Mike Bird is a biblical theologian and the author or editor of more than 30 books. He is Academic Dean and Lecturer in Theology at Ridley College.
Welcome! Before we begin, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and your academic foci?
My name is Mike, I was born in German to British parents, emigrated to Australia as an infant, became a Christian while in the Army at age 20. Left the Army, went to a seminary called Malyon College, then did postgraduate work at the University of Queensland on the historical Jesus. I’ve taught at Highland Theological College in Scotland, Brisbane School of Theology, and now at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. I’m an Anglican priest and married with four kids. Authored and edited around 30 books or so. And I really, really hate coffee.
How did you first become interested in theology?
Naturally as a believer I was interested in some theology, and it snowballed from there. I got interested in apologetics, then biblical studies, then teaching. I was thinking about becoming an army chaplain, but my gifts were more academic and based on writing and communication.
What is your relationship with faith and God?
Well, I believe in God. The only reason I do what I do is because I believe in Jesus Christ. I’m a priest, a professor, and a servant of the church. I try to mediate between the academy and the church.
How has your perception of Paul changed through the years?
I’ve changed from thinking of Paul as a proto-Puritan to Paul as a Diaspora Jew who believed that Jesus is the Messiah and Jews and Gentiles are called to place faith in him. I have historical and theological interests in Paul and the challenge and fun is there is mutual interaction between those two interests.
What is one of the most common misconceptions about Paul?
Everyone’s misconception is the same: Paul was just like me. Whether that is a Texan evangelical, a coastal liberal, or whatever, everybody paints Paul in their own image.
If I had to be more specific, I’d say many people think Paul’s letters are all addressing the one question, “What must I do to be saved?” Whereas I think Paul is dealing with a lot of earthy and nitty-gritty stuff about “Who are God’s people” as well as food, fellowship, death and despair, and how to be a Jesus-follower in an ancient urban center.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have a formal system of theology and yet there are some who argue it is time to develop one. What are some advantages the religion might see if it pursued such a course – and what are some of the dangers that would be associated with trying to systematize theology in a church so reliant upon revelation?
Well, I can’t speak for Mormonism or about Mormonism with any authority. The danger with any system of theology is that you just end up pushing the round peg of Scripture into the square hole of a system. As if the system tells you what Scripture says and all you have to do is find out where all the pieces go.
What is the relationship between theology and faith? Have you ever encountered an issue that tried your faith?
The purpose of theology – to echo Kevin Vanhoozer – is so that those who bear Christ’s name learn to walk in Christ’s way. Through theology we begin to grasp ever more profoundly the love and beauty of the God who knows us and loves us. We attain more properly and more precisely what Anselm said when he called theology “faith seeking understanding.”
In light of that, the goal of our instruction in the Scriptures and the purpose of our exploration of the Christian faith is to know God better, so that we may grow in our love for God. As Ellen T. Charry comments, “By knowing God, we come to love him, and by loving him we come to know him.”
What are one of two of the most pressing outstanding questions about the origins of the four gospels?
First, we know that Mark was probably first and Matthew and Luke used Mark. But to explain the commonalities between Matthew and Luke, did Luke use Matthew (or vice-versa) or did Luke and Matthew use a common source, often called “Q”?
Second, where does the Johannine tradition come from and why did it take the shape that it did? John is kind of doing his own thing, it’s the spiritual gospel, but why is John so John. John has inherited and transmitted a particular tradition about Jesus, but where it came from still gives us something to ponder over.
What role does balance play in the life of a scholar? In particular, what do you do to give your mind a break?
For me, I like playing with my kids, jogging, watching a bit of TV to unwind. I only just discovered Parks and Rec.
What are your five favorite musicals?
Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, Jesus Christ Superstar, City of Angels.
If you could go back in time to answer any one outstanding question about the origins of Christian scripture, what would you do and why?
Oh boy, I’d certainly love to be outside Jesus’ tomb for the resurrection, that’d be great. Otherwise, it’d be fun just to talk to any of the apostles, Peter, James, John, or Paul. But if I had to be pick, I would definitely love to have sat down with Paul for a beer and discussed his letter to the Romans.