Interview with Dr. Max J. Lee

03.02.2021  |  Season 2  |  Episode 12




SHOW NOTES

In this episode, Dr. James Arcadi and Dr. Michelle Knight interview Dr. Max J. Lee, Professor of New Testament at North Park Seminary and University, and for the 2020–2021 academic year is a Fellow at the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding, here at TEDS.

Michelle and James learn more about Max’s family and his journey to academia. They talk about his Henry Center project on the theory of pleasure and why it’s important for the church. Max also shares about how his Korean American heritage shapes his current work as well as a related research group at the Institute for Biblical Research on Asian American Biblical Interpretation.

You can engage with some of Max’s recent work here:

Tune in to hear Max share about his “intense” love for the Lord!

And before the interview, the hosts will dream about their first post-COVID trips…

Transcript

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Intro
[00:00:00] You’re listening to Foreword, a podcast from faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, hosted by Michelle Knight, Josh Jipp, Madison Pierce, and James Arcadi. Foreword invites listeners into the mission of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School through conversations with faculty, staff, and guests.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

James Arcadi
Hey! Welcome to Foreword! Um, I’m James Arcadi, hanging out here with Michelle Knight, and we’ve got a great interview uh, to…to share with you all today. But, Michelle, you know…we’ve got spring break coming up here—

Michelle Knight
Indeed.

Arcadi
—fairly soon, and this will be a spring like—a spring break unlike other spring breaks, except for last year, I guess, [KNIGHT LAUGHS] but we can’t really go anywhere too crazy—

Knight
No. No.

Arcadi
—and I really wouldn’t go anywhere that crazy anyway, but, uh, I was wondering, like, you know, in the future, what are some of your like, you know, bucket list places to go to if you were to have a cool spring break down the road, post-COVID?

Knight
Yeah. I mean, I can answer that…yeah, I can answer that so quickly. I want to go to the Bodleian, and I want to go, like, tomorrow.

Arcadi
Yeah.

Knight
Uh, I just want to sit in the Oxford Library and be in the Oxford Library. I want to breathe the air that the Oxford Library, you know, puts out. I want that.

Arcadi
Did…did you know that I’ve been in the Bodleian Library?

Knight
No. Uh, tell me about it.

Arcadi
I mean, when I was in undergrad—

Knight
Is that it? Is that the end of the story? [LAUGHS]

Arcadi
—I did a semester studying there. And, you know—

Knight
I want that.

Arcadi
—Radcliffe Camera every day, pretty much, and it…it was…it was awesome.

Knight
You know what, James, I also have it on good authority that at one point, you ate part of Oxford, and I feel like you need to explain that.

Arcadi
That…that is…I mean, I was young. I was, uh, you know, naive a little bit. [KNIGHT LAUGHS] Um, you know, and there was a little bit of Cotswold stone off the side of the building, and I just sort of, like, took a finger full. And I don’t know what provoked me, but I consumed a bit of…of Oxford Cotswold. And…and so now, it’s…it’s a part of me somehow. [LAUGHS]

Knight
Yeah, that’s something. That’s really something. I mean, these are certainly going to be among the top dorky destinations for travel, but I’d also love to hear yours. Where…where would you go, James, if you could go anywhere after this pandemic?

Arcadi
Yeah, that’s tough. I mean, I am…I’m a warm climate kind of dude. And so, you know—

Knight
Sure.

Arcadi
—when it…when it comes to this time of the year, it’s like I kind of forgot what it was like to walk outside and it be warmer than it is inside. So, I mean, it would be south, whether that’s, you know, [KNIGHT LAUGHS] back to California, whether that’s, I don’t know, Florida—which I’ve not spent much time in—I mean, the Caribbean would be great.

Knight
Chile.

Arcadi
And it can be nerdy. I mean, I can bring books, so it can be nerdy. I just want to be warm. [LAUGHS]

Knight
Good point. Yes. So you can make it nerdy. No, that’s a good point. You can read there. I mean, like, are…have you and your family ever gone on a beach vacation? Is that what we’re looking for?

Arcadi
A…a beach vacation? Well, I mean, not like a…like a “resort beach” kind of vacation—

Knight
Okay. Okay.

