(cross-posted from Paul and Παυλος)
I had the pleasure of asking Dr. Jonathan T. Pennington a few questions about his new book from Baker Academic, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, due out at the end of summer. Visit ReadingWisely.com more info on this book, including some cool videos. Enjoy – and read the book!
PC: How long have you been working on this project? What sparked the idea to do an introduction to the Gospels?
JTP: In many ways I have been working on this book — or at least wrestling with its issues — for about 10 years, ever since I began studying at St. Andrews. My years there were very stimulating hermeneutically and set me on a path that is reflected in part in this book. For the last seven years I have been teaching (and preaching) a lot on the Gospels, trying to figure out how the Gospels function and how we are meant to read and receive them as Holy Scripture. The result is this book.
In the course of my teaching I have developed lots of lecture material that is not found in traditional introductory textbooks. Particularly, I find myself talking a lot about the hermeneutical and homiletical issues related to the Gospel narratives. This book focuses on these topics. I’m trying to provide some content that is typically overlooked or simply not even considered when we think about interpreting the Gospels.
PC: You’ve written a more specialized book on Matthew’s Gospel, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew. How was the process of writing this book different?
JTP: It was very different. That book is a slightly revised version of my PhD dissertation done in St. Andrews under Richard Bauckham. So, it was written in those golden — and scary — PhD years, where I was learning the guild and trying to make my own contribution, all with the impending viva (dissertation defense) on the horizon! I’m very happy with the content and style of that book. However, the RGW book was born out of a different kind of angst. As I continued to wrestle with the Gospels overall there were many questions that kept nagging me, pressing me to understand. For example, one of the biggest questions for me has been what kind of historical witness the Gospels provide and how their historical claims relate to their theological emphases.
In my reading and teaching and I kept stumbling toward answers to this question and others and this book is my attempt to write myself toward some answers. Now, having completed the book I have a great sense of relief that I’ve been able — at least for now — to figure out what I think on some big hermeneutical issues related to the Gospels.
PC: Could you describe your target audience(s) and goal(s) for this book?
JTP: This book is written for the theological student and pastor. It is a textbook in the sense that it is broad in its scope, not just a specialized study on one topic. I think (and hope!) that is an enjoyable read and I strove to not be overly technical. Yet, it does address some heady issues at times, especially in the first half of the book. I have in mind to write a simpler, mother-in-law version of the book as well.
PC: Reading the Gospels Wisely is called both an “introduction to the Gospels” and “instruction in reading the Gospels.” How have you balanced hermeneutical instruction with introduction to biblical content?
JTP: There are several very good Gospels introductory textbooks out there and my book is not intending to replace them. (In my classes I use Mark Strauss’s Four Portraits, One Jesus, and I highly recommend this.) Rather, as I’ve already hinted, my focus in this book is on issues that are either not addressed or underdeveloped in such textbooks. As a result, you will not find in RGW an introduction to each of the four Gospels or a survey of their content. That is easily found elsewhere. Instead, I am offering what I like to call “cradle to grave exegesis” of the Gospels. I talk about what the Gospels are, how they relate to the rest of the Scriptures, what our goal in reading them is, how to interpret them, and how to preach and teach from the Gospels.
PC: Why “Wisely?” What role does wisdom play in our reading of Scripture?
JTP: The idea of Wisdom is intentionally highlighted throughout the book because this is such an important biblical notion and because it gets at what our goal in reading the Gospels is. The end-goal of Holy Scripture is not mere knowledge but practical, lived-out, faithful wisdom, a way of being in the world imbued in every aspect by God’s grace. God’s speech as recorded in Holy Scripture informs, educates, and teaches, to be sure. But its goal is higher — to be used by the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ as we follow after him. “Wisdom” points us toward something greater than becoming really knowledgeable about the Bible, as important as that can be.
PC:Reading the Gospels Wisely is subtitled “A Narrative and Theological Introduction.” Do you see this book as a contribution to the movement(s) toward Theological Interpretation of Scripture?
JTP: Thanks for the softball. Yes, I would happily align myself with much of the amorphous TIS movement, and this book certainly relates to many of the same concerns. I hope, though, rather than making a contribution to this movement, it makes a contribution to the Church, helping God’s people be faithful and wise disciples of the Lord.
PC: Teasers? Any new projects on the horizon?
JTP: Currently I am writing the Pillar Commentary on Matthew (to replace the Leon Morris volume). It is slow going — don’t tell Carson — and I don’t know when it will be done. But it has already been a great discipline and I’m honored to be a part of this great series.
There are also a number of other projects in the works, several of which relate to the history of the interpretation of the Gospels, my main area of interest currently.
PC: Final thoughts?
JTP: RGW makes a great stocking stuffer for all your friends and relatives! Buy it in bulk! (I’ve got six kids to put through college.)
More seriously, thanks for your interest in the book. I hope the ideas therein will stimulate some dialogue, especially on the most controversial part of the book — my argument that the Gospels should be seen as the center of all of Scripture. But that’s for another interview…
I had Dr. Pennington for quite a few classes during my time at Southern. He’s a wonderfully engaging and provocative (nicely) lecturer and writer, and if his first book, itself a published dissertation, is any indication, this newest work will be stimulating, edifying for the church, and a joy to read as well. Thanks, Dr. Pennington, for taking the time to answer a few questions – looking forward to the book!
Dr. Jonathan T. Pennington (PhD, St Andrews, Scotland) is Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). Visit his website at JonathanPennington.com.