For this iteration of “Life After Seminary,” I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Dr. Nijay Gupta.
Dr. Gupta is an alumnus of Gordon-Conwell (M.Div, Th.M, 2006) who pursued doctoral studies at the University of Durham (Ph.D., 2009). Currently, he is Assistant Professor of New Testament at George Fox University. He is also the author of several books, including the recently released commentary on Colossians (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary; 2013), and “internet sensation” blog-post-turned-book Prepare: Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Wipf & Stock; 2011). For the truly diligent, Dr. Gupta’s dissertation, Worship that Makes Sense to Paul, has also been published. He regularly blogs at www.cruxsolablog.com.
Since he is a professor, author, blogger, and writer, I am extremely grateful to the excellent advice he has given here. As you will see, his answers are extremely kind, encouraging, and honest. Thanks once again, Dr. Gupta!
Where did you go after graduation from Gordon-Conwell?
I met my lovely wife Amy in seminary and while she finished her M.Div., I worked at Hendrickson Publishers (in Peabody, MA). I knew I wanted to do a Ph.D., and I got into the University of Durham. We left for England just before Amy finished, so she did the last couple of courses through online classes.
Here is my curriculum vitae (literally “course of life”) – get ready! Three years in Durham, UK for my PhD, then a one year position teaching at Ashland Theological Seminary (Ohio). After that I had a two-year contract at Seattle Pacific University and Seminary. Next, a one-year visiting position at Eastern University (Philadelphia). Then, another 12-month stint at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. Finally, I just started my first day (in a permanent position) at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Glad to be unpacking and settling in!
Where are you now, and what was the journey like?
About three weeks ago we arrived here in Portland, Oregon and I serve now as Assistant Professor of New Testament at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. What was the journey like? A friend of mine told me when I was finishing my PhD, “Getting a job is a marathon, not a sprint.” That pretty much sums it up. Amy and I have experienced a lot, we have learned a lot, we have had horrible, awful times, and we have had glorious, memorable times. We have experienced plenty of isolation and loneliness, but also times of being showered with blessings from old friends, new friends, family, and even strangers.
The academic side was also a mixed bag. Rejection becomes a kind of rite of passage – even a way of life! Academics need to develop thick skin if they don’t already have it! I love so much about what I do – teaching, researching, blogging, conferences, reading. But there is also an ugly side to the academic world because sometimes leaders don’t know how to lead, people lie, egos get in the way, and prejudices prevail. You have to trust God and maintain a positive attitude and hopeful spirit, or else you will sink. I am fortunate to have an awesome wife and wonderful kids to come home to who support me and make me happy no matter where I am and what I am doing.
What is your current role and how does it serve the Church?
I get to do what I love and what I always dreamed of doing – teaching present and future ministers and Christian leaders. I love teaching Scripture because it is the self-revelation of God, our steady guide through life, and our compass for ministry. I hope that I challenge, encourage, and inspire, as well as inform. I want to shape leaders who are humble, competent, Spirit-filled, prayerful, cruciform, creative, and hopeful towards what Christ can and will do with this needy world.
Since graduation from Gordon-Conwell and subsequently Durham, how have you seen your field grow and change?
Very tough question to answer. Off the top of my head
1. Theological Interpretation: I don’t know quite when it happened, but through the work of people like Stephen Fowl, Francis Watson, Joel Green, and Richard Hays, it became okay (again) for biblical scholars to actually talk about God (!) and about theology (!). It is refreshing to be able to go the conferences and talk about Scripture as divine revelation!
2. Publish-o-mania: Something has changed in the last decade or so regarding publishing – books are coming out faster and in droves. It is impossible to keep up with this proliferation.
3. The Young Influencers: I am seeing now that there are scholars in their thirties and early forties who are becoming major influencers – people like Chris Keith and Chris Tilling. Perhaps this has something to do with “publish-o-mania” and also with blogs and twitter, but it also has something to do with the heavy competition for PhD programs and jobs out there. Because of the competition, the bar for excellence has gone up and up and up, so we are seeing outstanding younger scholars. It is exciting to see young leaders in the guild show ambition, maturity, and set a high standard for the rest of us!
4. Revival of the generalists: The second half of the 20th century seemed to be a time of intense specialization – you studied your little piece of the pie (e.g., Johannine studies, Galatians, James) and left the other slices for someone else. We are now seeing more and more generalists (Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, Mike Bird). Some might see this as folks weakening “expertise” – perhaps. But I think this is much better for those of us who teach, who can and want to teach more general courses.
What is your greatest joy serving as a professor?
Spurring students to dig deep into Scripture and see the terrifying, beautiful, wonderful glory of the Triune God. I also love seeing self-motivated students who go the extra mile and produce papers and works of excellence. I also really get a kick out of seeing students use what they learned in seminary in their ministries in creative ways.
Returning to the topic of seminary, what was one (or several) things that you gleaned during your time at seminary that is helpful for your current role?
Loving the diversity of the people of God. I am so glad I attended a seminary that appreciates a multitude of denominations and traditions. I had Pentecostal professors, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and plenty else. This prepared me for not having my guard up when I encountered different faith traditions. It taught me to look for the core (of Jesus Christ) and to avoid being self-righteous about my tradition.
Keep discipleship at the center. At GCTS, I was mentored by several faculty, and Amy and I attended President Kaiser’s home Bible study. Personal spiritual maturity was at the center of almost all my courses and I have tried to replicate that spirit in my own courses.
Maintain high standards. I guess I am known for being a particularly “hard” professor. In my own mind, I am just matching the standards that were set for me in seminary. I deeply appreciate that people like Dr. Ciampa and Dr. Stuart pushed me hard. I definitely got my money’s worth and more!
What advice would you have for someone considering seminary?
Get to know the faculty before you choose a seminary. They are the lifeblood of the institution. Try to have a visit with one or two faculty.
Don’t go to seminary simply for what it can do for you once you “have a degree.” Make sure you want to spend 3-5 years reading, writing papers, studying, and giving it your all so you can get the most out of it. If you can’t dedicate serious time to it, wait or don’t do it.
Go to seminary with a teachable spirit. Expect to change. One of the greatest obstacles that I face with students is finding a student closed off and unwilling to re-think their understanding of Scripture, theology, and ministry. Again, plan on being open and listening. You may not change, but there is no harm in doing real investigation and re-examination.
What advice would you have for a recent seminary graduate?
I don’t mean to be trite, but I would say, “Trust God with open hands.” I think a lot of my frustration has come with over-planning – “I am going to do this, and then this, and then this.” God had to break me of that thinking.
Secondly, know how privileged you are. So many post-seminarians just throw up their hands and say, “Well, that was a waste – maybe I will try a different field.” Fine, go where God leads. But know that it is a huge privilege and blessing to have done a seminary degree and there are churches and ministries starving for help and wisdom. Even if you don’t become a minister or missionary, whatever you do, try to be a good steward of what God has given you (knowledge, wisdom, training). Embrace opportunities to share what you know with others.
Finally, network. It is a dirty word to some (“schmoozing”), but just having a strong friendship network is one of the best ways to get connected to job opportunities. You don’t have to pretend or suck up or put on a show. Just make plans to go to conferences of interest to you or other group situations and make friends. It can be awkward, but it has blessed me in so many ways (wish I had time to tell you about the African Pentecostals who made some noise praying for me when they pulled me aside at SBL a couple of years ago!).
Thanks for the excellent interview, Dr. Gutpa.