The Mind in Another PlacePosted: September 14, 2022
The Mind in Another Place: My Life as a Scholar
Luke Timothy Johnson
Eerdmans (March 22, 2022), 330 pages
Kindle edition $10.67, Amazon hardcover $11.62
I have been familiar with Luke Timothy Johnson for some time. I have listened to at least two of his Great Courses lecture series, and I have long known of his popular books on Christianity. Johnson’s memoir, The Mind in Another Place, adds a whole new dimension to Johnson for me. Far from simply being a popularizer of the New Testament and early Christianity, I discovered he is a scholar who has done significant original work and is an important contributor to the academic world of biblical studies.
Johnson lost both of his parents at a young age and had to move from the Midwest to the South to live with relatives who were not particularly happy to have to raise him and his brother. Fortunately, he was able to attend a Catholic day school. The head of the school saw his potential and arranged for him to go away to seminary for high school. He completed college, was ordained a priest, and earned his PhD under the aegis of the church.
Johnson’s life took an odd twist when he met and fell in love with a woman named Joy, ten years older, who was married and had children. They realized they were meant to be together, and she got a divorce (a very Bad Thing in the eyes of the Catholic church) while he abandoned the priesthood, even though the church refused to release him from his vows. Joy suffered from a chronic autoimmune ailment, which informed much of their life together. She frequently needed medical attention, and the medical bills put a strain on their finances. Nonetheless, the two remained together until Joy’s death in 2017.
The author traces his academic career from Yale, where he held a non tenure-track position, to Indiana University and then on to Emory University, where he remained until retirement. Johnson describes in detail the politics involved in the academic world, and the ulterior motives often embedded in the hiring process. He describes his efforts to build a solid doctoral program out of a mediocre one at Emory, and discusses his heavy workload in directing PhD candidates, preparing classes, grading papers and exams, and doing the requisite committee work. Johnson also gives us a picture of his involvement in the academic controversies of his day. (Johnson, for example, takes the position that the pastoral epistles in the New Testament were written with Paul’s approval, if not actually written by him. The majority scholarly opinion is that they were written by followers of Paul after his death.)
The final section of the book lists the qualities that Johnson believes a scholar should have: both academic and moral. It was somewhat interesting, but he could have ended the book with his retirement and I would have been happy.
The Mind in Another Place offers both a fascinating account of one man’s life in academia and the world of New Testament scholarship. (The title, by the way, refers to his need to focus on academics while assisting his wife with her illness.) For those interested in the academic life and for those interested in New Testament scholarship, this book will be a worthwhile read.