Michael Bird (11/05)

Blogger of the Month for November 2005

Brandon Wason of Biblioblogs.com Interviews Michael F. Bird

Editorial Note: Michael Bird is the author of the weblog Euangelion at http://michaelfbird.blogspot.com/.

BB: Thank you, Michael, for your acceptance as our second featured biblioblogger. I have always found your blog quite appealing, relevant, and humorous at times.

MB: Thanks for your kind words, I’m flattered to have been thought of.

BB: You joined the blogosphere in June of this year. What factors led to your decision to begin blogging? Had you been reading other bibliobloggers prior to this?

MB: Before I entered the blogosphere I had been reading several blogs, most notably NT Gateway and I enjoyed the up to date news that Mark Goodacre was providing as well as the commentary of events in NT studies. Jim Hamilton also started a blog called “For His Renown” and that made me think that a blog was a good place for trying out and disseminating ideas. What lead me to start blogging was: (1) A desire to think out aloud with other NT students/teachers about ideas and issues going through my head; (2) A place to publicize stuff I was working on so that it might be of interest or of use to others; (3) A means of dialoguing and networking with other NT students/teachers; and (4) Somewhere to ponder how the NT message impacts one’s own beliefs, life and praxis.

BB: What made you interested in the academic pursuit of the New Testament?

MB: I initially went to theological college thinking that I might become a Chaplain in the Australian Army. Very soon, however, it became apparent that my giftings were in teaching and the academic sphere. At the same time I began to sense around me an ethos of pragmatism pervading Christian circles and the desperate need to drive Christians back to the biblical texts so as to equip Christian leaders more properly for the challenges of ministering in a post-Christian, post-modern, and neo-pagan society.

BB: How has New Testament research influenced your faith?

MB: I would have to say that faith inspires and drives my NT research, and that my NT research shapes my faith and its expression.

I see the role of a NT scholar as being: (1) To equip Christians with the tools and framework that they need to be effective servants of Christ for their ecclesiastical contexts; (2) To introduce students to the New Testament vision of mission, life and ministry, and getting students to be challenged, stimulated and excited about that vision; (3) Helping Christians to obtain a “faith seeking understanding”; and (4) Contributing to the corporate knowledge of the biblical studies guild by conducting active and original research activities.

BB: Would you provide us with some information about your studies at the University of Queensland including your thesis?

MB: My honours thesis at UQ was entitled “The Relationship Between Justification and Resurrection in Pauline Theology with particular Reference to Romans” of which parts were published in Colloquium in 2003 and Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology in 2004.

I did quite well in my thesis and was able to go straight into doctoral studies and I got a scholarship from the Australian government to do so.

My Ph.D thesis was entitled, “Many Will Come From the East and the West: Jesus and the Origin of the Gentile Mission”. In sum, I argue that Jesus was attempting to achieve and enact the restoration of Israel, and in continuity with other strands of Jewish belief, Jesus conceived of the restoration of Israel as resulting in the salvation of the Gentiles. Jesus’ mission was Israel-centric, but he espoused a view of restoration that was indebted to certain strands of Israel’s sacred traditions where the Gentiles are implicit beneficiaries of Israel’s salvation. Since this restoration was already being realized in Jesus’ ministry, it was becoming possible for Gentiles to begin sharing in Israel’s salvation in the present. Additionally, Jesus understood himself and his followers as the new temple and vanguard of the restored Israel who would appropriate for themselves the role of Israel and the temple in being a light to the nations. Thus, a Gentile mission is implied in the aims and intentions of Jesus and was developed in a transformed situation by adherents of the early Christian movement.

I had a good doctoral supervisor in Rick Strelan with additional help from Bob Webb. Both have enabled me to get through the examination process and as of this week my thesis has been accepted by UQ pending minor corrections.

BB: What brought you to Scotland?

MB: A boeing 747! Including 21 hours of flying time with two small children!!

But to answer your question, at the start of the year I had to try figure out what I was gonna do when I finished my doctorate. I believed that I was called to teach NT, but where? Sadly, there aren’t too many NT posts in Australia so I reconciled myself to the fact that I would probably have to go abroad. I applied for several jobs in the US and experienced a volume of rejection that I have not had to cope with since I began looking for a girlfriend in High School. Anyway, around the same time I had been in correspondence with Alistair Wilson of the Highland Theological College. One day when I was checking out their website I noticed a NT job advertised (as Alistair was going to South Africa). I spoke to my wife Naomi and we prayerfully thought it would be good to apply for (my wife’s only condition was that we go to a country where English is spoken – we wrongly assumed that this the case in Scotland!). To cut a long story short, I got offered the job and we arrived in August of this year.

The college is great, my colleagues are fantastic, the students are enthusiastic and excitable, and I’m really enjoying coming to work every day to read and teach the NT. HTC is in a unique position in that it is an independent theological college, but is also part of the University of the Highland and Islands which presents the best of both worlds.

BB: What does your current research include?

MB: Currently, I’m looking at the topic of the “Marcan Community”. I know Bauckham and Peterson have touched upon it, but I’m working on a paper to show that there is no real evidence that the thing existed, and even if it did, we don’t a clue as to where it was.

