This week’s interview is with Dr. Rodney Decker of Baptist Bible Seminary where he serves as Professor of Greek and New Testament. As of yet, I have not personally read any of his books (a problem that will be remedied soon), but I have heard them referenced more and more as time goes on. Among the ones I wish to get a hold of soon are Koine Greek Reader and Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect.
First, tell us a little about yourself.
I have taught NT and Greek at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA for 15 years. Prior to that I taught at Calvary Bible College and Seminary in Kansas City (6 years) and pastored for a dozen years before that. Our program at BBS spans MDiv through PhD. My primary area of responsibility and interest is Greek grammar. My first major book was on temporal deixis and verbal aspect. I’ve also published a Koine Greek Reader which covers NT, LXX, and Apostolic Fathers. I edit the NTResources site and blog there as well.
On a personal level, I’ve been married for 35 years; my wife Linda and I have 3 children and 8 grandchildren—the youngest one born just this morning as I write this. We live on the family farm in northeast Pennsylvania about 30 miles from the seminary. I grew up there and moved “back home” about 5 years ago. My youngest son now owns and operates the farm—and we cut a lot of wood together since three of the four families here heat with wood.
My wife and I are members of Northmoreland Baptist Church where we both teach regularly, my wife with children and I teach the Sunday morning Bible class (we’re working our way through Hebrews just now).
What motivated you to enter your field of study? What keeps you going?
Throughout college and seminary my heart was set on pastoral ministry. I never thought about teaching. It was during my first pastorate that I discovered my niche—teaching, and particularly young adults. I determined then that would be my long range goal, but I also determined that if I was to train pastors that I should not only gain the necessary academic training, but also spend enough time in ministry so that I had the experience necessary to relate academia and real life ministry in a profitable way. I then went back to seminary for graduate study, completing (eventually!) both a ThM and a ThD in NT. That path of significant pastoral ministry preceding the classroom was deliberately modeled on one of my own profs, Dr. Richard Engle, whose classroom modeled the blend of ministry and academia that I wanted to emulate. He is now retired after teaching OT at BBS for 35 years; I was privileged to served on the faculty with him at BBS in his last classroom years.
As for “why NT?” I could never make up my mind whether to do theology or NT. While pastoring in Michigan I finally took two years and spent the first reading and studying in systematic theology; the second I focused on NT. It was at the end of the second year that I had an opportunity to teach—and it was in NT. In my early years teaching I taught some Hebrew, theology, Bible, and Greek/NT, but I am most at home in the NT classroom.
What is your favorite passage of scripture?
How about a favorite book? “My book” is the Gospel of Mark and that love predates even my dissertation (which focused on Mark). I teach it often, both at the seminary and in the local church. If I had to narrow that to a smaller slice, it would have to be Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Can you divulge any information on any new publication or project on which you are working?
I’m presently about half finished with the Mark volume for the Baylor Handbook on the Greek NT series. That’s to be finished in 2011 (I hope!). After that I have another book on Greek grammar in the works, thought the details aren’t yet available. Some day I hope to attempt a full-length exegetical commentary on Mark, one that will be more seriously grammatical/syntactical that seems to be popular these days—in the tradition of Swete or Taylor. I’ve declined two opportunities to do that for new commentary series this past year due to the series’ schedule constraints, but if God gives me enough active years, I may tackle it yet.
If there is one author/theologian that you believe everyone should read, who is it?
The only work I could put in the “everyone” category would be the Bible! If you mean, “everyone studying the NT,” then perhaps D. A. Carson would be high on my list—as good a NT “Neutestamentaler” as they come (and better than most), and an amazingly versatile, well-read, wise scholar. But you need to read widely and not limit yourself to a short list.
Lastly, if there is one piece of advice you could give to someone entering New Testament scholarship, what would it be?
Stay connected with a local church and get involved—but don’t over-commit so that your studies suffer. At this stage (college and seminary, as well as doctoral work if you go that far) your focus needs to be on preparation. It’s a tough balancing act. All academics with no ministry in the local church easily becomes sterile; too much time spent in ministry and your studies will suffer. Go as far as you can academically before you start a family (unless you have a Golden Goose so you don’t have to work!). But then commit to spending significant time in vocational ministry (pastor, missions, etc.) before you move to the classroom. Ten years is not a bad goal. Don’t view that as “putting in your time,” but as significant ministry to God’s people. And don’t cheat a church by spending only a few years there before moving on to greener pastures. You won’t likely begin to have a fruitful, effective ministry until you’ve been there a while—perhaps 4 or 5 years to get started. Nor should you despise the smaller church or the rural church. You’ll learn more there and have greater potential for long term impact/ministry than in the big churches where you’re mostly an administrator. “Staff” positions have their place, but I’d rather see a young pastor serve long term in a smaller church.
In other regards, language, language, language. And don’t depend on Bible software to do the heavy lifting for you. If you don’t know Greek and can’t read it “without your mouse,” you won’t know what to do with it or will misuse it. I’m too often saddened by those applying for our PhD program here at BBS that during their oral interview they too often can’t read Greek or Hebrew. (Those applicants are declined, BTW!) When pressed, they too often confess “I do most of that with x” (insert name of software program for x). You can’t do serious work in NT (or OT or theology) if you’re limited to a translation. You do need good software to do technical study (I’m an Accordance user myself and recommend it highly, though I own all the “big 3”), but that must be based on a good grasp of the languages.
Thank you, Dr. Decker for taking the time to do this interview. And congratulations on the new grandchild! I’m sure s/he is precious. Mark happens to be my favorite NT book as well. I’m hoping to spend more time studying it at deeper levels as I learn here at DTS.
To my readers, what are your thoughts on this interview? Anything that stood out to you? What about future interviews? Anybody spring to mind that you’d like to see featured here. Let me know.