Dr. Paul Sloan-Gospel of Mark
THE PILLARS: Dr. Paul Sloan, the assistant professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University, PhD graduate, St. Andrews, PhD thesis on the Gospel of Mark, a young man with lots of future. And I look at you and I think about all that God has planned for you and I get really excited because it’s young men like you that I really believe are the future hope of the church. So how old are you?
PAUL SLOAN: I just turned 30.
THE PILLARS: Unbelievable, 30 and a PhD from St. Andrews. That is hard stuff. I mean, really the Gospel of Mark. So why Mark?
PAUL SLOAN: It presented a lot of fun textual stuff to work on and there was some work I thought yet to be done, particularly Mark 13 so there’s just a couple of interpretive issues that remain hotly debated by scholars.
THE PILLARS: Okay so give us a synopsis of that.
PAUL SLOAN: Sure, in Mark 13 it’s the discourse often called by a few different things, the Olivet discourse, the eschatological discourse, but whatever you want to call it, it’s when Jesus leaves the temple and predicts the destruction of the temple, and the disciples can’t believe it, and they ask, “When is that going to be and what are you talking about? And what will be the sign when all these things are going to happen?” And Jesus proceeds to give a long answer that includes wars and earthquakes and international disasters and the testing, I think, of the people of God, then this thing called the abomination of desolation and then eventually the coming of the son of man with angels to gather the elect, etc. There’s a debate on all of it. You might think that that’s straight forward to be interpreted as just Jesus’ second coming, but some people don’t take it to be a reference to Jesus’ second coming. Some take it to be a metaphor for the vindication of all the things that Jesus has said, such that the manifestation of that vindication would be the destruction of the temple itself. So there’s a debate as to what is he even referring to when he says, “the son of man will come on clouds.” I take it to be a reference to Jesus’ return from heaven to earth, but that in itself is one of the debates, so it was just putting that all out on the table and giving all interpretive options.
THE PILLARS: Now tell me about your viva defense. What was that like? Did you sleep a good nine hours the night before?
PAUL SLOAN: I don’t know what that says about me, but I was terrified the night before my viva. And you know, obviously, I did it in Scotland so the night before you add in the tension plus the jet lag and, no, I didn’t sleep well. But you know what can you do? They’re supposed to last between 60 and 90 minutes. Mine lasted three plus hours.
THE PILLARS: I remember one night we talked and you were down in Central America, and the Lord just seemed to really direct you when you were thinking maybe you might be an actor, or had some interest in the media.
PAUL SLOAN: That’s right, at one point I had the ticket in hand to either move to California to try my hand at screenwriting, comedy and acting, etc. or to go and continue in theological education. For whatever reason, I chose obviously to go the theological education route.
THE PILLARS: So you did your masters where?
PAUL SLOAN: I did a masters in theological studies here at HBU and then a master in scripture and theology at St. Andrews before doing the PhD. During my masters I got to take great courses from Scott Hoffmann and N.T. Wright. Then under the PhD of course you work under one guy or one mentor, and the first couple of years it was Professor Grant Macaskill and then under Dr. David Moffett – both really great teachers.
THE PILLARS: The most watched You Tube video on HBU is you and Jerry Walls talking about Calvinism. The other day I said to your father, Dr. Robert Sloan, that you and Paul need to co-author a book on Calvinism because it’s so desperately needed today. I do want to say to you that in contemporary Christianity we have a movement that’s very strong among certain groups of what I would call five-point or hyper-, whatever prefix you want to put on it, Calvinist.
PAUL SLOAN: You’re right, that the label that now gets applied is kind of Calvinism so it’s either hyper-Calvinism or neo-Calvinism, but whatever you call it, there is a certain brand of Calvinism out there that accentuates the idea in particular that God has chosen, before the foundation of the world, individuals who would be saved and that election was unconditional. If the person is saying that God chose some individuals before the foundation of the world for salvation it’s a purposeful election. It would imply, and some say this, that He also brought people into existence for the purpose of condemning them because their condemnation demonstrates God’s just wrath, etc., and would be the theological buttressing as to why He would choose to create people for the sake of condemning them. So that’s what is being debated and what is being declared to be the scriptural case by many in the kind of neo-Calvinists or hyper-reformed category. And to be fair again, not all Calvinists think precisely that, but a lot do, and it seems to get a lot of air time with many popular preachers and probably a lot of listeners. They get it from a handful of passages. Probably Romans 9 is a prominent go-to text there. Ephesians 1 probably, some passages in Acts where it seems that the authors are talking about God’s sovereign choice, and that human will has absolutely nothing to do with anything about your eternal outcome. And what we talked about in those videos is, in my humble opinion, a misreading of some of those passages. The big one goes in tandem, the fact that Romans 9 is so often the kind of proof text for that idea. It actually is quite a misreading of Romans 9. Romans 9, of course, should be read with the rest of the passages, Romans 9, 10 and 11 and what seems to be driving Paul’s logic is the idea that he just is so devastated. He begins Romans 9 with his devastation about the fact that ethnic Israel hasn’t believed the gospel, and the gospel is God’s faithfulness to his people Israel, and if it was announced in the Jewish scriptures and if this is Israel’s Messiah for Israel and for the world, then how come Israel hasn’t believed it? And this is the thing that sets Paul’s grief aflame and that’s why he opens Romans 9 that way with, “I tell the truth, I’m not lying, I promise I have unending, unceasing grief in my heart because Israel according to flesh hasn’t believed the gospel.”
THE PILLARS: And the rebuttal of this particular extreme form of Calvinism.
PAUL SLOAN: Yeah, whatever this form is right to emphasize that we have to be immersed in the scriptural text and when we’re talking about God and talking about God’s purpose for the world, it has to be based on scripture and that’s what they are so good at. But not all grids of interpretation are the same, and we’re all reading scripture, but there can be different grids of interpretation to produce different outcomes. And this hyper-Calvinistic or whatever that label is, that reading tends toward a certain grid of interpretation, which I think tends to read individual salvation as the basic content of every passage. That’s probably an overstatement, but the idea is that not every passage is about God’s one-on-one goal with you, the reader. Sometimes it has to do with God’s purposeful election of Israel in this particular situation for this particular purpose. So I think to maybe zoom out and see what purpose that language of election is serving and to again not to say that they’re not interpreting it in context because everyone would claim to interpret in context, but to pay a little more attention to the rhetorical context in which that language occurs because no one is denying that the language of pre-destination and election occurs.
THE PILLARS: What kind of vision do you have for the future? What’s on your mind as you continue now at this particular phase? You got a beautiful wife and she’s awesome and great family and I’m sure kids will be coming at some point.
PAUL SLOAN: My own goals professionally are to honestly just keep doing exactly what I’m doing, which is teaching, writing when I have the time, writing on a lot of these issues that we talked about, you know, election or Romans 9 to 11 or gospel issues. And I think that’s what’s on the horizon for now.