Arcadi
—but I will say that my family…like, my…my family—kids and everything—our first camping experience as a family was at the beach. This was out in California, up near Malibu.

Knight
Ooh! Okay.

Arcadi
Uh, we did a couple of nights on the beach, which was…which is great and super dirty because you get sand everywhere and…and the like, but—

Knight
I imagine. That sounds terrible.

Arcadi
—yeah, but…yeah, that’s fun. And we…we did…we did—now I’m just kind of rambling, but we did do camping on the beach on Lake Michigan’s beach as well just this last summer, so we’ve had, like, the—

Knight
Look at you.

Arcadi
—the salt water beach camping experience and…and the freshwater beach camping experience. [KNIGHT LAUGHS]

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Knight
Well now, uh, for anybody interested in beach camping, we know that we have a resident expert. So we can send them your way! It’s something.

Arcadi
Yeah! My advice: don’t go with three kids! [LAUGHTER]

Knight
And with that, uh, though we aren’t going anywhere soon, we are really looking forward to our upcoming interview with Dr. Max Lee, who is a professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary. But, he is part of our Trinity community, because he is serving at the Henry Center as a fellow this year. So, we have been able to really enjoy being around him, and we are really excited to introduce him to you in just a minute, so stay tuned.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

Arcadi
Welcome to Foreword: A TEDS Faculty Podcast. I’m James Arcadi.

Knight
And I’m Michelle Knight.

Arcadi
Today, we are thrilled to have with us a very special guest—Dr. Max Lee, who is Professor of New Testament at North Park University here in the Chicagoland. Um, but we have the privilege of hosting him here for this academic year at Trinity, uh, where he’s a research fellow in the Creation Project at Trinity’s Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding, where he’s working on a project on—I believe the title is “Natural Desire, Moral Indexes, and Pleasure According to Paul,” which I’m thrilled to hear a bit more about. So, Dr. Lee, I know you’ve been a bit of a listener to Foreword, so I’m… I’m really glad that you’re here—we’re delighted to have you here on the show.

Max Lee
Well it’s great to be here, and I am a fan, so thank you very much. [KNIGHT LAUGHS] I feel like I already know the podcast crew by all of the episodes I’ve listened to.

Knight
Love that.

Arcadi
[00:05:10] Well that’s great! Well we’re looking forward to getting to know you a bit better as well. And maybe that’s a good place to start—perhaps you might just tell us a little bit about your background, how you came into doing New Testament studies—um, I happened to notice that you have degrees from three institutions in my home state of California, so if you want to say anything nice about the Golden State, [KNIGHT LAUGHS] I’m very open to that sort of a line of questioning. [LAUGHS]

Lee
Sure! Absolutely. I think about California all the time now during the winter in Chicago with single digits.—

Arcadi
Me too.

Knight
I imagine.

Lee
Um, yeah, so I…I think, uh, so I’m in Chicago, and my wife and I—my wife Sue—we’ve been living in Chicagoland for 17 years now, so—going on 18—so it’s home—

Knight
Okay.

Lee
—and my two sons, one who’s graduated—just graduated from college—and the other younger one is a sophomore in college. They are Chicago-raised, so the Midwest has been a great home for us. Uh, but I…my roots are in California. Um, I’m a second gen Korean American, born in San Francisco, grew up in the East Bay in a city called Richmond. Uh, son of immigrant parents, and I think one way to put my life is I’ve always been surrounded by really intense Christians. So one of my favorite memories is, uh, my mom waking me up around four or five in the morning because she was just crying out to God. She…I like to say that she wakes up the sun with her prayers—

Arcadi
Wow.

Knight
Oh my goodness.

Lee
—And so, um, and…but sometimes it really made me nervous, because she would yell out my name [ARCADI LAUGHS] and I’m going, “Ooh. What’s she praying about me for?” [LAUGHTER] Uh, but uh, so I grew up in a Christian home, but I think I didn’t have my own faith until actually I went to the University of California Berkeley. Uh, met another intense group of Christians—they were back then called “The Korean Baptist Student Union,” and, uh, they later became more broadly “The Asian Baptist Student Koinonea.” But I had gone to Berkeley thinking that I was going to make a name for myself. There’s an 80’s term called “gunner,” and I was definitely a “gunner.” [KNIGHT LAUGHS] I wanted to pave my own path, and along the way, I forgot all about Christ and what my parents had taught me growing up. But I’m really grateful that KBSU at that time reached out to me. Uh, they kept inviting me to bible studies. I ignored them for a year, and my sophomore year, I decided to go. And I went through some intense soul searching, and to make a long story short, I really just surrendered my whole life to Christ my sophomore year in college, and it’s been a grand adventure since then. [KNIGHT LAUGHS]

Arcadi
Amen.

