Interview with Seminary Professor Michael Chan

I recently sat down with Michael Chan, a seminary professor at Luther Seminary to discuss how study Bibles have impacted his work in the classroom and his personal walk of faith. Enjoy the reading below as you are challenged to grow in your faith and learn how to use the Bible in today’s times. Read to end to learn how to connect with Michael.

Tell me about yourself

My name is Michael Chan, and I have been married to Katherine Chan for 13 years. Day in and Michael Chanday out, she remains one of the most important ways I encounter Christ in the world. I also see God at work in the world through our young daughter, Eden Chan, who entered our lives almost two years ago.

I currently teach Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. My teaching load typically includes topics like Hebrew, Aramaic, Jeremiah, and Daniel. I love teaching, and consider myself profoundly blessed to be able to teach the Old Testament for a living, and to participate in the shaping of the church’s future preachers, evangelists, and leaders.

Tell me about your walk with Christ and how you came to know Him

Walking with Jesus is like walking with no other. To walk with Jesus is to walk with the One who not only experienced death, but who also conquered it through the power of the Spirit (Rom 1:4-5; 1 Cor 15). But Jesus has a strange way of making disciples: He makes disciples by killing them. What, you might say, “I thought Jesus was the Lord of life?” True. But the profound truth of the Gospel is that life comes through death; in Paul’s words, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). Our death with Christ irrevocably binds us to the fate of Christ (Rom 6:5-11): His resurrection is our resurrection, his power is our power, his love is our love, his history is our history, his destiny our destiny. So for me, to walk with Jesus is to walk with the One who is my End and my Beginning. This is the great mystery of the Christian life: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20). I am dead, but also alive. Welcome to discipleship.

I’m not sure when I was saved. If the book of Revelation has any say in the matter, then I’d have to conclude that I—and every other Christian for that matter—was written into the “Lamb’s book of life” “from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8; 17:8). Upshot: long before you and I could contribute a single word or work to the book, Christ in his grace chose us, and scandalously included our names that book in without even asking for our permission. There it is again—death. The death of the will. The death of my “right” to contribute to my own good works to my righteousness. What’s really upsetting about all of this is that I don’t even get a choice in the matter.

Whenever I start to wonder whether my name is actually written in the book of life, I do what the Canaanite woman did in Matt 15:21-28, and run to those places where I know Jesus is to be found, where I know he never says “no”: In the cry of faith (Exod 3:7-12), in prayer with brothers and sisters (Matt 18:20; James 5:16), in the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-30), and in baptism (Titus 3:1-7; 1 Ptr 3:21-22). This is also what discipleship is about: running to Jesus, wherever he has promised to be found.

How does using a study Bible help you with your work?

I love reading the Bible on my own—just me and the text. But for several reasons, I often choose to read a study Bible, rather than simply the raw text. There isn’t any shame in this. When I choose to pick up a study Bible, I consider it an invitation to read the Bible with somebody else at my side. Sometimes I agree with this person, and sometimes I don’t. What matters most is that I’m reading the Word of God in the first place, and in the process encountering the Bread of Life himself.

Reading a study Bible, and paying close attention to the notes and commentary, gives me an opportunity to get out of my own head, and to see how another reader sees the text. There are no objective readers of the Bible, who can free themselves from their own history, pain, context, and worldview. We all read from somewhere. I like to read study Bibles, because it gives me an opportunity to see how the Bible has impacted someone else.

Reading the Bible can also be confusing and even frustrating. Think about this: The Bible was written at a time in history different from our own, in locations far removed from our own, in languages most of us don’t know, and in response to historical dynamics none of us have experienced first-hand. Reading the Bible is a cross-cultural experience and we should treat it as such. Study Bibles can help us appreciate and better understand how the Bible is, on the one hand, a word for today and for our world, and, on the other hand, a word from yesterday and for a very different world.

How important is it for Christians to study the Bible? What benefit is there from personal study of the Bible?

Studying the Bible is one of the most import practices we do as Christians. But why? Here are a few reasons:

  1. When we study the Bible, we not only read the Bible, the Bible reads us (Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 2003 72). We don’t study the Bible simply for information; we read it to hear ourselves addressed by our Father, who knows us by name.
  2. The Story of Israel (found in the OT) is now your story, as Christians. According to Paul, Gentiles (non-Jews) become the beneficiaries of promises originally made to Jews—people like Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and Rachel. Faith in Christ “grafts” us into this story (Rom 11:11-24). To know the Bible is to know what God says to and about this world. The story of the integration of Gentiles into Israel’s promises continues into the NT and into the modern day.
  3. The Bible is full of examples of lives lived in both faith and unbelief. These stories, in turn, may stir us to trust God in difficult circumstances, or they may hold up a mirror to our own sin. Whatever the case may be, we are driven to Jesus, who gives us new life at the cross.

How can people find out more about you and what you are up to?

You can connect with me in a few different ways. If you’re interested in reading more, then check out my recently published book, Exploring the Bible (co-author, Eric Barreto). In addition to doing research in the area of Biblical studies, I am also co-author on a sociological project that studies the complex intersection of guns and religion in America. Check out the blog here. And finally, additional information can be found on my Luther Seminary faculty website.