A Conversation With Chris Tilling: Interview Series, Pt. 4

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Chris Tilling of the infamous blog, Chrisendom. As usual, he was witty, humorous and quite plebian (he even signed into the Pisteuomen Chat Room under the name "CheapAndCheerful." And somehow, he got us sidetracked onto the topic of "knickers.") Anyways, what follows is a transcript of the interview; I'm sure you'll enjoy it. After you read the interview, be sure to check out Tilling's site at the following link: Chrisendom.

Question: So, Chris, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you originally from? Where are you studying? And, What are a couple of goals you have set for yourself in the field of biblical studies?

Answer: Well, thanks for this wee in interview, Michael. Those who read my blog will know that I’m a pale-faced, large-stomached Englishman with a soft-spot for cakes and, well, food generally really. That’s about it! Let me think....Fat. No, I said that. Umm, well, I am a theology/NT-o-phile, if you understand me. I salivate over books, read them almost non-stop, and am all-in-all a bit obsessive compulsive about turning the next page. Now, where I am originally from, that is an easier one to answer: I was born in South Africa–my parents lived there for a few years. But I grew up in South East England just outside of London, in Surrey, in a place called Tadworth–not far from Sutton, where Jackie Pullinger grew up, if you have heard of her. We then moved to Banstead, just down the road. ‘Banstead’ has become synonymous with ‘retarded, mentally handicapped’ in that area of England–not because I lived there, I hasten to add, but because it used to sport a large mental home. Now, to my studies. I’m writing up my PhD at the moment, contributing to the Pauline divine-Christology debate. I really enjoy my work, I just can’t tell you how much! I’m affirming a divine-Christology in Paul in, I think, an interesting and most convincing way! Goals? Hmm. Well, I want to be famous, have a fan club, have groupies follow me around on my lecturing trips, have them throw their knickers at me, etc. The usual thing, really. I also want to first finish my doctorate. But I have a few articles that I want to get published too. I suppose my purpose in biblical studies is to pursue academic excellence, but also for the sake of the church, especially my own church background–which lies in the charismatic/evangelical camp.

Question: You have noted on your blog that you are studying under Max Turner. Give the readers a brief statement about Dr. Turner (who he is, what he's know for, etc.) and what it has been like to be a student of his?

Answer: Max is a lovely chap, but being in Germany, I don’t have too much to do with him, to be honest. I see him a couple of times a year, usually, but not much more. Max will be known to some for his work "The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: in the New Testament Church and Today,” as well as his major work, “Power From on High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke–Acts”. Recently, he has worked as co-editor of the brilliant new Two Horizons Commentary series. What else can I say? He is a very smart chap and he has been incredibly supportive of my own work. So he really can’t be all that bad!

Question: Well, let's shift gears and get back to talking about those "knickers" that you mentioned a few minutes ago. Or...maybe we should just move on. Let me ask you, What would you say has been one of, if not "the," most influential / important moments in your studies?

Answer: Yea, better leave those knickers behind. If my wife reads this... But this is a good question you ask about "influence." I don’t know if I can pinpoint any one influence. I suppose blogging has helped me broaden my thinking, to write more cogently (at least I claim so!), and has given me all sorts of contacts. But, there is Mehrdad Fatehi’s book on Paul, The Risen Lord and the Spirit–the best book of its kind, I think. It helped me formulate my thoughts enormously. But so did Fee’s recent work, Pauline Christology, sort of–in that I had to restructure my thesis because he had published some of what I was hoping to be my originality! The brute! Richard Bauckham’s work–and lectures when I studied at St Andrews–pushed me in the direction of Christology, especially as my own faith was always rubbed against the JWs and the Christadelphians when I first became Christian. There is much more I could write here...but I won't.

Question: At least your wife wears knickers! I've heard some interesting things about Eurpoean women! Anyways, so, what are some ways that one might get typical parishioners / congregants interested in a subject like Pauline Christology?