Lee
Um, I spent my junior year, uh, at Machida Christian Center in Tokyo, Japan. So I…there was a need for an English teacher and I grabbed it. And it was…it was really formative, because when I came back, I decided that I wasn’t going to go to medical school—I really did break my parents’ heart when I did that. And I decided I felt that I had instead a call to ministry. And so that took me to Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary where I got my MDiv. I went there thinking I would be a pastor. And I think a big fork in the road for me came when the pastor at the church I was serving at thought that while I would be a good pastor, I would make for a better scholar. And I think this is where my story might be really different from what other, um, people who’ve sought out theological education—their vocational paths are. So I want to say that my path is not typical—it’s actually quite atypical. But I, um, I had applied to a couple of places, and I got accepted to the PhD program at Fuller, and I also got accepted to the ThM program at Harvard Divinity School. And I had a choice where, um, if I wanted to pursue the PhD and think about theological education, that, uh, which place would I go? And the church that we were a part of, and the campus ministry that we were a part of—the same group that helped me to find Christ, or be found by Christ, and discipled me—they were going to start a church plant in the Los Angeles area. And so, I had a choice to go to the Harvard Divinity School route of a ThM, or join a church plant and…and be part of the PhD program at Fuller. So what I mean by “atypical” is that, um, for the eight years I was at Fuller doing the PhD, seven of those years was bivocational—

Knight
Wow.

Lee
—it was only in the last year that the pastor at that time thought that, “We’ve got to get you through this program. You’ve got to finish.” So, I took a year off to finish the dissertation, but I was always bivocational. And so, my wife and I, we did college ministry—campus ministry—with ABSK for those years and it’s…it was a great time. I think…I remember taking, when my kids were born, you know, we…we dragged them everywhere with us. And I…I blew up my car driving from Los—one part of Los Angeles to Riverside to…down Irvine. Anyone from California—I think James would appreciate how far those distances are, um, but that’s—

Arcadi
Especially in traffic.

Knight
That is a lot.

Lee
[LAUGHTER] Yeah, it’s a lot of traffic, a lot of driving. But I think what it did was it…the church was always in my heart, and whatever kind of teaching I would do, it would be to form pastors and leaders in the church. I really wanted to teach in a way that informed and equipped the work of the ministry and the mission of the church. So from Fuller—and I had a great…great set of supervisors, so Judy Gundry, who is now at Yale, and then Seyoon Kim, who were on my dissertation committee. I love them both and I learned a lot from them. Um, I went to…my first teaching was actually, um, at Westmont College for a year with sabbatical replacement. Then I went to Wheaton College—that was the big Midwest move—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Knight
Okay.

Lee
—and I taught there as a visiting professor for three years, and then after the visiting professoriate was over, I landed my first tenure track position at North Park Theological Seminary, and I’ve been there since 2006. And, so that’s my story, and—

Knight
Amazing.

Arcadi
That’s—

Lee
—all I can say is that, uh, I was discipled by such an intense Baptist group that—

Knight
Yeah!

Lee
—made the pharisees and Navigators look like slackers. [LAUGHTER] So it was just an intense group, and I…that’s where I met my wife. We met at Berkeley, we were part of the same ministry, and so we kind of have the same spiritual history and heritage.

Knight
[00:11:52] Amazing. I’m just interested…I mean, how does that intensity play out for you? You’ve…you’ve emphasized it several times during your testimony. I just can’t help but follow up. What…why is that so important to you?

Lee
Oh, well, I think dispositionally I’m a very intense person, so it kind of fits my character well. [LAUGHS]

Knight
[LAUGHS] Ok!

