George Guthrie on Hebrews, Middle Earth, and Coming to Regent
Regent’s recently arrived Professor of New Testament, Dr. George Guthrie, took a break from unpacking to share about his journey to Regent, why he’s jazzed about Hebrews, and his connection to Middle Earth.
Dr. Guthrie completed an MDiv at Southwestern Baptist University, and went on to obtain an MTh in New Testament Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School before returning to Southwestern to complete his PhD on the structure of Hebrews in 1991. Prior to his appointment at Regent, Dr. Guthrie was the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at his undergraduate alma mater, Union University. He is an internationally recognized New Testament scholar and highly sought after lecturer.
The following conversation took place between Guthrie and Lizibeth Fischer on behalf of Regent College Communications on August 15, 2018, and was lightly edited for length.
First of all, welcome to Regent!
I understand you come to Regent from 28 years of teaching at your alma mater. How did you and your wife come to be open to making such a significant move?
In 2013, we were on research leave in Cambridge. For six months, we were there living in the midst of a bunch of grad students from all over the world, and walking with them while doing our writing and the various things we had going. It was a wonderful integration of community, the intellectual life, and academic life. When we came back from that experience, it had kind of messed us up—in a good way! We felt like the earth had moved under our feet a bit, like we were put into a time of unsettledness. I jokingly say that I normally schedule my mid-life crisis for every June [Laughs]. So I felt like I was just having successive midlife crises. But, when we found ourselves in a conversation about Regent with Phil Long, we immediately were open, and felt like obedience meant to walk through the conversation and see where it went. In every stage it seemed clear to us that we were to go to the next step… and all those steps led right here to Regent. We will miss the network of relationships we had in Tennessee, but we anticipate that because the body of Christ is everywhere, those networks of relationships are now going to be built here. We are very excited about being on this adventure.
You’ve come to us with your partner in this adventure, your wife—who in one place I read you refer to as “the incomparable Pat Guthrie.” Tell us a little about her.
That’s right! Pat is from a German-Lutheran family in south central Texas, so kind of that strange blend of German and Texan! You know, with her great-grandfather wearing his cowboy boots and cowboy hat with his German mustache. Pat and I met in seminary. She was working on an MDiv degree at the time, and I was actually substitute teaching a Greek class. I asked her to marry me right before the final exam and messed her grade up terribly. Pat is amazing and is my best friend. Our ministry is very integrated. So she will take classes at Regent, have lots of time with students here, and will have students into our home. We are in a stage now where both of our kids are grown—my son is an engineer in Jackson, Tennessee, and my daughter is in graphic design in Chattanooga, Tennessee—so it’s a new stage of life for us because the kids are not close by. Pat has the freedom to kind of be minister-at-large, in a sense. She has the gift of hospitality and is very oriented to connecting with people relationally and ministering to them.
That’s such a generous posture, and a gift to any community.
Well, from the beginning, we wanted to live close by so that she could be integrated into the campus and the campus could be integrated to our home. That was one of our highest priorities, actually.
That seems to fit really well with Regent’s ethos. You’ve written a lot academically, but you have also created multiple resources to equip lay people to read the Bible well. Am I right to suspect that this emphasis on training laity is another area of resonance with Regent?
Absolutely. Part of the attraction of Regent was that there was a consonance between Regent and how the Lord had shaped us, what he had shaped us to value in community, and in academic community. There is a need in the church broadly for a lot more training of lay people, and Regent is excelling at giving this unique type of education to very bright lay people who are from a variety of backgrounds. My book Read the Bible for Life came out of the fact that in my Intro to Bible Study class at Union University I always asked each class, “How many of you have ever been in a church that offered any course on how to read or study the Bible?” And you know: three hands, zero hands. The most I ever had was seven hands out of twenty or so students. So we essentially hold up the Bible and say, “This is the foundation for your life, the foundation for everything we do at church. And good luck with Leviticus—I hope that goes well.” We kind of assume that people are going to know how to engage this very complex literature of the ancient world. So, I am passionate about us thinking creatively about not only how we draw individuals into reading the Bible more effectively but also how we help churches think about ongoing training in how to read well.
