Professor Lee Martin McDonald
PhD and Professor of New Testament Studies
President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament Studies, Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia
Why did you choose to study at New College?
I had planned to go to Princeton, but I was encouraged to read Hugh Anderson’s book, Jesus and Christian Origins (Oxford, 1963) and that did it for me. It was the best book I had read on the subject and I wanted to study with him. I was fortunate that he was willing to welcome me and mentor me.
Coming to the European-British style of education was quite a change for me and it took me a while to learn how to negotiate my way into the new way of study. I loved how helpful folks were helping me adjust. What stands out especially was the friendliness of the people in Scotland their willing to welcome my wife and me often in their homes and often for a meal. We still have contacts with the folks we met while students. My wife loved the evening classes for spouses taught by retired faculty (she loved James Stewart’s classes and got me to attend some of his classes). Years later we were blessed to entertain James (JB) Torrance in our home in California years later when he was a visiting professor near us.
What has been your career path?
After finishing my residence time in Edinburgh, I returned to the States and began a teaching career. I was able to join my love for the church and for academic inquiry over the years and spent my career in pastoral ministry and as a professor of New Testament Studies. After teaching and pastoring for a number of years, I continued my education at Harvard University studying under Helmut Koester. I finished my full-time career as a president of a theological seminary, but I have taught courses and given many lectures in various institutions ever since in Europe (Rome, Budapest, Athens, Moscow), Israel, Canada, and the USA.
Several in Edinburgh encouraged me to begin writing for publication soon after graduation and I have been able to author and edit 31 books* and around 160 refereed articles and essays on canon formation and Old and New Testament issues.
I continue to write, give lectures at universities, but also preach and teach in churches (Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and many others). I feared that after retirement I would be ignored and have little to do, but that has not been the case for me and I greatly enjoy the continuing opportunities.
The title of my forthcoming volume with John J. Collins and Craig A. Evans is: Ancient Jewish and Christian Scriptures: New Developments in Canon Controversy (Westminster John Knox Press, 2019 or 2020).
Any advice for current or potential students?
Of course, study hard, learn your languages that are necessary to do your research (in my field that is German, French, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, but I wish I had studied both Syriac and Coptic as well). I would encourage students to stay focused on a subject that you really like and pursue it with passion.
[For those trying to decide decide between a career in the Church or academia]: While we need to branch out sufficiently to see how your primary subject of interest is connected to other related fields, by all means stay focused for your first five or ten years in one particular area offering articles on it to journals and individual volumes, and continue researching that area. Before long you will be known for your focus and many will begin quoting your work and even giving some positive reviews. That all makes it easier to publish larger works and get invited to participate in various conferences and writing projects. That helps in your advancement in your field of inquiry and ability for promotion in your institution.
Finally, never get far away from your church! Far too many ignore the church after getting a teaching post. The church will be a wonderful resource of affirmation and opportunity to you in your pastoral and academic journey. It is always amazing how people in the church raise questions to us that we had not considered in our previous academic inquiry. I might add that we should never use the church as simply a place to get a salary and until we get an invitation to teach in an institution, but it is a great opportunity to fall in love with the people and do our best to minister to them with warmth, love, and grace.
I am honored that persons in churches that I served years ago still contact me and address me as “Pastor Lee.” You will never regret going into the church if your motivation is to love people and desire to advance the mission of the church. If no academic position is available, the church is a great place to practice our theology and academic studies.
I need only remind students that Karl Barth’s journey began to blossom while he was pastor and wrote his volume on Romans. That is similar to William Barclay, and even Albert Schweitzer. We will never be sorry if we serve with a whole heart in the church. My earliest writings began while I was a pastor and from there was invited to give academic papers and serve in leadership roles both in theological education as well as in my denomination.
My bottom line, love what you are doing NOW, but continue writing and stay connected to the academy and the church by being involved in professional conferences in both areas. That can be a sacrifice financially (most churches are not interested in paying their pastors to attend academic conferences), but the sacrifices will eventually pay off. Staying up in your specific fields of inquiry is a great way to take a break from an otherwise very full and exhausting ministry.