Lee
But, um, I think for me what was important was, um, I learned very early on, especially with my mom praying the way that she does—because, I mean, who wakes up at four in the morning to pray for an hour, until five, so that she can get to work by six? And I was a latchkey kid. I knew my…how hard both of my parents worked.

Arcadi
Wow.

Lee
Um, and then to find a group of college students who love the Bible so much that, you know, when we have retreats, they’re intense. When…we were committed to having daily devotionals, meeting together during weekdays for bible study, uh, we just spent life together and that really formed me. And I think, um, I learned on that if I was going to follow Christ, it would demand my whole life—

Knight
Okay.

Lee
—and I…and I’m grateful that I received that kind of message. I didn’t get a watered-down Gospel.

Knight
That makes sense.

Lee
And, um, I’m a sinner, so how should I, you know, do I live that out fully as I should? Absolutely no way. But it’s also that in those moments of failure that I feel the Holy Spirit just pulls me up—

Knight
Cool.

Lee
—and says, “Let’s get back to it.” [KNIGHT LAUGHS] And grace covers over a multitude of sins, so…

Arcadi
That’s good.

Knight
[LAUGHS] Amen. Well—

Arcadi
I love hearing that story. That’s great.

Knight
Yeah! I’m so glad you shared it. Well part of why we’ve had you on the podcast today—and James already touched on this—is to highlight the work that you are doing with the Henry Center. So, could you tell our listeners just a little bit about the fellowship and why it appealed to you—what…what it means to be working with the Henry Center?

Lee
Yeah, um, so the Henry Center is…it’s part—well, I’ve only known the Henry Center through its current project—The Creation Project—

Knight
Yeah.

Lee
—which is supported by the John Templeton Foundation. And what it’s doing now is it provides fellowships for scholars and invites them to come on campus—in fact, it is a residential fellowship, so part of the experience is being here at the Trinity campus, engaging with other fellows, or other scholars, who’ve been awarded fellowship. And we’re engaged in the work on the integration between science and religion—or science and theology. Actually, in a very explicit way, the Henry Center is explicitly an Evangelical theological institution.—

Knight
Okay.

Lee
—So it does very much want scholars who are committed to the work of the church to be engaging in the area of science and theology and its intersections. And so, I found out about it through my former Dean, who is now the Provost of Moody Bible Institute—so that’s Dwight Perry.

Knight
Okay.

Lee
He was our Dean of Faculty at North Park and he grabbed the flyer from the Henry Center—says, “Max, I think you’d be interested in it.” And I was working on…on the idea of pleasure. And I read the project, and what I was interested in, and what the fellowship was for, and the fact that my sabbatical year was coming up—monetary support for a full year off—academic year off. Um, I applied, talked with, um, Geoffrey, um, Geoffrey Fulkerson—the director of the program—and found out more about it, prepared my application, was accepted, and, um, here I am. So I’m here for the academic year. I was here for fall 2020; I’ll be here for spring 2021. I’m working on a project on the theory of pleasure. I think it’s an important topic for the Church, and how…how we can enjoy God’s good gifts, but also not let it turn into idolatrous and addictive practices. So that’s the project. And, I’m very interested in what the health sciences say about pleasure and how it operates. And I think part of the problem of being responsible with pleasure and enjoying it as…as a gift from God is that we don’t know how pleasure works. And so, that’s part of the project that I’m doing. Um, I’m surrounded by some really great colleagues. So, just a shout out to Alex Stewart who is in the area of Old Testament—he’s working on a project called “Wonder;” Kevin Kinghorn, Professor of Philosophy at Asbury, is working on the area of moral intuitions—whether our…whether our gut gets it right—

Knight
Interesting.

Lee
—about what’s right and wrong; Josh Jipp…you know, actually, I don’t know if his project’s that important. So I kind of forgot about it. [LAUGHTER] I’m just…just kidding.—

Knight
I’m sure it’s not important. Nobody on this podcast needs to hear about Josh Jipp.—

Lee
—Ok, but…but Josh is—

Arcadi
I’ve never even heard of that guy. [LAUGHTER]

Lee
—[LAUGHS] So he’s a professor at TEDS, as you all know [LAUGHTER], I’m sure a wonderful colleague, and he’s working on the project on…on human flourishing and Paul. Um, and I think the best part about the Henry Center is it provides a space for research, the resources to…to…for what we need to learn more about a project. Um, we meet every day for coffee hour; we bounce ideas. I…I’ve loved talking with Alex and Kevin and Josh about our work and other things under the sun. Um, we have a lunch where we present kind of draft chapters of the work that we’re doing.

