September 3, 2019
Wheaton College welcomes Julie Newberry, who is serving the College as an instructor of New Testament in the School of Biblical and Theological Studies.
Name: Julie Newberry
Ph.D., in progress, New Testament, Graduate Program in Religion, Duke University
M.A., Graduate Program in Religion, Duke University, 2017
M.Div., Duke Divinity School, 2014
M.A., English Literature, Texas A&M University, 2011
B.A., English and Humanities, minor in Spanish, Biola University, 2008
What was your favorite class in college?
It’s not exactly one class, but in general, my studies in Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute were probably the most formative for me—not least our sessions focused on early and medieval Christian writings. Going into college, I had no idea that so much fascinating and theologically deep work was being done in the period between Paul and Luther! Reading these texts and discussing them with brilliant faculty mentors and peers helped me learn how to read thoughtfully and how to carry on an academic conversation. More importantly, it helped me to love and know the Triune God more deeply, and to begin finding my place more fully in the larger story of the Christian church.
Before Wheaton, what were you doing?
I was living in Durham, North Carolina, working on my Ph.D. in New Testament at Duke University—a project that I now continue remotely and hope to finish before too long! In Durham, I was deeply rooted in Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church and had rich friendships with both neighbors and graduate student colleagues.
What big question are you trying to answer through your work?
My dissertation focuses on joy, asking specifically: What leads to joy according to the Gospel of Luke (with a glance at Acts as well)? Which circumstances, practices, dispositions, etc. facilitate joy? This question arose for me in part because being joyful has not come “naturally” to me; for much of my life, I’ve been more on the melancholy side of the spectrum. Luke not only emphasizes joy (if you don’t believe me, go re-read Luke 1-2 and Luke 15!) but even portrays joy as command-able (e.g., Luke 6:22-23). A lot of people might find such a command counterintuitive at best—myself included. So, I undertook this project to find out more about what joy is according to Luke, how “joy” could be intelligibly commanded, and how Luke might help us to foster joy today.
This project is emblematic of how I try to approach what I or others experience as “difficult texts” in Scripture—not by ignoring the text or the difficulty but rather by trying to think further (prayerfully) about both. But I should add: It’s also the case that “emotions” (and the like) are a trendy topic right now in New Testament studies, and I hope that my dissertation will contribute to that scholarly conversation as well. In particular, some interdisciplinary research has suggested that the experience of joy is bound up with how one lives in many other areas of life, and this insight broadly coheres with what I’m finding in my study of what leads to joy in Luke (and Acts). Joy for Luke depends on God’s action to bring about joy-conducive circumstances, but “successful” rejoicing also depends on human receptivity to this action—receptivity that is shaped by faithfulness in a range of other aspects of the life of discipleship (faith/trust, the ordering of one’s loves, the orientation of one’s hope, etc.).
What’s one interesting or intriguing thing that you have learned recently?
Two things come to mind: First, related to Wheaton College, I learned that Perry is (was?) a mastodon (not a mammoth!). How did I miss this until now??
Second: Since I just moved here in late July, I’ve been visiting churches for the past several weeks. I look forward to the time when I will be settled in a church home, but this season of transition and exploration has given me many opportunities to learn new songs and liturgical traditions and the like. For example, one church I’ve been visiting sings the Celtic blessing “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you” at the close of every service. I don’t think I’d ever heard it before, but as someone who is still settling into a new home and who studies joy, I’ve been blessed to sing (and have it sung over me) each week.
Do you get butterflies the night before the first day of school?
YES. Actually, though, it’s worse for me on the first day itself. This year, I got up on the first day of classes, walked my dogs, got home … and realized my skirt was on inside out! First-day jitters apparently bring out the absent-minded professor in me. But at least this didn’t happen after I’d gotten to campus!
What would you have liked to tell the freshman version of yourself about going to college?
You are a finite human being, and that is OK. It’s part of being a creature, and not something to be overcome. In college, you’re going to encounter some of your limitations in stark ways as you try new, potentially difficult things—and as you learn which things you have to let pass because you simply don’t have the time and energy to do them. When you encounter your limitations, you may experience failure. Scratch that: you will experience failure, in one way or another. That prospect may terrify you, but be willing to risk failure in the course of seeking to be faithful. Failure (or what looks to us like failure) is not always a sign of faithlessness (cf. the cross!), nor is failure irredeemable—though it may admittedly be unpleasant!
Your limitations are not problems to be suppressed, whether by avoiding contexts where you think you might fail or by working yourself to the point of exhaustion in an effort to prevent failure. Rather, your limitations are opportunities to learn and grow (including in patience, humility, and perseverance); to rely on others (not least the community of God’s people); and to register your own continual dependence on God. Figuring out how to navigate your finitude faithfully is going to be a life-long process, but don’t let your good health and relatively privileged situation (if you’re one of the students who have those!) keep you from beginning that process in college.
When you’re not teaching or researching, what do you like to do?
I enjoy walking my two small dogs. Actually, one of them is very elderly, so she mostly gets carried rather than walking…. Getting out with the two of them helps me to stay active, meet neighbors, and encounter the beauty of God’s creation.
Read more about the School of Biblical and Theological Studies here.