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Strange Questions with Smart Scholars

Welcome to Strange Questions with Smart Scholars (and Zondervan Academic Staff) series! We have brought together several of our authors and Zondervan Academic staff for one of the most important and interesting blog series of the Fall 2020 academic conference season. 

Over the next three weeks during the annual ETS and SBL/AAR conferences we will be sharing their answers to five strange and fun questions. Let’s meet our interviewees. We're sure their bios will be much more distinguished than their answers.

George Athas is director of research and senior lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs in The Story of God Bible Commentary series.

Michael Bird is academic dean and lecturer in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia and author of Evangelical Theology and What Christians Ought to Believe, among numerous other titles.

Aimee Byrd is a speaker, blogger, podcaster, former coffee shop owner, and the author of Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Sam Chan is a public evangelist with City Bible Forum in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Evangelism in a Skeptical World and How to Talk About Jesus (Without Being That Guy).

Katya Covrett is executive editor for Zondervan Academic. She has acquired more books than most people have read in their lifetime.

Stan Gundry is senior vice president and publisher for Zondervan Academic and Editor-in-Chief for Zondervan. He is the author of What the Shop Manual Won't Tell You: Studebaker Avanti Restoration and Maintenance.

Nijay Gupta is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. He is the author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Zondervan Critical Introductions to the New Testament series.

Dana Harris is associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and author of An Introduction to Biblical Greek Grammar.

Fred Sanders is professor of theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University in La Mirada, California. He is the author of The Triune God in the New Studies in Dogmatics series and also co-editor of the Los Angeles Theology Conference series.

Let's get to the questions.

1. If you could be in a band with one theologian or biblical scholar, whom would you choose and what kind of music would you make?

George Athas: Origen. The band would be called Hexapla, and we would produce “future lounge” sounds.

Michael Bird: Irenaeus and Karl Barth in a bluegrass band.

Aimee Byrd: This question makes me sad because I can’t think of one theologian that plays the harmonica. I’m sure there’s one out there. That’s who I’d choose. But I have noticed some play the banjo. Eugene Peterson played. If I had the talent, I’d go bluegrass.

Sam Chan: Michael Bird. He is a fellow-Aussie. But he was also in the military. So he’s one bad dude. I reckon he knows 100 different ways to kill me with his bare hands. We would make gangsta rap. Michael can be the lead singer. I would be the eye candy in the background just nodding my head to the beat.

Katya Covrett: You know you can’t ask me to choose just one theologian or biblical scholar. I will pick one of each. And it will have to be Fred Sanders and Erin Heim playing classical brass, Irish rock, and John-Williams-meets-Danny-Elfman superhero music—with a subtle Waltons leitmotif (just for Fred)—all in perfect perichoretic unity. (Lest it be misunderstood, we are very much not like the Trinity.)

Stan Gundry: I would choose my brother Bob and we would play the classic Gospel songs in Tabernacle Hymns #4. In our high school and college days Bob was superb pianist in the style of Rudy Atwood and I was good enough as a trombone soloist to tour with my college choir and a college male quartet. If we could just recover those now-lost skills, we would both enjoy playing Gospel songs in the style of the Gaithers.

Dana Harris: The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews! The music would be great, sweeping symphonic pieces with definite influences from the joy of Guantanamera!

Nijay Gupta: Chris Skinner and I would do some folksy guitar stuff, would love to get Richard Hays in on that!

Fred Sanders: Scott Swain, and we would make punk covers of REO Speedwagon and Air Supply.

2. People would be surprised to learn that you enjoy reading ___________

George Athas: Science fiction.

Michael Bird: American food cookbooks.

Aimee Byrd: Children’s books.

Sam Chan: BBQ books. Ever since my trip to Texas, I’ve been trying to reproduce the perfect hickory-smoked beef brisket.

Katya Covrett: Harry Potter—in fact, I am the biggest HP addict there is.

Stan Gundry: I enjoy reading aloud to Pat almost every evening—we enjoy history, biography, wholistic approaches to health, and the recent spate of political books. But these books may not surprise anyone. What might surprise many who do not know me well is that I enjoy reading technical information about Studebaker automobile restoration and maintenance in club magazines and on internet forums. It might also surprise you to know that I have successfully self-published (for some reason Zondervan Academic did not want it; the pity for ZA) on Studebaker Avanti restoration and maintenance and that I am licensed by the State of Michigan to do mechanical work on pre-1973 automobiles.

Nijay Gupta: Popular Mechanics and Costco sale catalogs

Dana Harris: The Bible in French (honestly, I don’t know – my reading is very eclectic)!

Fred Sanders: Bad poetry. The worse the better.

3. In an alternate universe where your current profession does not exist, what job or profession would we find you doing?

George Athas: Professional car racing OR espionage OR both.

Michael Bird: Comedian.

Aimee Byrd: Easy, I want to own a modern-day speakeasy. The password is “Bourbon finds a way.”

Sam Chan: MMA fighter. I wouldn’t be very good. And it would be a very short-lived career. But I reckon the adrenaline rush would be worth it.

Katya Covrett: You would find me running a bookshop or a vintage furniture restoration business—or better yet, both! … Although, I am not sure what a bookshop would consist of if editors did not exist. I would probably be the kind of bookshop owner who takes a red pen to every book on my shop shelf.