Knight
Okay.

Lee
Um, so all that’s just been really a…a gift to me—um, that kind of intellectual conversation and…and kind of iron sharpening iron.

Arcadi
[00:17:34] That’s great! That’s so great—

Knight
Yeah.

Arcadi
—and I appreciate hearing that. Um, maybe kind of on that point, we could just talk a little bit more specifically about, like, the research project. So I’m really interested in this kind of intersection point between science and theology and—so I think you mentioned kind of, like, the health sciences. Like, how do you as a New Testament professor, or New Testament scholar, approach, like, this very different field, and yet put that in conversation with your area of expertise in…in Pauline Studies—on the topic you’re working on, of course?

Lee
Yeah! It’s a…it’s a high learning curve.

Knight
I bet.

Lee
Um, but I am really grateful that the Henry Center has provided resources for me to get a jump on it. So, um, I’ve been talking, for example, with Bill Struthers. He’s Professor of Psychology at the School of Psychology at Wheaton College. And, um, the Henry Center actually got me connected with him, and he’s kind of an advisor on my project—

Arcadi
Cool.

Lee
—and so I get to talk to him about some of the work that I do, and he points me to the kind of reading that I need to do. I’ve found the engagement with neurology and how our…our bodies process pleasure to be really helpful. Um, it’s given me an ability to kind of understand—so, one, I needed to come with a definition of pleasure—

Knight
I bet.

Lee
—or what components of the pleasure there is. And dealing with the neurosciences help me to understand that…that pleasure, or at least how we experience it, it…it comes in three parts. So, for example, we…we delight in something, so that’s the euphoric experience. Um, pleasure also includes desiring after something, so what the neurologists call “hedonic motivation.” Um, so…and then also, there’s an evaluation component—sometimes we think back and we find something more pleasurable, because of the meaning we attach to it. So, my…my joke is that, um, everyone hates camping when they do it, but when they look back, it’s the…it’s the funnest experience ever. [ARCADI LAUGHS]

Knight
Brilliant.

Lee
[LAUGHS] So it’s such a strange Midwest thing that I discovered, [KNIGHT LAUGHS] where you’re out in the cold; you’re absolutely miserable, but then—

Knight
It’s terrible. Oh my gosh.

Lee
—I do agree that when I look back on it, “Oh, that was fun.” [ARCADI LAUGHS] So, um, so those three things—the…the actual experience of delight, the longing for something and having that satisfied, and also looking back and attaching meaning to it—that’s something that the health sciences have done a lot of work in. And then, what I’ve discovered is that a remarkable coalescing of information with the biblical material—if you refer, for example: just take all of the Greek words for “pleasure” in the New Testament, they fit into one of those three domains.

Knight
Interesting.

Lee
Some words talk about delight; some words talk about wanting. Ἐπιθυμία (epithumia) in Greek, Paul’s favorite word for “desire,” talks about longing for something. And then evaluation; when something is pleasing to us, we look back and…and God is pleased with us. We are, you know, we are a source of God’s pleasure as well. All of this language is there. So that helps me kind of frame my engagement with Scripture, and so I’m very much interested in the dialogue between two disciplines. And…I think there’s dangers of collapsing the disciplines into a generic oneness that—so I’m trying to maintain the integrity of both disciplines, but I think there’s an overlap and they speak to each other.

Knight
Interesting.

Arcadi
[00:20:58] Well that’s really cool. Maybe if I could just follow up briefly; you mentioned…uh, you kind of foreshadowed this, but as someone who’s done a lot of ministry, and is ordained, and serves in these various ministry capacities, how do you…how do you hope this is going to impact in the church—in how one does pastoral ministry or how one thinks about, you know, incorporating these…these biblical themes? What do you…yeah, what do you hope is kind of the payoff for this in the church?

Lee
Yeah, um, that’s a—so I…I think, um…I’m going to refer to, uh, Klyne Snodgrass’ book. So Klyne Snodgrass was Professor of New Testament—he’s most…best known for his book on parables.

