Today I have the distinct privilege of interviewing not only a fine New Testament scholar, but also one of my good friends Andrew Pitts. This past November I got to hang out with him quite a bit while in Baltimore for the ETS and SBL annual meetings. What a treat that was! Well, without further ado his is my interview with Andrew.
Thanks Andrew for taking sometime to answer some questions. Before we get to the juicy stuff, would you mind telling our readers a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, what kind of coffee you like, your favorite color, etc.?
Thank you, Cliff, for having me on your blog. It’s an honor.
I grew up in Florida, although I’ve lived in Southern California most of my adult life. I currently live in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, with my wife (Amber) and my son (Quinn), a few miles from Santa Monica. We love LA. It’s a great city with a ton of need (which means, it’s a great place for the church), but also with lots of resources, theological and otherwise. I can’t say that I have a favorite color, but I do like the Funnel Mill.
You are currently in the last stages of your PhD at McMaster’s Divinity College, can you tell us about your time there? Why did you choose to study there? Who is your advisor? What is your dissertation is focusing on?
I cannot speak highly enough about McMaster’s Divinity College (MDC). It’s such an incredible place to study New Testament. To date, my time there has been one of the most enjoyable seasons of my life. When I was applying to grad schools, I really just wanted to go to Duke. So I only initially applied to the masters program there. I was excited to get accepted and really didn’t want to go anywhere else. Duke was at that time (and in many ways, still is) a meca for New Testament scholarship, especially emphasizing in the new Pauline perspective and the use of the Old Testament in the New with people like Joel Marcus, Richard Hays and Doug Campbell—and Ed Sanders was even still around, a bit. Additionally, Mark Goodacre had just arrived, bringing an added emphasis upon Synoptic studies.
But at the time Stan Porter was the contemporary scholar I appreciated the most. What I admired about Stan Porter was his diversity. Of course, I was impressed by his linguistic abilities but he was also quite accomplished in ancient rhetoric, textual criticism and papyrology, Pauline studies and historical Jesus scholarship. I get board easily so I always envisioned myself working in several areas within the study of the New Testament and Christian Origins so that was really appealing to me. He was one of the most well-published scholars, which I found quite attractive as well. I knew he had (at the time) recently become the president of McMaster Divinity College, but I did not know what exactly the M.A. or Ph.D. program would entail or how involved (as the president of school!) he really was until—by happen stance—I ended up at dinner with him at SBL. I told him of my plan to potentially go to Duke and he agreed it was a fine school but explained to me the level of his involvement in the M.A. program and insisted that I’d be a good fit there. This was, of course, in November and Duke only allowed admission in August and since we’d already saved up enough to move (North Carolina is a lot cheaper than Southern California!), we finally decided to attend the Spring quarter at McMaster with Stan. We thought we’d see how we liked the program and the greater Toronto area in general. Everything was great. McMaster was a competitive environment in many ways, which was fantastic because it pushes you to become a better scholar. There were great people there and lots of publishing opportunities for those with the energy and time to pursue them. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would get at Duke but the one-on-one mentorship with Stan—usually several hours a week, in addition to classes—combined with the quality of his mentorship and the numerous opportunities to publish were enough to keep me at McMaster for both the M.A. and the Ph.D. I went back and forth on many topics for my dissertation but eventually settled on “Greco-Roman Historiography and Luke’s Use of Scripture.” I submitted the first draft last month and hope to defend it in the early spring.
You have already been involved in the publication of a number of important edited works (The Language of the New Testament, Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament, Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament) for Brill, as well as being published in major NT journals (JBL, CBR, JGRChJ, Religion). How did these opportunities come to pass for you?
Obviously, it takes a lot of drive and hard work to see any type of publication through to the finish, but I really would say that my mentor Stan Porter was the formative influence both in shaping the way I view publication (how to publish, what to publish, where to publish) and in providing opportunities to do so, especially initially.
*As a side note, check out Stan Porter’s Inking the Deal: A Guide for Successful Academic Publishing for more on this as well*
Which of your projects—both current and forthcoming—would you say are your most important to date?
I would have to say my current project on Gospel Origins, for which my dissertation functions as a first step, is the most important thing I’m working on at this time. The dissertation is really much more than just a thesis on Luke’s use of Scripture—it situates the synoptic tradition, including the Third Gospel as a piece ancient history (not bios), according to a genre configured framework in which direct citation functions as only one component. I have a follow up work that’s already about 100k words long on Gospel Origins that will fill out the rest of the picture. I basically posit two levels of source integration for Gospel tradition—citation (of Scripture) and mimesis (oral tradition, scriptural allusion, etc.), all calibrated literally according to genre. This aligns with the way authority and tradition was viewed within ancient historical and biographical tradition and has implications for the oral transmission and literary reception of the Jesus tradition in the Gospels.
In addition to that, I think a book Stan Porter and I have almost finished on the Pistis Christou construction is pretty important since it shows—contrary to an almost universal consensus—that this enigmatic structure can in fact be disambiguated according to strictly linguistic criteria. We’ve got about one chapter left to write and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that is received. Until then, you can find an article that is a somewhat underdeveloped statement of this view in Mike Bird and Preston Sprinkle, The Faith of Jesus Christ.
How do you see your work impacting both the academy as well as the church?
Well I do also serve as a pastor—I always have been in pastoral ministry of some kind—and so this is an important question for me. Although most other pastors may find my work quite technical (and, therefore, perhaps irrelevant to pastoral ministry—one well-known pastor joked on twitter about the highly technical nature of a quite mid-level textbook because it had footnotes!), I don’t believe creating surveys and pop- or even seminary-level introductions to scholarship is the way to truly impact the next generation of leaders. Instead, we want to produce high-quality, creative work that sheds genuine original insight on the biblical text and hope that this will influence the discipline of New Testament studies, including New Testament seminary professors, who are training the next generation of pastors. I know this goes against the grain of how people think about impacting the masses, but the works that remain for generations are those that shape the field, not typically those that summarize its results.
What are some projects you are working on that we need to be on the lookout for?
Dovetailing on the answer to the prior question: while I do not believe that summaries, etc., are the most important types of books for impacting the academy or the church, I do nevertheless see their value. In fact, I am involved in several of them that readers can look out for. Stan Porter and I recently finished a book called The Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Eerdmans, forthcoming). In the same series, Stan Porter, Chris Land, and I are working toward completing an Intermediate Greek Grammar of the New Testament, which we hope to finish by the end of the year. I also have a linguistic analysis of 1 Peter that’s nearing completion as well as the Pistis Christou book that Stan and I have almost finished, mentioned above.
Finally, give us your top five most influential scholars on your life and work.
Of course, having worked most closely with Stan, I’d have to place him at the top, but he was my biggest influence prior to working with him as well. I’d probably say Martin Hengel after that. Then Albert Schweitzer—although I don’t buy everything, he was a brilliant theologian and brought theology together with Christian origins in ways that were clearly before his time. James Barr and F.F. Bruce have likewise had an profound influence my earlier thinking as a biblical scholar. On a another tier I’d also include a number of important early linguists, including Adolf Deissmann and J.H. Moulton and later Fred Danker, John Lee, J.P. Louw and Eugene Nida.
Thanks again Andrew for taking the time to answer a few questions. I know I for one look forward to your future publications. Further, I hope to do some more of these interviews this year, so stay tuned.