Dr. Bruce Waltke is a preeminent Old Testament scholar. His teaching career has earned him a reputation of being a master teacher with a pastoral heart. Dr. Waltke has also pastored several churches, lectured at many evangelical seminaries in North America and has spoken at numerous Bible conferences.
I’ve been impressed by Dr. Waltke’s scholarship, as well as his pastoral warmth. I’m grateful to Dr. Waltke for agreeing to answer some of my questions.
As Professor of Old Testament, what brings you the greatest joy? Is it studying, writing, teaching, or something else?
I wish I could say that I find my greatest joy in my students. Though I do delight in them and in their ministries, I find my greatest joys in writing and publishing and in teaching. I used to get the most joy out of teaching and preaching, but as I got older I realized more and more how transitory verbal ministries are. As I got older I came to value teaching more and more for what it built into the lives of my students and its multiplication and its continuation in their ministries. That reward, however, is less direct and seemingly more restricted than that of writing, for writings touch more lives for more time than students in a classroom. But writings, like all things, will pass away, as publishers undoubtedly will cease to publish my dated works. But unlike Qoheleth I know there will always be a residue of eternal profit, for all ministry participates in the eternal kingdom of God.
Your exegetical work seems to me to combine scholarship and worship, which aren’t found together as often as one might wish. How have you been able to maintain both together?
Others note an alleged combination of scholarship and worship. It must be relative, for I am unconscious of it. My scholarship always seems to be inadequate because knowledge is always imperfect–there is always another book to read on a subject or is being written on it. As for worship, though I do not know the full depths of my depravity, I know it well enough to know that my motives are always tarnished by self-interest, not by worship. My spiritual flaw is a carnal perfectionism. I believe God is taking that flaw and sanctifying it by his Spirit in me. Quintillius said: “Ambition is a vice but it can be the mother of virtue.” To become a vrtue must be the work of God’s grace. I have nothing of which to boast. This process of holiness is true of all healthy Christians, isn’t it?
Pastors often feel pushed away from theology to be more “practical.” What advice would you give to a pastor who aspires to be a pastor and scholar?
I cannot distinguish between theology and practical theology. If my theology does not change my life, it is not good theology, but an idol. I hope every pastor who stands behind the sacred lectern is a scholar. By that I mean, I hope the teacher of God’s Word will teach it as responsibly as possible within the time available. Very few are so gifted they can be both an academic in a university or seminary and a pastor. There is by the restraint of time and being human a less than perfect scholarship and of pastoring. What is needed is both humility, a recognition of our limitations, and a commitment to give God the best of what he has given to us. We need to keep our priorities straight, lest we make Success our god. It’s hard not to envy those who worship Success and receive worldly rewards.
Knowledge is both a virtue and a vice. It is necessary and certainly better than ignorance. Paul frequently says he doesn’t want us to be ignorant. On the other hand, it is a vice: it always puffs up and is imperfect. By God’s grace I overcome its endemic tendency to pride the pure virtue of love and its imperfection by the pure virtues of faith and hope.
It’s a joy to see the warmth between you and your friend Haddon Robinson. It’s a good example of friendship maintained through years of life and ministry. How have friendships like this sustained you?
Haddon is so uniquely gifted that I feel unworthy of his friendship. His warm friendship toward our family is a mark of his truly godly character. His brilliant conversation always refreshes me. Bonnie’s love is peerless. Elaine and I treasure their friendship. The sustenance of their friendship brings delight, psychic joy that cannot be fully verbalized. When the four of us are together we seem to feed on each others thoughts, commitments and basic disposition toward God and others, though Elaine is now suffering dementia. Haddon or Bonnie never interpret us negatively; they truly believe and hope all things; I do not think they ever think of enduring us.
How can we pray for you?
I have taken a leave of absence from teaching at Knox, to test how I can best serve God without a contract to teach. Pray that I will finish well and have the wisdom to prioritize my time well in this new context.