Knight
Yeah.

Lee
Um, but he wrote a smaller book called Between Two Truths, where he says “Christian life is not actually one extreme or the other, but kind of a razor-edge walk between two extremes, maintaining the tension between both.” So he talks about faith and works; he talks about, uh, freedom and responsibility. And I think, um, with…with pleasure, you know, it…it’s…I want to maintain two extremes: we are…pleasure is a gift from God, and he has given us gustatory pleasures—so that’s food and drink. And I think within the boundaries and…and covenant of marriage, uh, human intimacy is a gift. Uh, there’s friendships and gifts—so there’s social pleasures. Um, but…and so, there…so we’re called to enjoy that fully, but the danger of pleasure—so this is where the tension comes in—it can get addictive and idolatrous really fast. And so I think the gift to the church that I want to bring is I…I want to talk about how pleasure operates so that we can enjoy pleasure as a gift from God, while avoiding the other extreme about addiction and idolatrous practice. And I don’t think we do this well.

Knight
Agreed.

Lee
I think most Christians have a secular model for how to engage pleasure. We’re basically…we practice moderation, but there’s nothing “Christian” about moderation.

Knight
Yeah.

Lee
So we know that too much pleasure hurts us, and we think that too…and then…but then life, you know, is meant to be enjoyed, and we don’t really have a Christian ethics of pleasure. And so…and…and we don’t disciple through it. And I think in a world where, because of technology, we get access to things faster than we’ve ever done before, um, the church is going to be challenged by an epic—a different type of epidemic, or pandemic—a pandemic of unhealthy behavior when it comes to pleasure. So the book’s payoff is that I want that book to inform the work and discipleship of the church.

Arcadi
Wow, that sounds really rich.—

Knight
I love that.—

Lee
And practically, I’ve seen the strangest things in ministry, where really brilliant college students, for example, get so addicted to online gaming that they flunk out of school. That happened to a disciple of mine that was—when I was ministering to them in Berkeley. And so we know that pornography is a big issue, even among seminarians, and so I do think that… so I think about my sons, who are young men—

Knight
Sure.

Lee
—one’s already graduated; one’s in college. In the end, this book is for them.—

Arcadi
That’s awesome, yeah.—

Lee
—So I have a lot of personal investment in this book and project.

Knight
I can totally see that. I mean, we are such an entertainment-driven culture. I’m…this just strikes me as kind of right at the heart of the conversations churches need to be having, so I’m really grateful that you’re working on this. Well, uh, related to conversations that the church needs to be having, I’m going to kind of transition us, if you don’t mind. One of the things that—at least, in my Twitter world—Max and I are basically Twitter friends, really—

Lee
Yeah, we are.

Knight
—uh, but [LAUGHS] in my Twitter, world, I’m hearing quite a bit of great stuff about the Asian American Biblical Interpretation Research Group that you helped to convene at the Institute for Biblical Research. And so, I guess I just want to hear why. I want to hear your vision for that group. Uh, why…why did you start that? What do you think it has to offer? Why is it a passion of yours? I’m just really excited to hear you talk about it.

Lee
[00:25:11] Yeah. Wow, that’s a great question, and it’s hard—let me…um…[KNIGHT LAUGHS] Well first, I’ll have to give credit to the Co-Chair for the Asian American Biblical Interpretation Group at IBR—that’s Milton Eng.

Knight
Right.

Lee
So the credit really goes to him for taking the initiative to put everything administratively in place to start the group. And he had called me, um, and asked me if I would consider being a chair, and I think it was providential, because I was stepping down from another position—the intertextuality group at SBL—Society of Biblical Literature.

Knight
Sure, yeah.

Lee
And…and this issue has been burning in my heart for over ten years. So I’ve…I’ve been a part of the Korean Biblical Colloquium and some other groups that try to understand, “How does our social, cultural, and ethnic location inform the way we read the biblical text?”

Knight
Yeah.

