News — 9th July 2018
We recently asked Gabi a few questions about her and the reasons for writing this book.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you came to study with NTC Manchester?
I am – what is known as – a third culture kid, born in California, USA, but grew up in Germany and the Netherlands as well as various places in California. I finally settled back in the Netherlands, where I married a Dutchman, René, and together we have three daughters.
I have always felt a desire to serve God, and sensed that was my purpose in life. But when I was about 34, the Lord spoke to me directly that He wanted me to speak His words. I had always thought that getting a theological education at that time was impossible for me because of my situation as a stay-at-home mother. But I knew I had to answer God’s call and wanted to prepare myself well for His plans. René and I began to look for the right school for me to study with, and the distance MA at NTC was perfect for my situation. I could study and research at home, and only needed to be away from our children for two weeks a year. My mother, sister-in-law, husband, and many of our friends made it possible for me to complete my MA.
It took me a long time to figure out how my teachers were trying to teach me to learn, study and write. About half way through my MA dissertation, I finally caught on and I deeply enjoyed the second half of the research and writing. By the time I had completed the MA, I longed for more! So, my supervisor Dr Kent Brower began to talk with me about further studies. To make a long story short, a year later I started on my PhD.
Congratulations on publishing your book, please tell us a little bit about the subject?
Basically, for years I struggled with the demands in the Gospels for radical discipleship. It all sounded fair enough to me, a privileged westerner, but I couldn’t figure it out for less privileged people. As a social justice sensitive person, I had a hard time asking someone who was down and out to pick up their cross and deny themselves to follow Jesus. I had to know if this was really what Jesus demanded. And if he did, where did love fit in to all of this? And was this necessary to salvation? In the Gospel of Mark, the passion predictions of Jesus were ALL connected to teachings about denying oneself, serving the least, being a slave to all, even to the point of dying. And if the death of Jesus is central to salvation, what does that say about our part?
In my book, I look at this connection. I try to answer the question about the necessity of following on this way of the cross, in God’s Story of Salvation. It’s a narrative study – so I look at the narrative of the Gospel of Mark to see what Mark was saying in context of the whole book, but also at how that fits into the narrative of God’s great Story of Salvation. I look at the structure of the book – Mark does a lot of fun things with literary technique. But I also look at the way he pulls cultural ways of thinking into his ways of telling his story, and how we can understand his message better when we understand those aspects of his culture. And then he also taps into a deep knowledge of the scriptures (“Old Testament”) to explain how Jesus and this way of the cross fit into the grand narrative as I mentioned above. So, I look at those aspects as well, and see what it adds to how we understand the message.
One thing that kept bothering me all along was the fact that the disciples actually fail in their attempt to follow Jesus on this way of the cross. Did this failure purpose to soften these requirements of discipleship? Scholarship tends this way, but I think I’ve found something in Mark that points the other direction. According to my research, Mark brings his readers to the point of realising that it is humanly impossible to actually give up all to follow Jesus. HOWEVER, God provides to actually make it possible. And this provision, this empowering by the Holy Spirit, is embraced, enacted, tapped into, accepted, whatever you want to call it, through a deep and prayerful seeing and understanding of the cross of Jesus. When you see it truly, you will understand, and be able to follow.
It’s a mystery, but no worries, even God does not bring a light and then put it under a bushel. If you use your eyes and ears fully and deeply, you will see and hear and understand the mystery and be enabled to follow Jesus on this way of the cross.
How did you come to invest in this particular area of research, why Mark, why Jesus, why Discipleship?
The deep answer is in my answer to question 2. The superficial answer is that Dr Kent Brower told me that if I wanted him to supervise me, I needed to find something in Mark, because he was busy at that time with writing a commentary on Mark. And I did indeed want him to supervise me!!
The Gospel of Mark was written for its own historical purposes, but how do you think Mark’s Gospel speaks to us today, in our own western culture?
I think that we are still called to this radical discipleship and that God’s Spirit still desires to enable us to give up all to follow Jesus. I think we need to be made free from consumerism and individualism and the deep need to demand that our rights be given to us. I think basically we need to realise that Mark had an incredibly eternal truth to tell, and if we appreciate that eternal value and are open to it, we will again experience the overwhelming power of the cross of Jesus over our own weakness.
We need more than ever to stick close to the risen Jesus. The last verses in Mark point towards a meeting with the resurrected Jesus. I think we can understand that promised meeting being not only for the eleven disciples, but also for us today. Jesus will meet us and in that meeting, will help us to see, understand and follow him. Whatever the cost.
How helpful was the guidance of your supervisors in your PhD process?
Dr Brower was absolutely amazing. He was present, he was kind, he was thorough, he is so intelligent and capable, he was very critical and loving at the same time. He was very aware of how all aspects of my life played into a successful PhD journey. He and Mrs Brower became a family away from home for me.
Did you enjoy your time at NTC, do you miss us?
YES, and YES. Towards the end of my MA, I took a long walk with Dr Brower and told him I had found a spiritual home at NTC and didn’t feel ready to move on yet. I think I kind of needed the extra years of being a part of the NTC community that the PhD provided. And now I am ready to move on. All the relationships and experiences from NTC that have been so forming in my life have become an inseparable part of who I am and now go with me wherever God brings me.
Finally, do you have any advice for current NTC PhD students, as they progress towards writing and their viva?
Listen to and trust your supervisor. They’ve been there before. Meet God in your research and glorify Him in your writing. Relax, do the hard work, and enjoy.