Blogger of the Month for February 2007
Brandon Wason Interviews Jim West
Editorial Note: Jim West authors the blog appropriately called Dr Jim West at http://drjimwest.wordpress.com/.
BW: Jim, I thought it was about time we had you subjected to the scrutiny of one of these interviews.
JW: Thanks Brandon. I suppose its only fair since you’ve been subjected to questioning and so have a number of other prominent bloggers. It’s high time to start setting your sights a little lower!
BW: Tell us about your upbringing.
JW: My parents divorced when I was two, so I didn’t know my dad. My mom and stepdad moved from Los Angeles to Phoenix when I started the 5th grade and I spent the rest of my childhood on the west side of that fine city. After High school I entered the Army and served as a Military Police officer. When I completed my tour of duty I entered College. And the rest, as they say, is history.
BW: How did you decide to become a pastor?
JW: As a young person at the age of 16 I felt “called” (that’s what we Baptists call it when one is led, we believe, by the Spirit of God) to Pastoral or another sort of ministry. I actually had intended to enter Foreign Missions but doors in that direction closed and opportunities to preach opened. So those are the doors through which I walked. At the same time while in Seminary I was urged by my Professors to pursue a doctorate since, they believed, that I had a contribution to make in that arena. However, though I do teach online courses and have taught College students in the traditional classroom setting, I have never felt like full time University work was my purpose. Church people, I think, deserve the same sort of quality information as college students and so I have always conceived of my task to be, in deutero-Pauline terms, “a teaching Pastor”. Whether or not I accomplish that is completely to be decided by God, I suppose.
BW: How did you become interested in academics? What are your academic interests? What is most of your research geared toward?
JW: I’ve hinted at an answer in the preceding question but I’ll try to be more specific here. I became interested in academics because I firmly and honestly believe that the Church has been cheated and shortchanged by lackluster, ignorant, unintelligent Ministers for a long time. In my own tradition, the SBC, Pastors are not even required to have any education at all in order to serve in that capacity, which I find both absurd and tragic. So I try, in my own small way, to inject the results of research in the life of the Community of faith. My interests, you’ll not be surprised to learn, are quite wide ranging. I enjoying Hebrew Bible and New Testament, of course, but also enjoy the Dead Sea Scrolls, the history of Israel, and Church History. Theology too of a Systematic nature also fascinates me. So, in sum, if it has to do with biblical interpretation, I’m intrigued.
BW: How does your academic background help you in the pastorate?
JW: Academics and Biblical studies go hand in hand so that Bible Study, Sermon preparation, and Sunday School class lessons are all based on a critical-exegetical foundation. And, as an aside, since I can do my own exegesis, I am not dependent on “sermon books” and those sorts of crutches. I say this not to promote myself but to criticize those pastors who are so profoundly lazy that instead of doing their own work they turn to the sermons of others and pass them off as their own. I find this profoundly disturbing and unethical. Not to mention a tad despicable.
BW: Give us a description of a day in the life of Dr. Jim West.
JW: No day is really typical. There are always hospital visits to make or funerals to perform or weddings to officiate. But, in general, were none of those to occur, I get up at 5:30 or 6 and go to the gym. I’m back home and showered by 8 and then its down to the study to power up the PC and check email and alerts for news stories that may be of interest to myself and potentially someone else. Then the day is consumed with a mix of phone calls, writing (I’m working on a commentary series containing exegesis and interpretation of each book of the Bible subtitled “For the Person in the Pew”. E.g., “Matthew: For the Person in the Pew” as well as a weekly Newspaper column, and reviews for RBL alongside some Encyclopedia articles at present), blogging news events and theological observations, reading, and the like. I take a break at 5 for dinner and then I spend the evening reading and keeping up with goings-on in the news and watching American Idol (or some other senseless thing). I stop all sorts of activities at 10 and I go to bed between 10:15 and 10:30 but sometimes I’m wild and crazy and stay up till 11.
BW: You are known for being the most prolific blogger in the history of the medium. How do you find/make time for blogging?
JW: I’m always a bit amused when bloggers say things like “I didn’t have time this month to write anything”. What they really mean is “I didn’t make time to write anything.” I’m not criticizing, by the way, I’m simply observing that folk make time for what matters to them. It’s not that I find time for it, I simply choose to take the 4 minutes it takes to post and do it. Now, to be sure, if I wrote the sorts of lengthy posts that some of our esteemed colleagues write, I may only post once a day or twice- but since most of my postings concern themselves with current events or historical remembrances it really is just not that time consuming at all. Besides, I type terribly quickly.
