Jottings from This Year’s AAR/SBL
I try to avoid “inside baseball” posts, but perhaps this once I’ll indulge myself, and interested readers, in some brief musings upon returning from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature in Atlanta:
• The best part about such meetings for most of us (job seekers and paper presenters being the exceptions) is meeting new people and meeting up with people we know and appreciate. As usual, I returned here blessed to know so many interesting and productive folk and to have had opportunity for substantial conversation with them.
• For instance, I fell into conversation with two AAR presidents—the current one and the one just elected VP—and thus had the opportunity to encourage them in that challenging role. Prof.Tom Tweed and I met as members of the charter class of the Young Scholars in American Religion Program in Indianapolis about a hundred years ago (a class that included such worthies as Professors Steve Prothero, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, and Gerry McDermott). Tom and I have been corresponding of late about the role and relationship of theology within the secular university, and in regard to “religious studies” as a field, and his presidential address rather courageously took on that subject. He’s a very good man, and it’s been a delight to see his career rise and rise over the years.
• AAR Vice-President-elect Prof. David Gushee will be AAR President in due course. David and I have also been corresponding of late, this time regarding our disagreement over another contentious set of issues, namely, LGBTQ+. But we also have substantial common ground as fellow Christians, fellow scholars, and as fellow citizens concerned that division be kept to a minimum, courtesy and charity be raised to a maximum, and wisdom to use our time well in a time of high distraction and elevated passion be constantly our prayer. It was good to see him among the book tables and to share some quiet moments of genuine fellowship.
• I hadn’t met Prof. Doug Geivett before, and frankly I was a little miffed at him for failing to call on me from the chair during a session of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Like everyone else who raises his or her hand, I just knew I had a scintillating question to ask that would bring the room enlightenment and myself much glory. But Doug kept calling on other people. Afterward, though, he came over to apologize for not getting to me, then read my name tag, and then burst out in a winning smile: “John Stackhouse! I can’t believe we haven’t met!”
I’m easily flattered, so my fierce rage vanished and we became fast friends—so fast, in fact, that we arranged to meet an hour later to visit the Shrine of Soda Water, also known as “The World of Coca-Cola.” As a long-time drinker of Coke products, I can only say that I never felt less like “having a Coke” than when exiting that surfeit of manufactured happiness. Still, it was good to get to know Doug, a fellow apologetics enthusiast, and I look forward to him calling on me FIRST the next time we’re in a meeting together.
• I was particularly delighted to be able to spend a little quality time…and in some cases quite a lot of quality time…with the people who let me talk to many others through print, and who make me sound and look much better than I do: my editors. Jim Kinney has been my editor at Baker Academic for a while, and I’m delighted that he has been promoted to the Vice-Presidency overseeing both that imprint and Brazos, Baker’s slightly risqué line. I have always found Jim to be a man of high integrity, savvy, kindness, and gentleness, and it is to Baker’s credit that they have put such a man in charge.
• Andy LePeau has brought similar qualities to InterVarsity Press for a long time…and now, sadly, is leaving for well-deserved retirement. So it was a blast to see him one last time at AAR and to celebrate the second book we’ve done together. Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism is out now, as some of you know, and it has sold briskly so far.
• Mickey Maudlin and I met in my church history survey course at the Wheaton Graduate School in 1984 (if memory serves). He was a baby editor at IVP and I was a baby instructor at Wheaton. Mickey was working on a master’s degree and happened to take that class. He then asked me to review a book IVP USA was thinking of publishing (my first such assignment), and liked what I returned to him enough that he would return my calls when he moved up the masthead of Christianity Today magazine over the next decade. After going as far as he could in that organization (managing editor), he left for his current post, editor-in-chief of HarperOne. I don’t know anyone more alert to the religious trade marketplace and I’d like to address that audience again myself. So I keep promising a book to Mickey, and he keeps taking me out to dinner to make darned sure I do. Maybe this year…
• Cynthia Read is the religion editor for Oxford University Press in the USA, and it has been my privilege and delight to publish four books with her over the years. Cynthia, her fascinating husband, Richard, and I got out for a meal and talked about (a) old, hilarious movies available on Amazon Prime; (b) the Halifax Explosion of 1917 and the almost simultaneous Molasses Explosion in Boston; (c) the dubious presence of Coke on the table of even fine American restaurants; and (d) sketchy neighbourhoods we have inadvertently traversed in foreign cities around the world—you know, the usual book-chat.