Lee
And the reason…and there’s actually two things why I think this group is important: One, um, because every person has a unique history; every community has a unique history. God’s word speaks to them in that history, and what…what God says to that particular community I think is applicable for the whole body of Christ. And if you only listen to how God speaks to certain communities and not others, we actually don’t hear the whole story. So, what…how has God spoken to Asian Americans living in a North American context, or, broadly, Asians around the world? And, how have they understood God’s word? How have they sought to faithfully live that out? What…how can that inform the practice of those outside those communities and ethnic groups in the wider body of Christ? I think that that’s a very important part, and Scripture informs everything that we do.

Knight
Of course.

Lee
How we read Scripture is…is how we’re going to live out our faith. And so, Asian American Biblical Interpretation Group—it…it really is seeking to connect communities with the bible, but communities within their particular ethnic, cultural, and social location. Um, and the second part of why this group started was because it’s not just Asian Americans, but to be, let’s say, a person of color and a bible scholar—

Knight
Yeah.

Lee
—and try to…and try to serve the church as a theological educator—that’s a very lonely road—

Knight
I bet.

Lee
—and I often equate it to the image of building…uh, making bricks without straw. And so you’re…we’re called to, uh—we…we experience unexpected adversity in our vocation, with no resources other than our own gut and…and God’s grace, which is more than enough many times—uh, all the time, actually—to…to see us through. So I think the job of our group is to provide some of the straw as people are trying to live out their vocational call—give them the resources they need, advice, support, people to bounce their ideas off of, you know, someone to engage their research. Milton and I are thinking of, “What can we do about mentoring networks for rising scholars?”

Knight
Yeah.

Lee
So all of that’s into play. And, um, to be honest, it’s a little bit overwhelming, because there’s so much on the table that we want to do.

Knight
I bet.

Lee
I mean, we can only take things one part at a time, but we are…we’ve started, and we’re going to try to see it through, and we’ll see what the Lord does with it, so…

Knight
Absolutely. Now of course, uh, like, not being a person of color, there are a lot of things about this experience that I don’t understand, but one corollary is as a female in the academy, I do recognize sometimes thinking through my social location and what that looks like. And I don’t…I don’t know if you ever have this struggle, but I constantly find myself on the one hand wanting to be like, “I’m not a female interpreter. I’m just an interpreter. I’m just reading the Bible. Don’t ask me what it means to be a female. I’m just reading.”

Lee
Sure.

Knight
But on the other hand, every now and again, I find myself being like, “No, I really do have a unique perspective.” What does it look like for you to balance those two—maybe you don’t feel both of those impulses. Uh, but what…how do you process those things?—

Lee
Oh, no, I do. I…yeah, I think…you know, I’m…I’m kind of feeling my way through the dark at the same [LAUGHS]—

Knight
I bet.

Lee
—I think the same as…as many people. Um, so I…I do read…I mean, there are times that I read God’s word, and I do my work as historian, as biblical exegete, as grammarian, as someone who’s trying to see what the text is…is saying in its time, and then thinking theologically how to apply it in…in mine.

Knight
Yeah.

Lee
And I’m unconsciously aware of my Asian American identity.

Knight
Sure.

Lee
But many times, because of the…of the communities that I serve, almost always when I get to the level of teaching and preaching, that my Asian identity comes…kicks in. Because I do think about, um, you know, “How does this speak to the struggles of Korean churches or…or Asian American churches more broadly, if I’m called to preach there on Sunday—if someone’s invited me to come preach or give a bible study series?” Um, I just did one, for example, on the book of Revelation for a Korean American church in Palatine, called “An EM English-speaking Ministry.” And I had a great time of fellowship, and, um, so I don’t have a way to give advice on how to maneuver through it [KNIGHT LAUGHS], other than I think it’s fairly…fairly fluid.—

Knight
Yeah, I think you’re right.

Lee
Um, it is a little bit unconscious. I kind of swing…move in and out of both my role as a theological educator and given certain tools, and then my identity as an Asian American scholar. Um, I think I live into both—and simultaneously. And sometimes they’re disruptive. Sometimes I do find that the…things that are being taught in my discipline, or I’m being trained in, isn’t adequate to meet the needs of my community and therefore, that’s where the dissonance comes in.

Arcadi
Mmm. Interesting. Yeah, thanks.—

Knight
[00:31:32] Yeah. That is a good word. Thank you, Max, for kind of sharing about that. I do have one more request for you. We have a lot of Asian American students at Trinity—

Lee
Yeah!

