Rev. Dr. Dan Nighswander, along with his wife Mrs. Yvonne, spent about six weeks in The Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India, in order to work toward his forthcoming commentary on First Corinthians. We had a wonderful time with this couple. Dr. Dan was helping us in the NT studies department as a resource person. Dan has been the pastor at Jubilee Mennonite Church since August 2009. Before that he was a conference youth pastor, pastor at two churches in Ontario, part-time lecturer in New Testament at Conrad Grebel University College, denominational administrator for Mennonite Church Canada and missionary in South Africa. He holds Masters degrees from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Wilfrid Laurier University, and he completed his PhD in New Testament at Toronto School of Theology. He has a special interest in First Corinthians and he is writing a commentary on that New Testament letter. Dr. Dan and Mrs. Yvonne have two daughters, two sons-in-law, and four grand children. The below questions and answers are part of our various conversations in the UBS Campus.
Question #1: Dr. Dan Nighswander, may you share with us your experience of combining the academic and ministerial aspects together?
Dan: After I graduated from seminary I started my first pastorate and my second master’s degree at the same time. Five years later I started my doctoral program, which I completed while pastoring a church and teaching part-time. For me, it has worked well to combine academic and pastoral ministry so that I bring my best knowledge to preaching and I bring questions from the congregational experience to my academic pursuits.God has called me to both pastoral and academic forms of ministry. For some years my ministry did not allow time for academic pursuits and that created a personal as well as a professional loss.
Question #2: Who were the two significant New Testament scholars influenced you the most in your academic life?
Dan: In my doctoral studies Dr. Richard N. Longenecker was one of many teachers who was influential. More recently I have been shaped by Dr. N.T. Wright’s books.
Question #3: What are the areas of your interest in preaching and teaching?
Dan: In teaching I am interested in Pauline letters, especially 1 Corinthians; also synoptic gospels and John. I have found social scientific questions to be particularly fruitful for my understanding. In preaching I am especially interested in spiritual growth (the experience of grace, prayer, and awareness of God),discipleship (hence, understanding Jesus), and creating a lively encounter with the Bible that will inspire people to love, read and obey it.
Question #4: Tell us about your current writing project.
Dan: I am writing a commentary on 1 Corinthians for the Believer’s Church Bible Commentary series. These commentaries are for pastors and lay leaders, and in addition to exegesis they include comments on “The Text in the Life of the Church” for each section of text. It brings together my academic and pastoral interests.
Question #5: In your opinion, how the Eastern New Testament studies are different from that of the Western?
Dan: There are aspects of the culture and world view of the Bible that Western Scholars don’t understand because they were set in the Mediterranean and influenced by the East. Examples would include family systems, the value of honor and shame, authority and power, political systems and others.
Question #6: Do you think that bridging the Eastern and the Western New Testament scholarship is possible? How?
Dan: I think it is possible if scholars are aware of their own perspectives and open to other ways of reading the texts. Western scholars have less experience with this than Eastern scholars because the weight of publishing has been in the West and Eastern scholars have studied in the West. It would help if Eastern scholars would publish with a self-consciously Eastern world view. As an example, some Western NT scholars have explored the influence of shame and of patronage in the Bible. Eastern scholars could contribute a lot to this perspective. Some other cultural aspects of the Bible are more like the Eastern mind (see the writings of Kenneth Bailey and others), and Western scholars should humbly listen to what Eastern scholars have to say. Eastern and Western scholars are asking different questions of the texts, and we can be stimulated by listening to each other’s questions as well as to each other’s answers.
Question #7: What is your advice to the upcoming New Testament scholars, preachers, and teachers of the Eastern world?
Dan: Explore your own cultural perspective on the texts and be confident in the wisdom of your experience. Publish your insights, and when you teach require students to read more Eastern than Western scholars. Focus your scholarship on the service of the church in your own context rather than on impressing other scholars.
Interviewed by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India