Mapping Your Academic Career – with Dr. Gary M. Burge (Gupta)

MACYesterday I assembled a comfy IKEA chair in my office, so I wanted to have a sit-down and do some reading. I read through Gary Burge’s new book Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor’s Life (IVP, 2015).

This book helps professors at all stages (but I would say especially those in early years) think about who they are, how they exist in their academic world, and it helps them plan for the future in terms of success and service. Burge’s book has many insightful anecdotes and is informed by psychology, even though Burge does not claim to be an expert in psychology.

In many ways, this book is very reassuring – especially knowing that lots of new faculty struggle with the same problems, insecurities, and lowpoints. Burge is very gracious, warm, and supportive.

At about $11 on Amazon, buying this book should be a no-brainer for un-tenured faculty, but again he has great advice for those in later stages of their career as well.

I (Still) Believe – Inspiring Reflections from Senior Biblical Scholars (Gupta)

ISBKudos to John Byron and Joel Lohr on editing a nice new little book called I (Still) Believe: Leading Biblical Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan, 2015). This book contains short autobiographical essays by respected scholars such as James D.G. Dunn, Walter Moberly, Ellen Davis, Patrick Miller, Beverly Gaventa, Gordon Fee, Richard Bauckham and Morna Hooker (18 total).

As far as I know, none of these scholars blog (am I right, John?), but if they did, this is the kind of thing readers might like to know from them – how has scholarship affected your faith and vice versa?

I was going to blog through the book, but Ken has beat me to it, so I will leave that task in his capable hands. Instead, I will just say – get the book!

A few quick observation: I have read several of the essays and I noticed a trend whereby few of these scholars had their faith rocked by critical scholarship. Where there had been waves and low-points in faith, it seems more triggered by “ugly politics” in academia. More than a few said that their parents and/or church had a rich enough faith to help them engage questions and doubts honestly and maturely. This is a great challenge to our churches to recognize this need.

Secondly, I noticed how few of these scholars grew up wanting to be scholars! Most of them talk about stumbling into biblical studies.

Thirdly, several scholars talked about how they were inspired by some of their own professors. And for me, it is the same. I would say teachers who have had a deep impact on my vocation (especially modeling authentic, passionate, and engaging teaching) have been Dr. Steven Nimis (classics, Miami University), Dr. Sean McDonough (Gordon Conwell), Dr. Gary Parrett (Gordon Conwell), and Prof. John Barclay (Durham). I also want to throw in there Dr. Gordon Fee – while I never studied with Fee (sadly), I used to listen to his lectures on audio tape when I commuted to downtown Boston to teach adjunct courses after I graduated from Gordon Conwell. By the way, Fee’s essay in I (Still) Believe is entitled “Scholar on Fire” – and it is an apt description. What passion!

Anyway, it is interesting to read this book in a time when some leaders and critics within SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) are suspicion of confessional scholarship. I have the humble privilege of serving on the board of the Institute for Biblical Research, an affiliate of SBL, and I believe that we try to demonstrate that evangelicals can bring a lot to the table of academic scholarship. So, the stories in this book (and I should mention that most are not evangelicals) remind me that biblical scholars do not have to be ashamed of or hide their faith.

I hope you get the chance to enjoy these stories.

Rediscovering Jesus – A Great, Unique Textbook on Jesus (Gupta)

RDJDavid Capes, Rodney Reeves, and Randy Richards have teamed up again to write a book about Jesus for students. Rediscovering Jesus is unique in that it looks at, not only the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the other NT writers, but they also dedicate chapters to other portraits of Jesus: Gnostic, Muslim, historical Jesus scholarship, Mormon, “American,” and “Cinematic.”

This textbook actually inspires me to want to teach a course on Jesus in biblical and cultural interpretation!

This is fun: unbeknownst to either of us, my partner in crime Chris Skinner and I both wrote endorsements for this book.

—Nijay, “Rediscovering Jesus is like an expert journalist or photographer examining the subject—in this case, Jesus—from all sides and angles. Not only do you get perspectives from the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, but also impressions from Muslims, Mormons, movies and more besides. Few textbooks do as good of a job as this one in helping students engage with Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say that I am?”

-Chris, “I have long lamented the all-too-pervasive tendency for modern readers of the Bible to conflate the New Testament portraits of Jesus into a single mosaic. Finding material that can help our students uncover the unique visions of Jesus in the New Testament and in the wider culture can be a real challenge. Into that void comes Rediscovering Jesus, a book that not only takes seriously the diverse portraits of Jesus within and outside the New Testament, but also encourages readers to think seriously about the distinctive features of each. Professors Capes, Reeves and Richards are to be commended for their creative, interesting and intellectually honest look at the many faces of Jesus. Those interested in encountering Jesus in fresh and stimulating ways need to pay attention to this book!”

Pastors Read This: Gregory the Great Schooling Us from 1500 Years Ago! (Gupta)

gregory2I am reading The Book of Pastoral Rule by Gregory the Great for the first time now as part of my research for a book on Paul and pastoral ministry. I was blown away by the relevance for today of his instruction – even words from the first two pages! Pastors, read this (I am preaching to myself as well):

…there are many who through the temptation of authority in the holy Church aspire to the glory of honor. They want to be seen as teachers and they lust to be superior to others, just as the truth attests, “they seek the first place at feasts and the first chair in the assemblies.”[Matt 23.6-7] They are all the more unable to minister worthily to the office of pastoral care because they have come to the position of teaching humility by the means of vanity.  For indeed, the message of the teacher is confused when one thing is learned and another taught…They reign by their own authority, not by the will of the supreme Ruler. 

