About once per month, I’m going to post an interview with one of the authors from Theology for the People, the line of books that I’ve launched at Fortress Press. This installment is with the very hirsute professor, Jake Myers.
TJ: You’re funny. I don’t just mean your facial hair — I mean your writing. Your book, Making Love with Scripture: Why the Bible Doesn’t Mean How You Think It Means is on the most serious of all topics, the Bible, which has caused civil wars, yet you approach it with a great deal of wit. How do you reconcile that?
JM: Don’t hate on the facial hair, Tony. Respect it;-) But you are absolutely right about the divisiveness the Bible has caused, and evoking mention of civil wars is quite on target. On this front, I have learned much from the comedian and social critic John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. I appreciate the way that John is able to couple incisive sociopolitical commentary with humor. Not only is his comedic wit engaging, it also opens up such divisive topics as campaign finance reform, the US justice system, and transgender rights to different registers of scrutiny.
Most books about the Bible are not funny. In MLW/S I have tried to change that; but my wit, as you call it, is ever in the service of opening up new channels of dialogue about how scripture means for us today.
TJ: Like me, you’ve surely had friends who’ve simply given up on the Bible, ultimately deeming it irrelevant to their modern lives. What’s caused you to hang on to the Bible as a sacred text?
JM: For many years I myself struggled with the Bible. I spent my formative years in Southern Baptist churches, where I learned to interpret scripture in a particular way. At university, my Bible professors pushed me to read scripture with more critical attention to its textual and historical complexities. For two years I felt like I was hanging onto my faith by my fingernails.
You see, my belief in the Bible was tethered to certain modern, scientific assumptions about how the Bible had to mean for “correct” faith and practice. I am thankful to those Bible professors who loved me enough to challenge my assumptions about scripture; they opened my eyes to the fact that the Bible and one’s ways of interpreting the Bible are not the same thing.
TJ: As readers of your book will discover, you’re really into pop culture. I mean, really into it. What are you watching/gaming now?
JM: Guilty as charged. I do enjoy pop culture, and I have a special affinity for series on HBO and all things mythological. A secret pleasure of mine is in reading Young Adult (YA) fiction. I realize how weird it is to enjoy both YA fiction and postmodern philosophy, but hey, welcome to postmodernity, right? I just finished reading John Green’s Paper Towns and right now I’m very much into Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.
In truth, I can’t take all the credit for the many pop culture references in my book. I am blessed with friends like Dave and Michelle Garber who are super hero/comic geeks, and Mark Jefferson who has taught me much about hip-hop culture. What is more, working to explain some of the ideas I share in my book is difficult as trying to groom a meth-cranked Wookie. Pop culture references make these idea much more accessible and palatable—a spoon-full of sugar, and all that.
TJ: An “erotic” approach to scripture is the climax [cough, cough] of your book. Can you give us a hint of what you mean by this?
JM: Well, I definitely don’t want to jettison my bombs before the mission has been completed (yeah, I went there, too), but I can say that the erotic approach to scripture isn’t quite as sexy as it sounds. The erotic approach is a spiritual/psychological attitude that I teach my readers to adopt in relation to the Bible. Such an attitude opens the reader up to God’s Word by refusing to turn the Word into an object that can be dissected or dismembered.
“Making love with scripture” is an approach to God and the world God loves that works against 500 years of indoctrination. We call these 500 years “modernity” in the West, and I maintain that it is only when we drive a stake through the cold vampire heart of modernity that the Bible is free to speak to us in new and varied ways today.
TJ: You’re starting your first semester as a new professor at Columbia Theological Seminary. First, congrats! Second, how’s it going so far?
JM: Thanks, Tony! I’m living the dream over at CTS. My colleagues on faculty and staff have been very hospitable and supportive of the type of work I do. I’m kind of weird for an academic, and they seem to dig my weirdness. What’s more, the students have all been AMAZING. They give me an incredible sense of hope for the future of the church and, through the church, the world. I am very happy to be serving there.