Each Friday this semester, we are placing a spotlight on one of Western Seminary’s faculty members. Today, we feature Dr. J. Carl Laney, Professor of Biblical Literature.
Transformed: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Dr. Laney: I was blessed to grow up in a Christian family with three brothers and a sister. Dublin, Georgia is my birth place, but I was raised in Eugene, Oregon where I attended South Eugene High School (’66) and the University of Oregon (’70). I have a beautiful wife (Nancy), four wonderful children and four grandchildren with two more on the way. God rescued me from the pit of sin, adopted me as His son and has blessed and enriched my life.
Transformed: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Dr. Laney: I loved being in the out of doors and had dreams of becoming a forest ranger. My hiking and camping eventually became an avocation rather than my vocation.
Transformed: What is something that we would be surprised to know about you?
Dr. Laney: I own two WWII jeeps, a 1942 Willys and a 1944 Ford, which I have restored and drive in parades to honor WWII veterans and those serving in our military. Also, I once met Charlton Heston in Jerusalem where he was filming at David’s tomb. I shook his hand and thanked him for his advocacy for the unborn.
Transformed: If you could meet one non-biblical person, dead or living, who would it be?
Dr. Laney: I would really like to meet General Douglas MacArthur. I have read his book, American Caesar, and am fascinated by this brilliant military strategist who had faith in God and a strong sense for his own destiny.
Transformed: What are you reading right now?
Dr. Laney: Right now I am reading How (Not) to Be Secular by James K. A. Smith. This is a tough read and I am grateful for the glossary in the back of the book. For lighter reading I am enjoying The Boys in the Boat about the U. of Washington rowing team in the 1930’s.
Transformed: Is there a verse or passage of Scripture that has had a particularly strong impact on your life? If so what is it, and in what way has it impacted you?
Dr. Laney: Ezra 7:10 is a text that has meant a lot to me because it reveals Ezra’s philosophy of biblical education. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.” The key here is the sequence: study, practice and then teach. You can’t practice what you have not studied, and you can’t teach what you have not practiced. I have embraced Ezra’s approach as my own.
Transformed: As a seminary professor, your vocation involves equipping those who serve in the church. What, ideally, should be the relationship between the seminary and the church?
Dr. Laney: The seminary exists to serve the church by preparing pastors, teachers, counselors and scholars for a lifetime of ministry. I would like to see churches embrace the seminary as a resource and have a greater role in supporting the training and mentoring of our students.
Transformed: What is one thing that the church needs more of?
Dr. Laney: I think the church needs greater participation in singing. All too often the instruments used by the worship team drown out the voices of the congregation. The instruments should supplement the voices of the congregation, not replace them.
Transformed: What made you want to become a biblical scholar?
Dr. Laney: I never set out to become a biblical scholar. I am not sure that I am one! But I do love teaching the Bible and have been privileged to write a number of books and articles that might be considered scholarly. I am really a Bible teacher with a pastor’s heart who has been fortunate enough to get a few things published.
Transformed: Who is your favorite scholar, or someone whose work has inspired you?
Dr. Laney: I have appreciated Dr. Dwight Pentecost’s command of the Scripture from Genesis through Revelation. He was my major professor during my doctoral program at Dallas Seminary and has been an inspiration to me. Dr. Charles Ryrie has also been a model of a brilliant man (two doctorates) who is able to make even complicated things clear. My goal in teaching is not to impress people, but to make things clear.
Transformed: What is one thing you wish people knew about the life of a seminary professor?
Dr. Laney: Seminary professors don’t have super powers. They are just like anyone else with quirks, funny habits, fears and obsessions. I think we are all a little bit weird.
Transformed: What makes for a model/ideal student – what do you wish you saw more of in your students?
Dr. Laney: The key to being a good student is to have a teachable attitude. Most students are in seminary to learn rather than debate with their professors. I think Apollos is a good example of a man who was well trained in the Scripture and yet was able to learn from a humble lay couple, Aquila and Priscilla. His teachable spirit resulted in an expanded ministry.
Transformed: What is one piece of advice that you would give to incoming seminarians?
Dr. Laney: Learn your biblical languages and use them daily in reading your Bible. You can’t learn Greek or Hebrew in a semester. But you can get the tools that will help you learn and use the original languages over a lifetime. I read at least 5 days a week from my Greek text and from the Hebrew text of the Psalms. I am not a language expert, but I am very blessed to be able to use the biblical languages in my own devotions and my Bible teaching.
Transformed: In your opinion, are there any areas of biblical study that have been ignored in the recent past, and could benefit from more exposure or exploration?
Dr. Laney: I believe the physical and cultural setting of the biblical text has been ignored in some seminary communities. Some will say that it is all about the text and that the history, cultural and geography setting should not be considered in the interpretation of a text. But why should we ignore the historical, geographical and cultural context that was available to the original readers? I advocate the use all the tools available to get as close as possible to the meaning of the text as intended by the author and understood by the original readers.
Transformed: What is your favorite thing about teaching at Western?
Dr. Laney: My favorite thing about teaching at Western is the opportunity I have to take students to Israel and spend three weeks introducing them to the land of the Bible.
Transformed: What upcoming classes are you teaching at Western?
Dr. Laney: My Life of Christ class will be offered on the Portland campus this Spring Semester.