[SVSP version, 2007, 29-30)

Reading Romans in Context – A New Textbook Worth Checking Out (Gupta)

RRCJust got my copy of Reading Roman in Context in the mail. This is a well-designed new textbook that puts Romans in context and conversation with several second temple Jewish texts. Three things you should know about it.

#1: It has several contributors, many of whom were my fellow PhD students at Durham. It is nice to get the perspectives, interests, and writing styles of each of these contributors.

#2: It is short enough to work very well as a supplemental textbook in a NT intro course, backgrounds/context course, or an exegesis course.

#3: It’s super affordable ($12 on Amazon)! 

A Discouraging Trend – Some Publishers Refuse to Offer Hard-Copy Review Books (Gupta)

If you read this blog with some regularity, you know that I like to read and review books. I review (announce, note, book-author interviews, etc.) about 40-50 books a year here, and another 5-10 for print journals. I am always appreciative to have a free copy from the publishers of these books. I am old-fashioned in the sense that I like to have a hard copy to put on my shelf and I mark-up my books pretty heavily.

I have noticed that over the last few years, some publishers are becoming more picky about who they send books to, and also some are refusing to send out print books at all to reviewers (bloggers or even traditional print-journal reviewers). I understand that printing and shipping is expensive, and that many scholars now have e-readers, but I must say I simply do not like being forced to accept an e-copy for review. To make matters worse, some publishers only offer print-reviewers and bloggers e-copies with an expiration date! You don’t even get to keep the book.

My hope is that publishers will respect the desired medium of reviewers like me, and will factor review copies (more review copies?) into the cost of the book, knowing publicity is a return on investment. I simply do not want to collect a bunch of e-books. I lend books out, I pass them around in class, I like to see them on my shelves as inspiration while I research, write, and prepare lectures.

How do others feel? Should we (reviewers) try to have a “conversation” with these publishers (I have tried personally with no success)? Should we simply accept our fate? Honestly, I will say there have been several books I have refused to review simply because the publisher will only allow an e-pub version. Maybe I am just too stubborn, but I am hoping my intransigence will make a difference in turning this tide!


Peer-Review, Biblical Studies, and the Web (Skinner)

Peer ReviewLast week I published a post in which I questioned the role of online publications in academic monographs. I had just reviewed a very well-written and substantive monograph in which there were a number of footnotes containing web-based discussions. I was genuinely asking for the insight of scholars and students in the field because, as I admitted, I am still ambivalent about the practice. There was some good discussion on the blog and even more on my social media feeds. Later, James McGrath took up the question and generated further discussion both on his blog and on Facebook. It was interesting to read many of the comments, especially from those with hang-ups about peer review; funny how that topic found its way into the conversation. After reflecting on the whole experience over the past week I wanted to share several observations:

(1) First, suspicion of the critical expertise of those within the academic discipline of Biblical Studies is alive and well. I have dealt with said suspicion for a long time among people of faith. The “my-reading-is-every-bit-as-good-as-your-reading” mentality persists among lifelong readers of the Bible without any particular expertise in the field. To a certain degree I understand this mentality, even if I reject it. However, it’s one thing to have no exposure to the critical discussions in a field of study and it’s completely different to have broad awareness of those issues (even if limited expertise). Against that backdrop, I was surprised at some (e.g., pastors, seminarians, grad students, etc.) who have at least a general awareness of the critical issues in our field who seemed to be suspicious of peer review. This leads me to my second observation.

(2) For better of worse, the web, and in particular, the blogosphere has become a democratized space where everyone’s view is regarded as equal and many voices, including those without credentials are given a credence they have neither earned nor deserve. Do a search among blogs with a focus on the Bible. They are ubiquitous and they run the gamut. You have seniors scholars whose opinions carry tremendous weight, blogs run by junior scholars still trying to establish their voice(s) in the field, and even still blogs that are run by pastors, recent seminary grads, current seminary students, and even undergraduates. Everyone loves to talk about the Bible and while not everyone’s take is rooted in what specialists might consider an “expert opinion,” the ability to push “publish” has created a scenario in which everyone’s opinion is treated as if on an equal plane. (For the record, I’m not frowning on any of these attempts at blogging or finding one’s voice. My concern is the all-too-common, “well that’s just your opinion” response.)

(3) By and large, those who appear to reject peer review or find it objectionable seem to be those who want a broad hearing for their ideas but aren’t willing or don’t regularly subject their work to peer review. Here’s a fact we cannot get around: not everyone interested in a given field of study can, is, or will be considered an expert in that field. Further,  not every idea is worthy of being considered or taken seriously.

Quite frankly, anyone (and I do mean ANYONE) can publish anything (and I do mean ANYTHING) on the internet. Peer review is not perfect. It is neither an exact science nor free from bias, but neither is it is completely arbitrary. While peer review may not guarantee quality in every case, it remains the necessary gate-keeping mechanism within academic biblical studies and should not be jettisoned. I’m frankly surprised we even need to have this conversation.