Your appointment here is as Professor of New Testament, and your publications reflect your expertise in that field. Do you have a further specialty within that?
I have spent most of my academic life focused on the book of Hebrews. My doctoral dissertation was a text-linguistic analysis of Hebrews. I have written a commentary on Hebrews, a background commentary on Hebrews, and hopefully in the near future I am going to write a theology of Hebrews. So a lot of my focus has been on that book—and I am as excited about it as I have ever been! I mean, really. I still get jazzed about getting to study and learn new things. But in the last few years I have also been writing on Paul. I am not a Pauline scholar, really; I want to grow in that regard. I’ve gotten dragged into Paul because I was asked if I would do a commentary of 2 Corinthians. But I love being able to go and teach pastors how 2 Corinthians is so relevant for people struggling with crisis in the church, and with their own crises in terms of persecution or emotional struggle.
What would you really love for the people of God to grasp more deeply about the book of Hebrews?
Hebrews is asking, how do we persevere in the faith when culture around us is putting pressure on us to stop doing that? The thing I say at the beginning of my Hebrews class is that the book’s key idea is this: that your perseverance in the faith will be in direct proportion to the clarity with which you see who Jesus is and what he has accomplished on your behalf. Christ, in his high priestly sacrifice, has so decisively dealt with our sins that every sin we have ever committed, every sin we ever will commit, has been dealt with in him if we are part of the New Covenant. If you can grasp the decisiveness with which we have been forgiven—the comprehensiveness of that—it will change you. There is a gravity, a depth of the decisiveness of that forgiveness, which begins to work its way into you, and it becomes transformative.
I want to take your Hebrews class! So, you said that you’d like to keep expanding your breadth beyond that specialty—any current research questions simmering, or areas you are hoping to engage?
Well, I am trying to finish a commentary on Philippians, and I am finding with an international move that it’s not making much progress at the moment! My goodness, there are Philippians articles that are begging to be written. I am teaching a course on advanced Greek readings this fall, and again, there are grammatical questions that are very interesting to me. But right now, I am mainly trying to figure out how to do our recycling, just figuring out the basics of how to live in this new place!
Vancouver recycling—the struggle is real. So, green bins first, and the Greek grammatical questions of Philippians second for now?
[Laughs] I am not sure I am going to be able to figure out the recycling thing here. But, what I hope to do over the first couple years at Regent is to get to know students, to get to know the community, to do what I need to do for the students to grow in the classes I am teaching. I think the first couple years are going to be trying to establish those kinds of rhythms and getting integrated into the community. So, I don’t yet feel like I am going to have a lot of emotional space for super big, new projects and things like that. I think I need to fulfill the projects that I already have in the pipeline and then just learn how to be who God has called us to be here.
Is there particular music that has been significant to you in this season?
I wish I could just say something obviously erudite, like that a piece of classical music has been my main inspiration right now. We love classical music. But at the moment, very personally, Andrew Peterson’s music has meant a lot to me. He is from Nashville and basically writes about life and following God through the world. He writes music that in some ways is regional to where I grew up. Some of his stuff has been very meaningful to me in the context of our move. He has a song called “Is He Worthy”—look it up and see what you think.
Will do. When you aren’t reading Greek texts for work and study, what might we find you reading?
I love the works of people like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; they have really had an impact on me. I love Lord of the Rings. I would read Lord of the Rings every month if I could! Just to give you an idea, the Wi-Fi at our home is tagged “Elrond’s House.”
Amazing. Finally, rumor has it that when you and Pat arrived you were rather taken with Regent’s little garden. Do you have a green thumb?
I do! I come from generations of gardeners. My great-grandmother lived in central Arkansas and had beautiful gardens, and my grandfather had 150 rose bushes in his backyard at one time. I love gardening. So yes, I am interested in Regent’s garden. I have not been able to be involved yet—I am still trying to unpack boxes! But things that are green and living are really important to me. I need to have a tree to hug, or a plant to get my hands in the dirt. So I am looking forward to hopefully being in the gardening soup group and contributing eventually.
Thank you again for this interview! We’re so pleased to welcome you and Pat to Regent and look forward to getting to know you both.