Answer: I suppose this whole knickers thing is going to get me in trouble now–but seeing as I’m in a grave, I might as well dig deeper: I’d actually heard that it was American men who tend to wear knickers. That would explain a lot, I think. Anyway, back to the topic! “What are some ways that one might get typical parishioners / congregants interested in a subject like Pauline Christology?” I’m personally all for the use of violence. Beat the living stupidity out of enough of them and surely one or two will start to read Pannenberg or Fee, or Bauckham at some stage. Either that, or scholars need to learn to write also for “the person in the pew”, as Jim West does, for example. And there is plenty about Pauline Christology that can and should nourish the church, which brings me back to my lecture trips and the groupies!

Question: Yes, there's nothing like a nice pair of knickers for a Christmas gift or a warm pair out of the dryer (or microwave). You might give it a go sometime! But I guess this (somehow) leads me to another question: In your opinion, what are some ways that we can begin to bridge the gap that exists between the academy and the Church? (Of course, this assumes that there is a gap and that it needs to be bridged. You might not share that assumption, if not, could you say a few words about that?)

Answer: Thanks, I’ll try that microwaved underpants thing (you see, I try to accommodate myself to Americans as best as I can). As to the bridge thing, I am tempted to write that we should round up all Fundamentalists and get liberal... with bullets–but that is only the dark and very unregenerate, non-Christian, fleshy urge in me. I am sure that a gap exists, and I think the pastor has the greatest responsibility to preach honest sermons, not to gloss over difficulties, gray areas and real differences of opinion (i.e. without simply calling those who disagree on a point “heretics”). However, this needs to be done without leaving a congregation confused, as if everyone needed to read academic tomes to sort out their faith! I suppose the role of those of us Christians who want to head into academia is to help serve the local pastor at this level. Perhaps another idea is to engage in open discussion and critique of ‘bible schools’ that simply pass on a Fundie package to all and sundry looking to minister. Dialogue must be opened up and encouraged in the seminary with other seminaries that do not share the same “faith statements.” This is a good topic for a blog post idea! By the way, I’m just joking about the Fundie shooting, of course. I know lots of lovely Fundie Christians–far better people than me. And bullets cost too much. Give me fifteen minutes with a golf club–that would be cheaper!

Question: You mentioned Americans (God's chosen people of course, according to the Word of Faith / prosperity preachers anyways). In all seriousness though, do you have a favorite scholar from the States? If so, who and why do you enjoy their work so much?

Answer: That’s a good question. But I just had a thought: golf clubs aren’t too cheap either. Ok, half an hour with umm…I dunno, a long spiked bottle opener, yeah, that ought to make the ‘point.’ As to God’s people, I think we have all learnt a lot from Richard Hays, Witherington, Sanders...there are so many. Oh, you wanted my favorite…Hmm, I'm not really sure I can say. Green is one of my favorites. Perhaps I'll say Hays, but I'd probably change my mind if I thought about it (…then there is Jim West....). Well, Fee too. Oh man. Next question! No, this is way too mean of a question. I'm looking over my shelves, there are too many to choose from!

Question: As I said, we are God's chosen (just kidding). Shifting gears again, let me ask you: When did you begin blogging and why? You made reference above, to the fact that it has it helped you become a better thinker and scholar, how so?

Answer: I began blogging I think in 2005. It was just for fun, for making silly jokes with friends left behind in England. It wasn’t meant to be a biblioblog or anything like that, and certainly not a blog with a philosophy or a statement of mission or such things. I just wanted to take the “p” out of films, random people etc. (to buffer my inferiority complex with a sense of greatness), have fun. But you know what it is like. If theology / NT study is your passion, it starts to leak through automatically. And it was a lot of fun. I still have a great deal of fun blogging. Clever people started to make comments on my blog and they challenged me to think more carefully and to express myself better. I was greedy to learn. Blogging, for me, has only been helpful.

Question: Before I ask a final question, I want to thank you, Chris, for taking the time to interview. But here's the final question (a nightmare, perhaps for those of us who are book fanatics): If you could own only one book (along with the Bible), what would it be and why?

