Gospel Oriented TransformationBy Kris Rolls on August 24, 2015
Dr. Timothy Gombis is associate professor of New Testament here at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and has published multiple works on the writings and theology of Paul. You can see a sample of his published material on his website. This summer I was able to sit down and interview him about his current writing project—a forthcoming commentary on Mark's Gospel—and a special series he's teaching at GRTS, the Thursday Evening Bible Class (TEBC), which is a community Bible study series taught by a GRTS professor every fall.
As a professor and scholar, Dr. Gombis consistently demonstrates how critical engagement with the Scriptures can transform the practical life of the Church. We are excited about his new commentary and the content he has planned for the Bible class.
KR: Tell me a bit about your recent work in Mark and how/why you decided to take up the project.
TG: I was asked by Scot McKnight, the main editor of the Story of God Commentary Series, to write a volume on Mark's Gospel just before I came to GRTS in 2011. I initially told him I didn't feel qualified to write on Mark, since most of my scholarly research has been in Paul's letters and Pauline theology. But they were looking for a more expositional approach. They wanted a commentary that would read the biblical text within the larger story of the Bible. I had already taught through Mark in my church and led some Bible studies, so I felt I could work at the level they were expecting.
I have really enjoyed this project and mainly approached it as a learning opportunity, getting into narrative approaches to the Gospels and other aspects of Gospels study. Nearly every passage in Mark is a challenge to the Church and to disciples of Jesus, and I've been constantly amazed at the narrative sophistication of Mark. It's been fascinating! I expect the commentary will be released in the Summer of 2017, Lord willing.
KR: What has been the most surprising discovery you have made in journeying through the Gospel of Mark? What has challenged you?
TG: I've been constantly struck by Mark's challenge to disciples of Jesus, especially to those who long for Jesus or who want to see God's reign enacted on earth. Mark expects that most of the characters in the narrative have these desires, but he also assumes those desires and hopes are misdirected in some way. The disciples in Mark (and many others) want God's Messiah, but they want him in their own image—after their own desires, prejudices, hopes, fears and expectations.
Plus, the characters who play the worst role in Mark are the Pharisees and scribes. What's been challenging to me is putting myself in their shoes. The Pharisees are me (and seminary students!). We are biblically trained, well-versed in Scripture, and we want God's Kingdom enacted among us. But in what ways do we subtly let our own desires corrupt our view of God, his Son, his Kingdom, and who our fellow Kingdom citizens are?
KR: How do you think your recent study will shape the Thursday Evening Bible Class this semester?
TG: It will certainly have a major influence on the TEBC. I have been taking an audience-centered approach in the commentary. That is, I'm not focusing on historical questions, but on how Mark is trying to affect transformation in the audiences that hear his Gospel. So, I'm hoping to reproduce that in the TEBC.
Considering how confrontational Mark is with his audience(s), it may get a bit uncomfortable! At point after point, Mark grabs his audience by the shirt and holds before them their own failures and their complicity in failing to live into the fullness of God's Kingdom. I will try to represent that and raise questions about how that same dynamic takes place in our churches. I will also try to constructively consider how we can overcome our shortcomings and take steps to faithfully enjoy and radiate God's reign.
KR: What do you hope students, pastors, and ministry leaders take away from studying Mark's Gospel this semester?
TG: I hope they come away with a new and renewed sense of how to read a Gospel narrative—to take it seriously on its own terms, rather than taking little snippets from episodes and framing them within modern ideologies and frameworks. Reading Mark on its own terms is extremely disconcerting. It makes Jesus seem strange, quite honestly (he does things and says things that are often offensive, confusing, or off-putting), and it makes the book strange as well. We can struggle to make sense of what Mark is doing as he portrays Jesus as he does. But if we do the hard work of diligently attending to the text, we will come away transformed, and we will have an increasingly faithful understanding of both Mark's Gospel and of Jesus Christ.
Also, I hope we all come away with a renewed sense of the "otherness" of Jesus Christ and his Father. Many in our evangelical heritage try to bring God near—rightly so! But we often construct the Creator God and Jesus Christ in our own image. Mark shatters those images, which is unsettling (it certainly was to the disciples in Mark's narrative!), but we ultimately come away with something far better. Mark aims to clear the deck for disciples who want a clearer and more faithful understanding of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ. I hope the TEBC is a small step in that direction for all who attend!
About Thursday Evening Bible Class
As a student and a staff member, I have been privileged to spend a lot of time with Dr. Gombis in the classroom. Through every lecture he has consistently challenged me to take the Scripture more seriously. The work he's done on Mark's Gospel will be perfect groundwork for the Thursday Evening Bible Class. Please consider joining us as we study Mark together!