Knight
—um, and experiencing all sorts of things. Um, but I wonder—you’ve already articulated, at least as a Korean American scholar, you’ve felt some alienation and some isolation. Do you have any encouraging words for our students who might be experiencing some of those same things?

Arcadi
Yeah.

Lee
Yeah. I would say, one, know that you’ve been called. So in the end, I would put an umbrella. I believe if you’re at a seminary and God has not called you there, He’s going to let you know [KNIGHT LAUGHS] and He’ll let you know fairly quick. So you want to hang onto your calling that God has brought…brought you to Trinity or to any other seminary school for a reason and purpose. Discover what that purpose is and be excited when the Lord unveils that to you. I would also say, um, try not to persevere alone. Try to persevere communally; so reach out to people. And I would say, also, open up spaces where it’s not just me and other Asian Americans kind of supporting one another, but invite others who would appreciate and understand some of the struggles that I’m going through. There might be those that aren’t, or they’re just too busy and they…they might not be available, but I would liken it to this: If…if I just go to Trinity and just try to get my degree, um, I’m kind of like, um, someone who’s in the worship band and I’m just stuck on “Ok, I’ve got to play this piece. I’ve got to play this piece. I’ve got to play this piece.” And I’m not singing with the other band members; I’m not worshipping with the rest of the community; I’m not enjoying the experience. I’m just trying to get it done and…and make sure that I perform my piano piece and my guitar piece well, and…and I’m not worshipping. And I think that, um, as tough as it is, we’ve got to find those moments where we’re really enjoying what we’re studying; we’re enjoying the time that we’re spending with people. Um, find those who have the same struggles as…as you, and if they don’t, then who are open to hearing what those struggles are, and…and they have the space and the heart to really try to understand what…what you’re going through. And I think if you can enjoy your seminary education and enjoy the community that…that’s a part of that education, then you’ll walk away with more than the…the goal that you first came when…when you entered into Trinity’s campus. So, that would be my…my word of advice. So… and that’s born from both success and failure. Um, I would say personally, theological education was hard, burdensome, tiring, when I was trying to do it all on my own—tough it out. And I think the lord really humbled me in many ways where He put me in situations where me, myself, and I couldn’t dig me out of whatever pit I was in.

Knight
[LAUGHS] Yeah.

Lee
Learning to humbly depend on others, and experiencing God through people, was kind of the most formative experiences that I’ve ever had. It’s one of the reasons why, even though I could have gotten my Doctorate a lot sooner if I’d just focused on finishing the program, I think living life in the church and…and being engaged with the community at…at Fuller at that time really formed me as the kind of person I am today. So I’m very grateful for that.

Knight
Wonderful.

Arcadi
[00:35:23] That’s great. Well, that’s so encouraging. Thanks for…for sharing that word. Yeah, I feel exhorted in that as well, [KNIGHT LAUGHS] and I hope our students do too. Um, but that’s…but that’s just the foreword for us! [LAUGHTER] So, we’re so…we’re so delighted to have you with us, uh, Dr. Lee. It’s been a pleasure to…to talk with you.

Knight
Yes.

Arcadi
To the listeners, be sure to check out Max Lee’s work. You can find his webpage on the North Park webpage and see some of his recent publications. Also on the Henry Center website there’s some things you can find of Dr. Lee. There’s some talks that will be coming up as well that you can check out there, so be sure to pay attention to the good research and the good work that he’s doing. We’re grateful that he was able to speak with us today. So, um, and we’re also grateful to the many people who help this podcast work. We’re grateful to Curtis Pierce, our…our producer, grateful to Lauren, our Graduate Assistant, our other co-hosts as well who make this a success, and we’re also grateful to you, our listeners and viewers, who participate along with us on social media, um, and the like. So until next time, I’m James Arcadi.

Knight
And I’m Michelle Knight.

Arcadi
Thanks, everybody!

Outro
Foreword is a podcast hosted by faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The views expressed by the hosts and guests of Foreword do not necessarily represent the views of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can subscribe to our newest episodes on your preferred podcast app or at forewordpodcast.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook @forewordpodcast to get updates and additional links to content. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is located 25 miles north of Chicago, with extension sites across the country and online. Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning. You can find more information at teds.edu.

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