Stan Gundry: I would become an intellectual properties lawyer and represent authors to publishers. My goal we be the same goal I have always had as a publisher—to negotiate win/win contracts that are fair to both author and publisher, and I would make sure that as an agent I really did add value for both the author and the publisher.

Nijay Gupta: I love food, I love to cook, so I would probably manage a restaurant or coffee shop (so I can eat for free everyday, obvs). Otherwise, I think it would be fun to be a talk show host, I love interviewing people who have done interesting things.

Dana Harris: I’d be a life scientist traveling around the world and being outside as much as possible learning about God’s creation and helping others to join along. Is there a difference between learning from creation or formal theology?

Fred Sanders: Less ambitious: Printing (small press, sheet-fed offset). More ambitious: Advertising. I would especially enjoy the concept meetings and writing catchy jingles for products.

4. What does your theology have in common with how you prepare your coffee? Please be specific.

George Athas: It gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s lovingly made with affection, for the uplifting of both myself and others. There is a lot of complexity involved in making it happen—making sure the source is just right, and then extracting something robust from it. And the global south is the best place to do it.

Michael Bird:
This must be a trick question because my pathological hatred of coffee is legendary.

Aimee Byrd:
Like my theology, I don’t add any cream or sugar to my coffee. My favorite way to prepare coffee is an old school lever espresso machine. Like my theology, I like the more intimate engagement in the process, its connection with history, and its classic look.

Sam Chan:
I make my coffee in an Aeropress. I drink my coffee strong and black. I don’t add any milk, creamer, or sweeteners. And I definitely never add cinnamon or any other syrup.

But I also use single origin beans and grind them myself. This gives me a variety of flavors, rather than one dominant (usually burnt if you’re drinking it from Starbucks) monotonic flavor.

I guess that means I like my theology strong, sharp, and undiluted? But I also appreciate the nuances and complexities in the flavors. We need to appreciate the rich, thick, and multi-layered truths in the Bible.

Katya Covrett:
Since my coffee comes from a semi-automatic espresso machine, mostly I just load up the goods and press the buttons. Which, I suppose, is a kind of metaphor for an editor. I will press your theological buttons to get you better to espresso your position. (See what I did there?)

With both coffee and theology, you have to mind your sources. My finest espresso beans are first freshly burr-ground to perfection much like centuries of tradition help one to grind out a good theology. The grounds are pressed and infused by the filtered water, which—like the Spirit—extracts something beautiful and invigorating.

Stan Gundry:
Interesting question that cannot be answered in the form in which it was asked. My brother and I had a father that was one of the old-time Fundamentalists—rigid to the point of being legalistic, dogmatic, practicing secondary and tertiary separation, yet (to give him his proper due) he really loved God and people. So what does this have to do with coffee? Well, our Dad did not drink coffee because it might be perceived as worldly (after all, it was addictive like tobacco). So I never developed an addiction to coffee and do not particularly like it. Bob and I pretty much rejected the Fundamentalist mentality of our father, except for one thing. Each of us in our own way has tended to be a contrarian on certain biblical and theological issues. Loving and drinking tea rather than coffee is part of my contrarian fundamentalist heritage. How is that for answering a question that I could not answer in the form in which it was asked?

Nijay Gupta:
I need both when I wake up, add only the purest ingredients, and patiently making it excellent is worth it.

Dana Harris: I am a prelactarian (milk goes in first), but just a little so as not to spoil the coffee taste. So also I am a (literary, as in the literary sequencing in Rev 20) premillennialist, but not so much to spoil the overall message of Revelation (and the rest of the Bible)!

Fred Sanders: I like very strong coffee (I'm loyal to Peet's Coffee in particular, a legacy of my time in Berkeley), and I'm drawn to hard doctrines, at least in the sense of large, central, objective, traditioned, content-heavy doctrines. When I can, I make coffee so thick that it alarms even my mom, whose last job was serving very strong coffee as a truck-stop waitress.

5. What book (or movie) title might as well be a biography on your life?

George Athas: Hellenistic and Biblical Greek: A Graduated Reader

Michael Bird: A Funny Thing Happened on the Road to Damascus

Aimee Byrd: Big Trouble in Little China

Sam Chan: Crazy (but not) Rich Asian

Katya Covrett: Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite

Stan Gundry: Well, the nature of this question really limits how I can answer it. I never attended a movie until I left home because they were worldly—my Dad insisted that viewing a good movie was like getting a hamburger out of a garbage can. Yes, I do occasionally view movies, but if it is in a theater, I have to confess I feel just a bit worldly. So, I am restricted to book titles because I do not know movies well. Numerous biographies exist with this kind of title, The Accidental . . . . Mine would be The Accidental Publisher because I never expected that I would be anything but Stan Gundry, Professor of Theology. OK, I know, there are no accidents with God. But from my limited perspective, the last 40 years were an unexpected accident; but I should have known better because contrarians are not tolerated in some evangelical circles. But it really was not an accident with God—nearly everything in my upbringing, education, and pastoral and teaching experience prepared me for the last 40 years.

Nijay Gupta: Lost in Translation, mostly because I love Bible translation so much I get "lost" in the work!

Fred Sanders: Marriage to a Difficult Man

If you'd like to ask a follow-up question or discuss/debate, please see the Twitter thread.

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