• Speaking of OUP, I was glad to round up my Crandall University colleague Prof. Keith Bodner and get him to pose with me in front of that publisher’s booth. Keith is a brilliant and prolific Old Testament scholar (you don’t know about him and you should) who specializes in literary readings of Old Testament historical accounts, drawing on his Aberdeen PhD in OT and his Manchester PhD in literature (as one does). Since by this time next year we will have eight OUP books between us, I thought we should pose in celebration, and we did.
• I was honoured by my former Regent student Prof. Myron Penner by a session in the Evangelical Studies Group of the AAR devoted to my epistemological book, Need to Know: Vocation as the Heart of Christian Epistemology (OUP 2014). Myron admirably chaired a panel of friends who honoured my work the only way we academicians know how to do so: by brief, but kind, words about its virtues and then ruthless exposures of a select few of its many weaknesses. Thanks (sort of), then, to Prof. Lynn Cohick of Wheaton College, Prof. Paul Martens of Baylor University, and Prof. Oliver Crisp of Fuller Theological Seminary. An appropriate card of thanks (open it alone, please) is on its way to each of you.
• I caught up with the estimable Prof. Sarah Coakley who, I was sorry to confirm, is nearing the end of her full-time teaching career and will go into that lovely new work mode that academicians like friend Prof. Larry Hurtado (with whom I also got to share a few laughs at the conference) amusingly call “retirement.” Coincidentally, it was my privilege to offer a bit of career counselling to former Regent students now finishing at both of those universities, Cambridge and Edinburgh respectively.
• The fecund Dr. Dominic Erdozain is a long way from retirement and, when he is not being a family man with his CNN-producer wife (hence his relocation from London to Atlanta), he is churning out excellent stuff on Christianity and modern European culture. Another engine of productivity is Prof. Christopher Holmes, who, he told me, first encountered me when I gave the Apologetics Lectures at Moody Bible Institute a decade ago or more. Chris kindly hosted me for a lunch at the staff club on the campus of his new university, Otago in New Zealand, this past summer and regaled me at AAR with his latest publications, one of which was featured at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting earlier last week. And, speaking of productivity, the doughty warrior-for-truth C. Stephen Evans kindly attended my session and chatted afterward, while the truly astonishing Prof. Craig Evans of sister school Acadia Divinity College appalled me with the news that, just as I have arrived on Canada’s East Coast, he is about to leave for Houston Baptist University (which, for those of you not acquainted with North American geography, is not nearby).
• The conference ended for me with a flourish as I hosted one of my mentors, Nicholas Wolterstorff, for supper on my last night. Nick has been a literal godsend as I moved from focusing almost entirely on historical studies for the first decade of my academic career to theological, philosophical, and ethical investigations for the next two. Nick has never held my lack of a philosophy degree against me (!), preferring to weigh my work on its own terms, and it has been an honour to have him commend a couple of my books to OUP as well as write references for me along the way. I was thus terrifically vexed when the AAR schedulers put his lecture directly against my book session this past weekend, not least because the book in question was dedicated to him! Nick is going strong in his eighties, now taking up a completely different subject for scrutiny: Christian liturgy…and in typical Wolterstorffian fashion, in which he pays attention—as we historians do but as philosophers and theologians frequently do not—to actual liturgical texts and not just “liturgy as a concept.” Nick wants to know “what we are doing when we say and do those things” in Advent or Lent or on Christmas or Easter, and I can hardly wait to find out.
• Bracketing the weekend were airport lounge or in-the-corridor visits with former Regent colleagues Rikki Watts, Phil Long, Mariam Kamell, Iwan Russell-Jones, and Bob Derrenbacker. I miss such people terribly, and it was bittersweet indeed to attend the Regent College breakfast among so many fine alumni/ae and former workmates. Time will tell whether the current president and dean can help Regent emerge from the deep difficulties they acknowledged at the breakfast, to be sure, but the core of Regent—its faculty, students, and mission—remains intact and thriving.
So another AAR/SBL has come and gone. My students here at Crandall are into their final fortnight before exams, and snow has arrived at last in the Maritimes. I turn then from the big world of connections refreshed at the conference to the immediate and intense relationships I am developing here with gratitude to God for both.