Shane J. Wood is professor of New Testament and associate dean at Ozark Christian College. He is also a teaching minister at College Heights Christian Church. A treasure trove of free resources can be found on his website: www.shanejwood.com.
The following interview centers around Shane’s latest book, Between Two Trees.
This interview was conducted by David George Moore. Some of Dave’s teaching and interview video can be accessed at www.mooreengaging.com.
Moore: You mention that Between Two Trees ended up being quite different than the book you initially intended to write. Why is that?
Wood: Yeah, I mention that in my introduction as a type of confession. I honestly set out to write a book on “How to read the book of Revelation” and instead wrote a book on “How the book of Revelation reads us”—how the word of God enters us and transforms us in an almost reverse hermeneutic of sorts. My writing process had a lot to do with this unexpected turn. I worked hard to write this book with God and not just for Him. So, my writing process began with a Scripture or quote at the top of the document, and then I would prayerfully close my eyes and begin to write whatever the Spirit prompted. After I’d accumulated around 40-60 essays, I entered the editing/discernment phase, where, in reading back through all the essays, I asked, “What is the Lord unearthing? What is He revealing to me and for the church?” After weaving all the essays together, what came out was something quite different than I expected and ultimately more life-enriching than I could’ve planned. It truly was a humbling process. I mean, sure, I wrote the book, but in a way, I felt like I was watching it being written.
Moore: In her wonderful book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, Rutledge likes to capitalize Sin to remind us of its power. In your book, you capitalize Death. How come?
Wood: I made that punctuation choice after prayerfully writing on Revelation 6:7-8—the fourth of the four horsemen. As the rider of the pale horse comes forth, the text announces, “Its rider was named Death.” It’s capitalized because, in this text, it’s a proper noun, a personification of what we normally abbreviate as merely an event or a concept: death. In fact, Revelation personifies Death throughout the entire narrative, even describing Death as “thrown into the lake of fire” in Revelation 20:14. Now, personification doesn’t distort, it exaggerates an overlooked reality, which allows us to engage the concept as we do other persons. This provide new and unique insights to the personified subject. As I reflected on the personification of Death, I began to see it quite differently than I’d been taught, especially regarding “union” or “becoming one flesh”—actions we understand between humans but not explored regarding Death. For if, in Eden, we “became one flesh with Death,” the problem is far worse than first imagined, demanding the solution to be far more pervasive than merely a pronouncement of “innocent” instead of “guilty.” So, my choice to capitalize Death was to follow Revelation’s lead: personify “death” so that we can highlight obscure nuances of this Edenic enemy.
Moore: You do a terrific job of showing how challenging it is to live “between two trees.” How do you encourage those who find God distant and so doubt whether He truly cares for them?
Wood: You know, I wrote this book to wrestle with questions just like this. Not to just answer questions like this but to wrestle with questions like this. We don’t encourage this enough—the wrestling. The unknown. The mystery of faith that calls us down corridors where we don’t find answers but more mystery—which is, exactly, what we often need more of. Let me explain. One of my favorite preachers, Rick Atchley, once said, “We all want a God so big He can do absolutely anything, and yet so small that you can understand everything He does. But you can’t have both.” You see, if the infinite God was small enough for me to understand and accurately interpret every one of His movements, then He wouldn’t be powerful enough to do the very thing I need most: transformation. Redemption. Healing. So, the question of “the distant” God is a question that invites us to wrestle not with His actions, but with His identity—namely, who is He? This is the reason I end the book with a chapter about “the God Who Pursues.” For me, these four words answer your question—for as I wrestled, I realized that whether I understand or am able to divine where God is, one truth echoes in Scripture, in my life, and chiefly in Christ himself: God is a God who pursues. Whether I see it or not, understand it or not, always believe it or not, the same message echoes in every chapter of every book of the Bible: God is a God who pursues. It’s not just an action, it’s His very identity. It’s who He is. Which is what I need.
Wood: I engage Scripture prayerfully. Contemplatively. I’m not using those terms flippantly. I approach Scripture with a posture of receptivity, or, as I write in chapter ten of the book, I try, like Mary the mother of Christ, to empty myself of myself so that the Word of God can be planted in me—opening the womb to the Truth. This involves more than just a moment and more than just one action. Yes, I write in my Bible, marking it up by underlining words or writing in the margins, but most of my engagement with Scripture comes in more mundane moments like driving down the road—radio off and heart open, creating space to receive whatever the Spirit fills the space with. I use my notes app on my phone a lot for this. As Scriptures I’ve read that morning or earlier that week wash over my heart and mind throughout the day—ruminating in my subconscious and making cameo appearances in conscious moments—I grab my phone, open my notes app, and “talk-text” whatever insights are arising in the moment. So, I guess, for me, studying Scripture isn’t something that’s isolated to a moment or a singular space, for if the infinite God wrote these inspired words, I shouldn’t be surprised that they long to permeate every moment of my life—whether I’m awake or asleep, aware or non-responsive.
Moore: Alan Kreider recently published The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. In your own book you have some keen insights on our struggle with haste. Would you unpack a bit why haste is so deadly to our becoming more like Christ?
Wood: Haste is an addiction originating in the garden of Eden. As I detail in chapter twelve (“Wishing Away the Day”), the early church father Irenaeus argues that Adam and Eve’s sin wasn’t gluttony or greed, but haste—seizing what was promised when God’s image was emblazoned on male and female alike (Gen. 1:26-27). The problem is to “be like God” (as the serpent termed it in Genesis 3:5) or to “be like Christ” (as Paul intimates in Galatians 2:20) cannot be acquired by haste, for God is, by definition, not hasty but patient. Long-suffering. Thus, the means doesn’t justify the end, for the means defines who you are in the end. Transformation (or “becoming more like Christ”) is more about the process than the destination, which haste tries to invert, suggesting to our wayward hearts that the “goal” is more important than “how you get there.” To embrace the path of Christ, then, is to reject haste (which is “violence against time”) and, instead, fall in love with the process, the path, the journey of becoming one with Christ through His tender healing of our wounds, His gentle guiding of our steps, His patient shepherding of our transformation into His hands and feet to a world burdened with ever-increasing haste.
Moore: What are two or three things you hope your readers take from your book?
Wood: Life between two trees is hard, but we are never alone. Sure, the Bible begins with the tree of life in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and ends with the tree of life in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 22), but the true tree of life stands in the center of the Bible calling us, guiding us, transforming us: the cross of Calvary. The true tree of life suspended between heaven and earth that loudly proclaims, “You are not alone…and your suffering is not the end of the story.” For the fruit of the cross is not found on the tree between two trees, but in its fruit found in the empty tomb. Found in the resurrection. And the same is true with you. For the God of pursuit finds us united to Death, addicted to haste, and wounded by sins done to us and by us. And patiently, tendering he calls us to healing. He shines His brilliant light into the darkness of Death and offers us a resurrection. Not just in the future, but today. Transformation in Christ today.