BW: What makes a good blog?
JW: A good blog is one that interests more than one person. If the stuff you write is interesting to 3 people on the planet because it’s the sort of thing that only a few specialists find important, then you should probably abandon your blog and send an email instead. But if a blog integrates somehow academic biblical / theological studies with current events, then you really are on to something. Or, as Karl Barth put it, you should have a “Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other”. And having such, integrate them in such a way that the wider public realizes that the Biblical message is meaningful to them, today.
BW: Who are the bloggers that you find the most engaging?
JW: That’s a difficult question and an easy one at the same time. It’s difficult because I’m terribly afraid I will leave someone off, and it’s easy because all you need do to answer it is look at my blogroll. If its not on the list, I don’t find it engaging. That’s not to say that if its not on my list it ISN’T engaging (to someone)- it’s just not interesting to me. But I have to say quite publicly that Chris Tilling, Chris Heard, Mark Goodacre, Brandon Wason, Jose da Silva, Ben Myers, James Spinti, and of course James Crossley write the blogs that I would miss most profoundly were they to cease.
BW: Why are you such a big fan of Zwingli?
JW: Because he was the finest theologian of the 16th century, or any century since then; and he combined nearly perfectly an academic giftedness with a profound Pastoral sense. He is, in my estimation, the paragon of who and what a teaching pastor should be. He is, if I may be so bold, what sort of person I aspire to be but fail so miserably in achieving.
BW: Why is it, do you think, that Zwingli is so underrepresented in American theological discussion?
JW: Because so very few of his works have been translated and because Americans are the only people in the world (virtually) who can only speak or read one language. That’s the only reason that I can discern.
BW: On to the deeper questions. What is so bad about homeschooling? Why do you oppose it?
JW: I oppose homeschooling in principle because it is based on the premise that the parents of those children can do better something that others are professionally trained to do. In other words, it’s the arrogance or hubris of the homeschooler’s parents that I find so intolerable. Children deserve better from their parents than the sort of arrogance which says “no one can do it better than I can do it”.
BW: One interesting facet of your blog is the frequent posts on pastoral misconduct; what are your reasons for posting these?
JW: Because nothing annoys me more than Churches suffering the horror of a criminal pastor and nothing annoys me more than the name of Christ being dragged through the mud by the secret doings of his so called representatives. Hence, those who do such things need to be exposed to the light of day. Why? So that another Church which may be tempted to call them as Pastor will know who and what they are beforehand. You may find this hard to believe but many pastors who have conducted themselves criminally are called to other churches simply because no one has checked into their background. Churches are notoriously trusting and as a result are taken advantage of. This is, to me, intolerable.
BW: Are you an elitist, or do people just get that impression?
JW: I am something of an elitist in that I think only persons with proper qualifications ought to set hand to the Bible to interpret it for others. People are free to interpret the text as badly as they wish for themselves, but when it comes to offering opinions on its meaning for others, the unqualified should remain silent.
BW: In your opinion, what are the greatest problems facing the church today?
JW: Two things- a grotesque lack of commitment in its ranks and a profound disinterest in changing that lack of commitment. The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is certainly true of the way many Christians approach their relationship to God. They use God and when God wishes some act of service from them, they have no time.
BW: What about yourself would you like to share with the readers that they probably don’t already know?
JW: I was afraid you would ask me that. I suppose that they already know I’m boring and pedantic and impatient and tend to be rude at times. Perhaps they don’t know that my impatience and rudeness are just a cover and deep down inside I’m the kindest, sweetest, most adorable person who has ever walked the face of the earth.
Not buying that huh? Probably best that you don’t. One thing folk might not know about me is that I think Hillary Clinton should be our next President. Or anyone but a Bush-like Republican.
No, come to think of it they probably know that too….
I don’t know, Brandon. It’s a horrible question and I have no answer for it at all.
BW: Jim, thank you for answering these questions–I know our readers will enjoying reading your responses. Keep up the great work!
JW: Thanks Brandon. Now that you’ve really scraped the bottom of the barrel next month we can interview someone really interesting and worthy, as we have in the past.
A Note to our Dear Readers: Dear reader, please do not let this dreadful anomaly hinder you from reading in future the interviews we post here. This was an aberration and we promise never to torment you with such reckless dreck ever again. Thank you for your patience!