Ancient history New Testament Theology

Michael F. Bird and Evangelical Theology

Through theology we begin to grasp ever more profoundly the love and beauty of the God who knows us and loves us.

Michael F. Bird is a biblical theologian and the author or editor of more than 30 books, including a collaboration with New Testament scholar N. T. Wright. He is Academic Dean and Lecturer in Theology at Ridley College.

Who is Michael F. Bird?

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 Dr. Michael F. Bird 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 Michael Bird’s 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 Michael Bird’s 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 are 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.

What would be the pros and cons of a systemized theology in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

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?

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.”

Michael Bird discusses the importance of studying theology.

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 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 Recreation.

What are Michael F. Bird’s five favorite musicals?

  1. Les Miserable
  2. Phantom of the Opera
  3. Hamilton
  4. Jesus Christ Superstar
  5. City of Angels

If Michael F. Bird 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.

Further reading

Michael Bird theology resources

Dr. Michael Bird

Michael Bird books

  • Colossians & Philemon: A New Covenant Commentary
  • Crossing over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period
  • Evangelical Theology: a Biblical and systematic introduction
  • How Did Christianity Begin?: A Believer and Non-believer Examine the Evidence
  • How God Became Jesus : The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—a Response to Bart Ehrman
  • Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission, and His Message
  • Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission
  • Jesus Is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels
  • Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts, and Convergences
  • Paul and the Second Century
  • The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus
  • The New Testament in its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians
  • The Reconciling Wisdom of God: Reframing the Doctrine of the Atonement
  • The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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