The Theologist is your guide to all things writing and publishing in the fields of theology and biblical studies, from finding inspiration for your work to reading the best literature on writing, from overcoming writing obstacles to finding writing mentors, and more. In this newest installation of The Theologist, we interview Michael Gorman. Dr. Gorman is the author of many books, including The Self, the Lord, and the Other according to Paul and Epictetus: The Theological Significance of Reflexive Language (Cascade, 2023), Abide and Go: Missional Theosis in the Gospel of John (Cascade, 2018), Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Cascade, 2011), and Reading Paul (Cascade, 2008).
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite, and why?
Depending on how you count, I’ve written about twenty, including two that I edited (but also contributed to in a major way) plus two that have appeared in two or three editions with major revisions—which felt like writing a new book each time. My favorite? That’s a bit like asking which of our children is my favorite! But I suppose, on the one hand, it has to be either Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross or Elements of Biblical Exegesis because of their wide usage and influence (hopefully for the good). But, on the other hand, the most fun ones to write were two Cascade books—Reading Revelation Responsibly and Reading Paul—plus Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary.
Who have been the biggest influences on you and your work?
The biggest academic influences on me and my work have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Richard Hays, and Tom (N. T.) Wright. But there is a group of non-academic Christian friends who have been with me and supported me for decades, and influenced me and my approach to biblical interpretation and scholarship greatly.
What pitfalls do you think early-career academics tend to fall into when writing and publishing their work?
Too much too soon! It’s fine to publish your dissertation and a few articles early on. But in my view, to make a real contribution, you have to have something distinctive to say, and it takes a while to find both your voice and your content. Often, that develops as you teach, and re-teach, and re-teach the same subjects.
What advice would you give these same early-career academics about writing and publishing?
Take time to develop that distinctive voice, perspective(s), and/or topic(s).
What research or writing habits have you found difficult to maintain over the course of a decades-long career in the field? What, if anything, has helped you face these difficulties?
Simply keeping up with the literature in your own sub-sub-specialty is a challenge, so finding ways to receive notification of new books, articles, etc. is critical, and then having some sort of filing system to keep track of them is critical. It was much easier, in some respects, when there was less. But it is also easier, in some ways, because of electronic resources, pdfs, etc. For instance, marking up a pdf is, I think, so much more helpful for study (not to mention for inclusion of excerpts in a book) than underlining hard copy.
I’ve also found it harder to write for ten or twelve hours a day, two or three days a week (or more during sabbaticals), as I have done at various times in my career. I now tend to write in blocks of two to three hours, sometimes two or three times a day, but never all day.
How has your view of the publishing industry changed throughout your career?
I suppose both the industry itself and my view of it have changed. Early on I thought only the “best” work gets published, and that is clearly not the case. Too often (though not always, thankfully—with W&S being a great exception), business wins out over quality or distinctiveness. However, although I used to think of publishers as “things,” or “companies,” I now think of them (at least those with which I work) as groups of friends. That’s a major change.
What are the most essential features of good academic writing, in your mind?
Precision, clarity, creativity, elegance, vivid imagery, and a spirit of joy (I almost said “fun”).
Which active biblical scholars do you think are particularly skillful writers, and what makes each of them skillful?
There are quite a few, especially among senior scholars, but Richard Hays and Tom Wright are among the best. (See below for part of the rationale.) So also are Edith Humphrey, Beverly Gaventa, Dean Flemming, and Joel Green. Among younger scholars, Rebekah Eklund and Joshua Jipp are favorites of mine. In their own way, they each have a special way with words. Their writing is precise, clear, creative, elegant, image-rich, and fun. (See above.)
How do you measure your own success in your writing, or would you measure your writing according to a different yardstick than success? What accomplishment are you after when you write?
Since I write as an academic in and for the church (broadly understood), I am most grateful when my work positively affects and even shapes other scholars, who then affect their students, who then affect the “people in the pew.” I am grateful as well when my books simply make fellow scholars or students better interpreters of Scripture.
Who are your three favorite authors to read, and why?
Bonhoeffer, Hays, and Wright (see above): Bonhoeffer because he is so challenging; Hays because he is so exegetically precise and perceptive; and Wright because he is so insightful about the big picture—and is such an engaging writer (even when you don’t agree with him).
What book (or books) are you currently reading?
I am in the beginning or middle of several new “big-picture” books on Paul, including Joshua Jipp’s Pauline Theology as a Way of Life and Matthew Thiessen’s A Jewish Paul. I’m also working through William Campbell’s new commentary on Romans.
Do you have any new or prospective projects on the horizon?
I am currently completing a commentary on 1 Corinthians as a companion volume to my Romans commentary (both with Eerdmans), starting a book on themes in Romans (for Zondervan in the Word Biblical Themes series), and compiling some previously published essays for a book or two with Cascade. I will also be turning my fall 2024 lectures at Nazarene Theological Seminary into a book with Baker Academic. All of this, naturally, Deo volente.
Michael J. Gorman holds the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the author of numerous books on Paul and other topics in New Testament theology.