Answer: Thanks for this little online conversation, Michael, it has been fun! And you are right, that is a nightmare question. Does a series of books count (like Church Dogmatics?)

Reply: Well, I think that is cheating, so, no, I guess not.

Answer: Hmm, tough. Well, this is like the American scholar question. I'll write an answer, think about it a bit more and panic. But I'll have a stab with the first one that came to mind: Anthony Thiselton's NIGTC commentary on 1 Corinthians. Or, perhaps, a prayer book (Church of England Common Worship: Daily Prayer). I'll stop now, before I think of more!

Thanks again to Chris Tilling for taking the time to stop by Pisteuomen and chat. Don't forget to check out his blog at the following link: Chrisendom.


  1. Very well done so thanks to the both of you.

  2. I think the pastor has the greatest responsibility to preach honest sermons, not to gloss over difficulties, gray areas and real differences of opinion. … However, this needs to be done without leaving a congregation confused. … I suppose the role of those of us Christians who want to head into academia is to help serve the local pastor at this level.

    I think that's a really important point. I have had some experience in both liberal and evangelical churches. The evangelicals have a blinkered perspective; they duck the hard questions. But the liberal pastors are very, very confused, which of course filters down to their parishioners!

    I am fond of Brueggemann's notion that believers pass through a cycle of orientation / disorientation / new orientation. Evangelicals seem to me to be stuck at the "orientation" stage — they need to go on a voyage of discovery, have their world rocked a bit. Liberals are stuck at the disorientation stage.

    Scholars would do a major service for the church if they enabled people to get beyond disorientation. I suspect that explains a great part of Bishop Wright's popularity.

  3. Stephen (aka Q),
    Well put! I attended a very conservative, evangelical college and then to an extremely liberal seminary and then to a moderate evangelical seminary. I would have to say that the two extremes (as you've pointed out) have it wrong. While I am not a middle of the ground type of person, it does seem that in my experience, the middle ground school is one of the most fruitful academic experiences I've had. There, people tend to not let go of their core beliefs yet, they are not scared to have them questioned or even modified when necesarry.

    Also, I think your comment about NT Wright is excellent, perhaps you're on to something there.

  4. The comic relief is welcome - but a serious question has been raised that has been discussed before. From the point of view of a parishioner only 30 years behind in his study, even if there are excellent interpreters today, their day passes. But we are not without hope - so for academic and cleric alike, can you act as stimulus, catalyst, encourager, to those whom history has confused, yet who have begun their engagement with God through their tradition? I recall the opening of the Great Code by Northrope Frye in which he so carefully explicates how growth comes not by answering questions but by refining them. He notes perticularly that premature answers stunt growth by preventing the development of fuller and better questions. So it is that some of the most unpopular lobbies have raised questions that in some circles get a short answer and in others get long discussions. Eventually in the economy of God, through the narrow gate, a new orientation can emerge that has both discipline and a wide expanse - in which we all can grow into the fullness into which we are invited.

    Bruggemann's pattern is a good one - being threefold, it gets beyond the adage that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide everything into two kinds of things and those who don't. (But I have a bone to pick with him - he gives short shrift to the psalms of praise at the end of the psalter).

  5. Bob,
    You raise some good points. I remember sitting in a lecture that Clark Pinnock was giving. He made an off-color comment that struck me, he said, "...all of old scholars have to die someday, not least so that the young theologians can have their turn." You're right that the interpreter's day eventually passes. Yet, the role of interpreter never does. The thing is, not only are the academics interpreters but so too are the parishoners (even if they don't realize it; every time they listen or read they interpret). From my point of view, it is the role of the one who has given his/her life to doing the best interpretation possible, to help these people to be the best interpreters as well. This does not mean, though, that the academians have a corner on parishoners; it is to simply say that they should offer them their konwledge and tools and in doing so, also be ready to learn from the parishoner too about the process of interpretation (and application).