James Spinti (3/07)

logger of the Month for March 2007

Jim West Interviews James Spinti

Editorial Note: James Spinti, a bookseller with Eisenbrauns, writes on Idle musings of a bookseller (http://anebooks.blogspot.com/).

JW: James, thank you for agreeing to pull our interview out of the cesspool to which it descended with our last installment!

JS: If I’m the one you expect to pull it out of the cesspool, then we’re not getting very far out, if at all. In fact, I doubt we were in the cesspool until this month–it’s a good thing God cleanses the heart.

JW: Let me get right to the questions, because our readers will be terribly interested in learning a bit more about you. Why do you blog?

JS: It started out as an experiment on an internal blog, but it kind of grew. Now I blog because I enjoy putting thoughts to (virtual) paper. It is my hope that some of the things I write actually are of interest, maybe even helpful, to the people who stop by to read it.

JW: What got you interested in blogging?

JS: I get all kinds of marketing e-mails and they kept on talking about how it was a way to extend your brand. I thought it might work (I doubt that it has, since I don’t make a big deal about Eisenbrauns on the blog). Besides, I was enjoying reading the various biblioblogs and thought I would give it a try. As I said, I tried it internally for a while, just to see if I could manage to come up with 2-3 posts a week. I doubt anyone ever read those. After I was convinced I could manage 2-3 a week, I moved to Blogger, but didn’t say anything to anyone about it for about a month. Then Jim, you stumbled across it and blew my cover.

JW: Which blogs do you learn the most from?

JS: That’s a tough question. I read about 40-50 blogs, so a lot depends on the day, but pride of place goes to the “Slashdot” of bibliobloggers, Dr. Jim West. After that, I like Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed. Between the two of them, I discover the stuff that is interesting on blogs I might not otherwise read. If you don’t know about Slashdot, it is the main techie/geek site, one of the original blogs: www.slashdot.org.

JW: What makes a blog “good”, in your estimation?

JS: It should cause me to think outside my normal thought patterns. I enjoy being challenged mentally, and a good blog will be provocative. I might not agree, but it will make me think about why I think what I do, and I might modify my position.

JW: What motivates you to post an entry?

JS: There are several reasons I will post something: If it is a quote, I ask, is it provocative? Did it challenge me? Will others be challenged? If it is about me, the questions are different, is it general enough? Does it show an unusual side of me? Will it make me appear more real to the readers? Sometimes it is just silliness :) I usually only post about new books if it is one that people have been waiting for with a lot of buzz, or if I think it is important but under-publicized. When I post about Eisenbrauns, it is so you can see that we are real humans who enjoy what we do and have fun doing it.

JW: Using your crystal ball, how do you see your blog developing in the future?

JS: I don’t have a clue…for one thing, I don’t have a crystal ball, and even if I did, I wouldn’t use it. You see, there is this passage in Deuteronomy about that…

JW: Tell us about your educational background?

JS: I was one of those professional students. I started out in Electrical Engineering in Wisconsin, but quit that and moved to Kentucky, where I graduated from Asbury College (Biblical Languages), attended Asbury Seminary (Languages and Theology), and managed to get a Masters in Classical Languages from the University of Kentucky. From there I went to the University of Chicago. At the U of C, I was enrolled in the Committee on the Ancient Mediterranean World, which allowed me to do Greek, Hittite, and Northwest Semitics, with a smattering of Akkadian and some history. I spent most of my time at the OI, and loved it. I ended up being ABD (all but dissertation).

JW: How did you come to work in publishing?

JS: That was just the result of working for Eisenbrauns.

JW: Why Eisenbrauns?

JS: First off, if I could create a dream job, this would be it. I was working for a audio & video wholesaler–that’s what 13 years of college in ancient languages gets you –it was four years ago this June. Our son had graduated from high school a year earlier and we were coming back from our daughter’s graduation in Alberta, Canada from a YWAM School of Biblical Studies. Debbie and I were discussing what we should do now that we were “empty nesters.” We both love books, and we were wondering if maybe God wasn’t leading us to change careers and open a bookstore. We got home on a Saturday, and when I checked e-mail on Sunday there was one from Jim Eisenbraun, suggesting I apply for the job I currently have. Coincidence? I doubt it. The rest, as they say, is history.

