Paul Lewis is professor of religion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He is the author of Wisdom Calls: The Moral Story of the Hebrew Bible and Faithful Innovation: The Rule of God and a Christian Practical Wisdom.
1. What story, verse or passage from your faith tradition’s sacred texts has significantly influenced / shaped your life?
The refrain in Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Whatever else that verse may mean, I take it to mean that wisdom begins when we quit making ourselves/our well-being (as individuals, tribes, even a species) the center of the universe, the center of God’s purposes. It is to recognize that we are part of a much larger project (in other words, the kingdom or rule of God).
2. Who are three people (other than your family) who have shaped your life and worldview? And why?
Phil Mullins, my college religion professor. His class in Modern Religious Thought, where we read Paul Tillich, H. Richard Niebuhr, Martin Buber and others, opened a whole new world for me.
Doug Ottati, my advisor in the ThM program at what is now Union Presbyterian Seminary. He taught me that the best theology negotiates the creative tension of remaining faithful to the tradition while also innovating so as to connect with the present.
Harmon Smith, one of my professors at Duke. I learned from him the importance of casuistry/practical wisdom and the ethical richness of the liturgy. He was/is also an example of and inspiration for working across disciplines.
3. List three of your “desert island” books, movies or TV shows.
Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which asks us to consider what is best. I re-read this book every 3-4 years. My favorite line, “Is it hard? Not if you have the right attitudes. It’s having the right attitudes that’s hard.”
The television series Lost, in my view, is one of the most intellectually challenging and interesting series ever, in part because it shows how complex character is: no one is good or bad all the way through. Even Ben.
Richard Niebuhr’s The Meaning of Revelation. It is hard for me to overstate how influential this book has been for me, but one insight I take from it is that the Christian life is one of permanent revolution as God continually presses us to bring our loves into greater conformity with God’s.
4. What is one of the most critical issues people are facing today?
The desire to return to “normal” in a post-pandemic world. It takes many forms – economic, political, ecclesial – but in all its guises, the desire obscures the reality that “normal” was only “good” for a relatively small subset of the population.
It also ignores the fact that we have committed ourselves to a God who makes all things new. We need to work toward a better normal not return to normal.
5. What are a few of your hobbies?
Listening to jazz. Reading good novels, especially detective and science fiction. Early morning walks. Cheering on Duke and Mercer basketball, as well as watching IndyCar, Formula 1 and sports car racing.
6. If you could freeze your life into an already-lived 10 seconds, what would they be?
The time that my son asked me, whose skill with plumbing is virtually non-existent, for advice on how to fix a leak under his kitchen sink. He did what I told him, and it worked!
7. Our tagline at Good Faith Media is, “There’s more to tell.” What’s your “more to tell”?
Part of me wishes reincarnation was true so I could come back as a race car driver. Part of me hopes reincarnation is not true because I’d probably come back as a lug nut.
Professor of religion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He is the author of Wisdom Calls: The Moral Story of the Hebrew Bible and Faithful Innovation: The Rule of God and a Christian Practical Wisdom.