Each Friday this semester, we will be placing a spotlight on one of Western Seminary’s faculty members. Today, we feature Dr. Todd Miles, Professor of Theology, and Director of the Master of Theology degree program.
Transformed: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Dr. Miles: I grew up in small towns around Oregon (Vale and Myrtle Point), attended Oregon State University, Western Seminary, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am married to Camille, with six children: Natalie, Ethan, Levi, Julius, Vicente, and Marcos.
Transformed: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Dr. Miles: Probably some sort of professional athlete. I joked that I wanted to major in comics and cartoons. That was probably a more realistic idea than being a professional athlete. In a rare burst of wisdom, I chose an entirely different path.
Transformed: What made you want to become a theologian?
Dr. Miles: Everybody who has ever breathed or had a thought about God is already a theologian. I wanted to become a faithful theologian. I also wanted to teach, and what could be better to teach than the person and work of Jesus Christ?
Transformed: You teach theology in the heart of Southeast Portland, home to no shortage of amazing places to eat. Give us a couple of you favorite local spots to dine.
Dr. Miles: Brazil Grill, and food cart called Burger Guild.
Transformed: What is something that we would be surprised to know about you?
Dr. Miles: I think I am the least surprising person around: WYSIWYG. I don’t think there is any mystery to me at all. I was an engineer who worked at a National Lab for ten years?
Transformed: If we were to put a hidden microphone in your car, what might we catch you listening to?
Dr. Miles: Anything from the 70s or 80s (Journey, Huey Lewis, etc.).
Transformed: What is one thing you wish people knew about the life of a seminary professor?
Dr. Miles: Grading papers is worse than writing papers. Now that I think of it, shame on me for assigning them.
Transformed: Rumor has it that seminary professors read a lot (and not just the Bible). What, other than the Bible, are you reading right now?
Dr. Miles: The Last Lion by William Manchester, How (Not) to be Secular by James K. A. Smith, Turning Points by Mark Noll, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice by Gregg Allison, Systematic Theology, Vol 1 by Katherine Sonderegger, and I am also reading The Lord of the Rings to my three younger boys.
Transformed: Is there a verse or passage of Scripture that has had a particularly strong impact on your life? If so what is it, and in what way has it impacted you?
Dr. Miles: My favorite Bible story has always been the David and Goliath narrative of 1 Samuel 17. Because of that, it was the first passage that started me down the path of biblical theology. I knew the story so well, that any teaching on it divorced from redemptive history rang hollow.
Transformed: Your job involves training those who will teach others the Bible in the context of the local church. What, in your opinion, should be the relationship between the seminary and the church?
Dr. Miles: The church is the main thing and the seminary exists to serve the church. Ideally, a seminary is a cooperative work of many churches who can do together what they cannot do alone.
Transformed: What does the church need more of and less of?
Dr. Miles: More commitment, grace, and charity; less dissatisfaction, negativity, and shopping.
Transformed: Many of your students currently are, or one day will be, preachers. What do you look for in a preacher, and who are some of your favorite preachers?
Dr. Miles: I want to hear people preach who are thinking and praying for me when they prep their sermon. [Favorites include] Michael Lawrence, Geoff Chang, [and] Daniel Schreiner (whichever of my pastors is preaching).
Transformed: What makes for a model/ideal student – what do you wish you saw more of in your students?
Dr. Miles: The best student is a little on the obsessive-compulsive side. He will take ownership for his own program and learning. She will not wait to be taken care of and spoon-fed. I don’t know how many times I have said, “This is a Masters degree!”
Transformed: What advice would you give to incoming seminarians?
Dr. Miles: Take the time to pursue your seminary professors. Also, know that your homework can be devotional. I have no patience with disgruntled seminary students who complain that their relationship with God is drying up. Seminary is not the cause. If reading, contemplating, and writing about the glory and majesty of God dries you up, you have bigger root issues.
Transformed: What advice would you give to prospective theologians?
Dr. Miles: Seek the applause of God, not the academy. I don’t understand why so many theologians crave the affirmation of the academy, whose presuppositions are radically different than theirs. If you are committed to the doctrine of inspiration, they will never respect you, so why chase after their adulation? Let the excellence of your scholarship be your protest against them.
Transformed: Give us an example of an academic whose work you admire.
Dr. Miles: John Frame has had more influence on me than any person who was not one of my professors. I love the clarity with which he writes.
Transformed: What theological topics need more attention? Are there any doctrines that have been ignored in the recent past, and could benefit from more exposure or exploration?
Dr. Miles: Connecting the dots between a biblical ecclesiology and the practice of the church needs attention. I am also concerned that the church still does not understand the nature of the Kingdom of God, which is a shame because Jesus mentioned it every now and then.
Transformed: Let’s talk about your own work for a minute. What have you written, and do you have anything that you are currently working on?
Dr. Miles: I wrote A God of Many Understandings? The Gospel and a Theology of Religions (B&H 2010). I am currently hunting for a publisher for a book that is about halfway completed. It’s on Christology, and called Superman Can’t Save You, But Jesus Can. It strikes me that the very people who need to read a book on Christology are the very people who are least likely to pick up a book on Christology. So this book is aimed at anyone who likes Jesus, is interested in Jesus, and who knows a bit about the superheroes. (See, my childhood obsession with comics and cartoons might pay off after all.)
Transformed: What is the best thing about teaching at Western Seminary?
Dr. Miles: I love teaching a variety of classes. I rarely teach the same class in the same year, let alone multiple sections of the same class in the same semester. You really have to be a bit of a generalist to teach at Western. That makes my job a lot of fun.
Transformed: What upcoming classes are you teaching at Western?
Dr. Miles: Church History, Integrating Theology and Practice, Advanced Hermeneutics, and The Gospel and Other Religions.