Shane Wood on Being a Scholar and a Christian
Shane is a husband and a father of four kids. His Phd is from the University of Edinburgh. He’s a professor at Ozark Christian College and scholar on the book of Revelation. He’s also the author of three books. Recently, I got to talk with Shane about his studies in Revelation, as well as about his latest book, Between Two Trees. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
The tendency for Christians in academia is to have a nice delineation between studying the Bible and living life. You don’t seem to have that. Does living your beliefs ever make you feel like you’re going crazy?
Oh yeah, man. You know, it’s funny because there are times that it isn’t helpful having a PhD in a church because people are like, “Oh, you’re one of those academics.” And it’s like, “No, I’m one of you. Like, I love you!” And then I go to academics and they know that my heart is for the church and sometimes that’s not welcoming. So yeah, sometimes I feel like I’m caught between these two worlds that actually need each other. The academic world not tethered to the church is terrifying. But frankly, the church not tethered to the academic study is to me just as frightening. What’s ironic is that both extremes are breeding grounds for heresy.
What’s frightening to me is whenever academia divorces itself from the church and then just begins to create heresy in order to get more publications. But I’ve seen the same thing happen in pulpits because they have no theological training or connection to the deep study of the word in academic circles. They will actually preach heresies that were condemned hundreds of years ago from the church. Like I’m sitting here listening to a sermon and the guy is preaching modalism. And I’m like, the church has already solved this. But we don’t even know what modalism is. So there’s a part of me where, yeah, I feel pulled between both, but we have to have people that stand in this bridge, this gap between the church and academics, saying I will be the one that you guys can pull apart because you need each other. I believe that if your theology doesn’t impact every aspect of who you are, then frankly, we’re playing a game. I’m not interested in playing that game.
Has it always been that way? Is that kind of how you’re wired?
I think I initially began my study of the Word because of my love for the Church. Then I think I probably fell more in love with the academic pursuit. But then this is why I always tell my students: When you go on to do your masters or you go on to do your PhD, make sure you know who you’re studying under. Because especially in your masters, you will become a lot like the person you’re studying under. I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Robert Lowery up at Lincoln Christian Seminary. I remember Dr. Lowery told me right before I went for my PhD,
“Shane, whenever you’re there, just hold onto Jesus. No matter what happens. Hold onto Jesus.”
He was a churchman scholar, kind of in the mold of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yes, dealing with the highest of the highs of academia, but only in service of the church. He said, “Shane, never pretend to write a book for the Church if you’re not serving in the church.” And so I love where I’m at [Ozark Christian College] because they not only encourage us to serve the church, but they require us to be connected to the church. And for me, there’s no other way to do Christian scholarship.
So, hold on to Jesus, whatever happens. Kind of flesh that out for me. What did that look like?
Yeah, what I loved about my academic study is that it actually pushed me to multiple breaking points. Whenever I was over in Scotland doing my PhD, there were moments where the stuff I was studying was breaking so many paradigm boxes for me which I fit God into or which helped me understand reality. When you start breaking paradigms that have gotten you where you are, that have helped you make sense of the craziness of the world and frankly the depths of the mystery of God, it unnerves you at a very base level. And there were in those moments where I didn’t know which way was up. So I would repeat what Peter said in John 6 where Jesus feeds the 5,000 and then He’s like, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And the group goes from over 5,000 down to the 12. And Jesus looks toward the 12 and says, “Okay, aren’t you going to leave?” And Peter says, “To whom should we go? You have the words of life.” And I don’t know how many times I repeated that. When I came to my base, my very brokenness, I would say, where else would I go? The words of life I’ve always found had been in Christ. And so even though I don’t know which way is up, I’m still going to just take the next step in Him. And ultimately that breaking down and building back up has developed something in me I would never trade.
There’s still that relationship of trust. He’s proven himself trustworthy. That’s clear. So I can find the answer in Him.
Reminds me of Psalm 22, which Jesus sings from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He’s in the depths of brokenness. But then David and the song keeps saying, but you’ve always delivered the ancestors in the past. Even at my mother’s breasts, you were looking out for me. Like it’s this rootedness in His movement.
In the movie The Three Amigos, three out-of-work actors have been hired to go to Mexico and do what they think is just a movie shoot, but they go down there and they realize, oh, they’ve actually hired us to get rid of these villains and the villains have real bullets. There is a moment where Lucky Day played by Steve Martin says, “This is real. It’s for real.” It’s a very sobering moment. Do you ever have moments where you’re reading through Revelation’s grand cosmic narrative, and you’re like, “Whoa. This is for real”?
Yes, absolutely. Even though I’m a Protestant, I practice Lent leading up to Easter. I take those 40 days of preparation of giving up something to just remind myself that there is something significant that changed the course of human history that is on the horizon. So that on Easter morning, whenever the fast breaks, it’s like I’ve created space to receive more of the Lord. And I remember a couple of years ago doing that, preparing, and it was on Easter morning whenever I had that “Oh my goodness, this is real” moment. The question that immediately followed for me I think is ringing throughout revelation: If this resurrection really happened, what will I not give up? Because ultimately for me, the fact that death no longer has its sting frees me to live my life for God in a way in which if I was clinging to this earth, I just simply would not be able to. And it’s an “Oh my goodness, it’s real” moment when Jesus talks about in Revelation 1:18, “I am the living one. I was dead and now look, I’m alive forever. And ever.” That for me is life altering. It’s that real moment.
In Between Two Trees, you use the phrase “Hiding in plain sight.” Could you explain that?
Love wasn’t created for distance. Love was created for proximity, for closeness. God is love and it should not shock us that He not only longs to be close, but He actually is close. What is omnipresence? I think a lot of the times our problem is we think presence is only in two-dimensional terms or in three-dimensional terms of what we in space and time can engage. But if God is truly omnipresent—“all in all” as Ephesians says—then to be present in all locations is not something that is spatial in the sense of I am standing here, but it is God that is able to permeate all because He is the outworking from which all creation flows. Therefore hiding in plain sight. I think that everything that God has created has the opportunity to be an entry point to interaction with him. He’s actually present in a way that is more thick than what we assume. The problem is a lot of times we just don’t have the eyes to see, which is what Revelation is calling us to: “Anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says.”