Interview: Barbara M. Leung Lai

LeungLai-Faculty New Oic. [2]Dr. Barbara M. Leung Lai is Professor of Old testament and Director of the Pastoral and Chinese Ministry Program at Tyndale Seminary. She earned a B.Th. from Alliance Bible Seminary, M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, Th.M. from Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto, and Ph.D. from University of Sheffield. Dr. Leung Lai’s website can be found at: drleunglai.tumblr.com

How did you decide to become a biblical scholar? Share your autobiographical journey.

I was first called to the Gospel Ministry in my 20s, so I enrolled at Fuller Seminary for my MDiv in the 70s. During my MDiv studies, I came to love the Hebrew Bible and was preparing myself for this academic path. As a Chinese woman studying MDiv in the mid 70s, I was the only Asian female graduating from Fuller (in 76, only the second year when Fuller had women MDiv graduates, and I was the only non-ordination track graduate among the 4 women grads). After my MDiv., I moved up to Canada, working towards my ThM with a modernist R. K. Harrison at Wycliffe College, U of T, and subsequently moved on to do the ThD with Harrison in the late 70s. When I graduated from Wycliffe, I was the only Asian woman graduating with a graduate degree at Wycliffe (in 79). I continued on my doctorate studies with Harrison (for 6 and a half years) till he became very ill and subsequently passed away in the mid 80s. During the years that I was raising a family, I was looking into starting another doctoral program all over again in the UK. In 1994, I started another PhD program at the University of Sheffield, under a postmodernist this time, Professor David J. A. Clines. As a more mature PhD student, I managed to complete my residence and my degree within 3 years (1997). There were a total of 16 years between the time when I almost completed my ThD dissertation with Harrison and finally gained my PhD from Sheffield under Clines. All because of the sustaining grace from above and the very determined spirit from within—guess, that’s what could be referred to as “a sense of the divine call.”

Tell us about your work (past and current). What are you most excited about right now? What do you hope your work will contribute?

This is the 19th year of my tenure at Tyndale Seminary. I struggled quite a bit as a minority person (also a woman) in the profession during my formative years at Tyndale. It was not a most welcoming environment 2 decades ago. With the good works of ATS in support of minority members of the profession and Asian women faculty members, my path in the past decade has been quite smooth, generally speaking. I got tenured during my 7th year at Tyndale and was promoted to full professor of OT 5 years ago. My most excited sense of accomplishment has been through my publications. Generally speaking, I have been able to establish myself as one of the most prolific faculty members at my school. Most, if not all, my publications in the past 2-3 years are invited publications. Citing or making reference of my own publications in class as course reference material is very rewarding. Perhaps, that is a right path for minority faculty members to establish ourselves academically through published works and also, be able to bridge between the academy and Church through the products of our research and publications. It is my hope that I will begin to write more for the Church at this stage of my academic life. In all humility and in deep appreciation towards my help from above, I am recognized as the only non-white biblical scholar in the Canadian academic scene. I would do whatever I can to assist my successor, or the Asian women biblical scholars to come to reach that goal.

Who has most influenced you as a scholar? Tells us a bit about it.

My husband; he is also a New Testament guy and a churchman, an epitome of bridging the academy with the Church.

What are the most pressing issues or concerns you have related to the broader field of biblical studies?

The decline of MDiv enrollment across ATS schools; the decline in the interest of studying biblical languages; the Church fast-food type of recruitment/demand for pastoral staff; and the demand of nurturing more biblical scholars in teaching or research has diminished significantly.

Why study the scriptures/biblical text?

In my case, first and foremost, God-driven. Secondly, the inter-disciplinary nature of the current advances in Biblical studies has fascinated me tremendously. For example, I was invited to contribute something to an international conference on “Digital humanities” collaborated by several universities that house such Dept. of studies (Dept. of Digital Humanities). With my current interest in the unique biblical genre of “memoir” in Nehemiah (see my current publication in Old Testament Essays on “I-Voice, Emotion, and Selfhood in Nehemiah”), I have come to realize that memoirs are not to be read only, but to be experienced, and thus, perhaps, integrating digital humanities with certain biblical genres (like narrative approach to constructing OT theology; memoirs; apologia) –would be a ground-breaking endeavour.

What do you like to do for fun?

Travel, gardening, eating out, reading books that are of non-academic nature (news articles, cooking, travels, wonders of the world), going for good movies that reflect slices of life’s reality (e.g., Still Alice).

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