JW: What’s the best thing about working in publishing?

JS: The books! Well, the conferences are nice, too. I enjoy meeting people in person that I have only talked to electronically, or read their books.

JW: What’s the worst thing about working in publishing?

JS: The books! Well, the conferences can be draining, too. The days are long; you usually only get to see the convention center, the hotel, and the airport. The worst by far, though is that there is almost always one customer who will sit in a chair in the booth and use the display as a research center. They will take a book, make notes from it–I mean extensive notes–and then decide they don’t want it. Then they will put it on the table for you to replace while they go get another one and do the same thing. We had a person one year who spent about 4 hours doing that…glad to be of service, maybe he will mention our bibliographical service in a footnote :)

JW: Do your wife, your children, or your grandchildren read your blog?

JS: Well, Joshua is only two, and Rachel is 1 month, so they definitely don’t. As for the others, I doubt it.

JW: Changing direction a bit, what is it about snow that you enjoy so much?

JS: I have always loved Winter, even as a kid. I love to go sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Skating is fun, too, but I was never any good at it. There is a wonderful line in Tolkien’s “Silmarillion” about creation and snow, but I would mangle it if I tried to quote it. Maybe somebody will put it in the comments…but the gist of it is that Melkior tried to destroy rain, but “God” changed it into snow. For me, that expresses what snow is very well.

JW: Various of your blog entries would indicate that you have a very pious Christian disposition. What is your religious background?

JS: I was raised liberal United Methodist, in a good solid masonic family, which meant very moralistic and good citizen oriented, but not really Christian. I was a rebel at school and continually in trouble with my teachers, but searching for something more. This was in 1971, the height of the Jesus Movement. I ran across an underground Jesus paper in Minneapolis, read it and began reading the New Testament. A bit later, God got a hold of me and I became a Christian. I am firmly committed to the belief that God can and does interact with a person on a daily basis, if we allow him to. My theology has been heavily influenced by the Wesleys (John & Charles), Finney (although his bastardized Arminianism can be troubling), the Keswick convention (primarily via Andrew Murray and Hudson Taylor), Watchman Nee (although I disagree with his dispensationalist tendencies), Bonhoeffer, and A.W. Tozer. As you can see from the list, I’m a bit eclectic–Wesley to firm Calvinism, with a bit of Lutheranism thrown in for good measure. If you have to put me in a category, I would be content to be considered a mystic in the Christian tradition with an academic bent. Of course, you need to add a good dose of the Holy Spirit to that, too.

JW: How long have you been involved in the house church movement?

JS: After I became a Christian, I got involved in a high school bible study run by an M.D. in the area who was Plymouth Brethren, but it wasn’t until I went to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1975 that I became involved in an active way. Since then, I have been in and out of the institutional church, but have always felt more comfortable in a house church setting.

JW: Why did you leave the “institutional” Church?

JS: I’m not sure I have left the institutional church. As I said, I have been in and out of the institutional church over the years. I believe God uses the institutional church and is always working to revive it. But, I also believe that the more effective way to raise up mature Christians is through a smaller, less institutional and stilted method, i.e., house churches and small groups (which essentially function as house churches, even if they are associated with an institutional church). I think that is one of the reasons the Wesleyan revival lasted so long and was so effective. Wesley took the converts and plugged them into “Class Meetings” which were essentially small house churches.

JW: Thank you for your replies. Now, tell us one thing about yourself that our readers would find surprising? Are you, for example, like James Crossley, a famous footballer? Or a violinist like Michael Pahl? Divulge your secrets…. You are among friends…

JS: Friends I don’t mind, it’s Google I’m afraid of :) Actually, I am not that exceptional and don’t have any secret skills. I don’t know if it is surprising to others, but I am continually amazed by it, Debbie and I have been happily married for almost 29 years now, and she still loves me! And we walk about 2 miles each night together, singing and praying and watching the stars, deer, and sometimes even see the Northern Lights.

JW: Thanks again, James, for being willing to subject yourself to this public grilling!

JS: My pleasure. Maybe next month you can find someone to pull us out of the cesspool :)

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