It’s a little early in the morning, but I couldn’t sleep so I figured I’d go ahead and post this interview. This one is with the professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego, Mark Strauss. He was kind enough to hold onto my email until he could find some time to answer these questions.
Some of his titles include How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth, Four Portraits, One Jesus, and Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation & Gender Accuracy. Oh yeah, and he helped produce the NIV and TNIV. I am incredibly grateful to him for answering these questions:
First, tell us a little about yourself.
I am a professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego, where I have been since 1993. I received my PhD in New Testament from the University of Aberdeen in 1992. In addition to teaching and writing, I preach a lot at San Diego area churches. I am married with three kids, 17, 14, 11.
What motivated you to enter your field of study? What keeps you going?
I was impressed by a professor in seminary who challenged students to do even higher level biblical scholarship than their liberal colleagues. This was very different from the kind of fundamentalist “just believe it” approach I had encountered before. When students come to me today and say they want to be an apologist for the Bible, I encourage them to first of all become the best historian, or linguist, or archeologist they can possibly be. Our goal as believers and scholars is not first and foremost to convince others we are right, but to tenaciously pursue the truth.
What issues have you had to overcome along the way?
I feel fortunate because I have many opportunities and open doors. For some, I think, the challenges were far greater. But we all have challenges, of course. The PhD itself was a huge challenge, establishing a topic that broke new ground in the field. Getting a position at a seminary was a challenge. Getting that first book published is a challenge, because publishers like to go with established names and those with a track record of good writing and research. Fortunately, I was able to get my thesis published, and then I was already writing on the issue of Bible translation at a time when certain translation issues became controversial and so timely.
What is your favorite passage of scripture?
No particular favorite passage, though my favorite books are the ones I’ve spent the most time in: Mark, Luke-Acts, and the Pauline letters
Can you divulge any information on any new publication or project on which you are working?
I am a member of the Committee on Bible Translation (that produced the NIV and TNIV). I think the 2011 revision of the NIV will be a important landmark in Bible translations. I am also on the editorial committee for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, and am writing the commentary on Mark’s Gospel in that series. I am the New Testament editor for the forthcoming Teach the Text commentary. My revision of Mark in the revised Expositors Bible Commentary is finished and should be out shortly. I am also writing a book on the application of the Bible.
If there is one author/theologian that you believe everyone should read, who is it?
I don’t think you can point to one author or theologian, since most great scholars come up with a few profound ideas in their lifetime. So you have to glean the best from so many. If I had to choose a few from my field, I would start with N.T. Wright, but that’s rather cliché these days. I like Joel Green’s work a lot. I recently read and appreciated Chris Wright’s book The God I Don’t Understand.
What do you think are the biggest problems facing New Testament scholarship today?
As always, getting the good stuff to the masses. There is a huge gap between popular Bible study material and true scholarship. There is so much fluff and nonsense out there. Good scholars need to write in a popular vein and make their material accessible.
What areas do you think New Testament scholars will have to focus on in the next ten years?
I would say linguistics (we are still lagging in this area) and hermeneutics—how to apply the biblical text in a constantly changing world. Background issues, especially sociological and cultural studies, I think, will continue to be areas of continued attention.
Where do you believe are the best places for a student to study the New Testament either as an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student?
I’m, of course, biased, but I think Bethel Seminary San Diego is the best seminary in the country for graduate studies. Bethel has a great balance of high quality scholarship, a passion for the gospel, cultural relevance, and an emphasis on the majors over the minors. As far as doctoral work is concerned, I would say find a scholar that you highly respect and have affinity with in terms of their writing and research, and go where they are.
Lastly, if there is one piece of advice you could give to someone entering New Testament scholarship, what would it be?
I assume you mean someone who is already moving towards completion of a PhD in NT at a respected school (which would be the first step). After that I would say three things: (1) take any teaching roles you can; adjunct roles provide both experience and can lead to full-time positions; (2) seek to publish articles and write book reviews (a track record in publishing is important on a resume); (3) attend biblical studies conferences (SBL, IBR, ETS) and establish relationships with scholars (personal contacts often lead to positions).
Thanks, Dr. Strauss, for taking part in my little interview series. Some of the parts I liked the most were his statements about the forthcoming NIV2011 (which I look forward to seeing immensely) and this:
There is a huge gap between popular Bible study material and true scholarship. There is so much fluff and nonsense out there. Good scholars need to write in a popular vein and make their material accessible.
To my readers, let me know your thoughts on this interview. Did anything stick out to you? What did you agree or disagree with? Who would you like to see interviewed in the future?