I have several articles coming out on justification and the New Perspective (TynBul), Jesus and the Revolutionaries (Colloquium), the Third Quest for the historical Jesus (SBET), criteria of authenticity in historical Jesus research (JSHJ), the historical Jesus and Christology (EQ), and mission theology in the early church (RTR).

Next year my first major project is to turn my Ph.D thesis into a book. After that I’d like to write articles about the incident in Antioch in Gal. 2.11-14, the Historical Jesus and the parting of the ways, and critical realism and the NT. Books I’d intend to write include a collection of essays on justification, something about communion in the early church and the emergent church, the gospel in biblical theology and finally a historical Jesus monograph (Lord and publishers willing!).

BB: Your post in August about being a specialist or generalist raised a bit of interest. Do you think the field as a whole would benefit by having more generalists, or is scholarly advancement better achieved through specialists?

MB: I think we are in need of specialists to advance and further the individual fields of research (Gospels, Paul, Hebrews, etc), but we are in desperate need of generalists to teach in seminaries and universities. So I think that that we need both.

BB: You have created an outstanding bibliography on the New Perspective on Paul. What are your thoughts on NPP and where do you think it is headed?

MB: First, the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is a complex animal with many variations amongst interpreters. It is important to note the variety of views within the NPP and to not caricature or misrepresent guys like Wright, Garlington and Dunn or to depict them as crypto-pelagians. To follow I. Howard Marshall, I think the NPP is correct in what it affirms but wrong in what it denies. The NPP guys put Paul in the right context, that of trying to normalize Jewish and Gentile Christian relationships in the early church. The biggest problem that Paul faced was not legalism, but trying to get Jewish Christians to accept Gentile Christians as Gentiles without making them enter the church via the route of proselytizing. At the same time, Paul operated with a sharp Law/Christ antithesis to the point that to make Gentiles adopt the law (or even parts of it) in order to join the church, was to deny the sufficiency of faith in Christ. Since the church is the locus of those whom God will vindicate at the eschaton, the judaizers were making eschatological vindication (i.e. justification) contingent upon observance of the Mosaic law. I see Paul as opposing both the sociological use of the law to demarcate the people of God (ethnocentrism) and the view that law observance is the basis of vindication at the eschaton (nomism). Some within the NPP concentrate upon the ethnocentric bit, but either deny or else minimize the nomistic elements of Paul’s opponents and Judaism in general.

Second, as to the future of the NPP, I think we are heading towards a post-NPP equilibrium where scholars and authors are affirming the best of what the NPP has to offer, whilst criticizing the elements which have been overstated (like the lack of merit theology in second-temple Judaism). Several scholars are already moving in this direction: Tim Chester, Frank Thielman, and Tom Holland. More fuller expressions of my views on the subject are found in articles in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47 (2004): 253-75; Criswell Theological Review 2.2 (2005): 57-69 and Tyndale Bulletin (2006).

BB: Do you have any advice to students that are just starting out?

MB: Yes, two pieces of advice. (1) Starting learning theological German NOW! (2) Master the primary sources, esp. Greco-Roman writers and second-temple Jewish literature.

BB: In his autobiography, F.F. Bruce answers the question of ‘Which book, apart from the Bible, Shakespeare and the big encyclopedias, would you like to have with you on a desert island?’ What answer would you give to this inquiry?

MB: I’d want a photo album of my wife and kids (along with a barbeque pack, a solar powered TV, a hammock, a year supply of zero-coke, and a satellite phone). If that does not qualify, then I’d probably want N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God.

BB: How do you find time to blog and read blogs?

MB: I try to manage my time wisely, so I try to allow 10-15 mins every couple of days to do some blogging and to read other blogs. Blogging can be addictive (just as much as an X-Boy as I’m sure Brandon is aware) so I think personal discipline is very important.

BB: Has your participation in the blogosphere actually benefited your studies? If so, How?

MB: I think I am more informed about what is happening in biblical studies now especially in terms of publications (all the more so when everyone regurgitates the RBL postings), what conferences are on, and what a lot of young Ph.D candidates are working on. When bibliobloggers post ideas or thoughts on certain issues it gets you thinking and keeps you sharp. So the biggest advantage of being a biblioblogger is that it keeps you informed and alert! Also, it is a great marketing tool. I’ve had a couple of guys email me about doctoral studies based on reading my blog. I wonder if it is the same for Mark Goodacre. How many students want to come and do postgrad studies with you based on their appreciation of the stuff that you blog on?

BB: Last question, what are your thoughts concerning the present state of biblioblogs, and in what direction would you like to see them headed?

MB: It is really hard to say. Blogging is growing exponentially every day so it is hard to map and characterize the whole movement. Giving an assessment of where blogging is at is kind of like trying to give an update on the love-life of Hollywood. As I gaze into my crystal ball, I think some bloggers will loose interest and the novelty will where off, but I think a loyal core of bloggers will continue. I believe that the future of biblioblogging lies in the PH.D candidates (think of guys like Alan Bandy and Michael Pahl) who are in the process of doing cutting edge research and providing a commentary of what they finding along the way. Other than that, I think there will be a lot more diversity and the division between biblioblogs and Godblogs might not be so neat as many would like.

Brandon and Jim, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure. Brandon, I hope you learn to say “No” to X-Boxes from now on :)

BB: Thank you again, Michael. You’ll be happy to know that despite my numerous attempts to get my brother to loan me the X-Box again, he has resisted on every occassion.

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