, In The Shadow of the Temple and L. Helyer, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students.

slaveofone said...

Thanks. I responded to that article from it's comment email.

I think that these distinctions between evangelical or faith-based scholarship versus a secular-based scholarship are, to borrow a phrase from J.T. Luke, an "arbitrary methodological territorialism."