William Powell Tuck, a native of Virginia, has served as a pastor in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Louisiana, and as a seminary professor,adjunct college professor, and intentional interim pastor. He is the author of more than 30 books including The Difficult Sayings of Jesus and Star Thrower: A Pastor’s Handbook. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Richmond. In 1997 he received the Pastor of the Year award from the Academy of Parish Clergy, and in 2016 received the Wayne Oates Award from the Oates Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, Emily Campbell, are the parents of two children and five grandchildren and live in Midlothian, Virginia.
What was your inspiration for Markers Along the Way?
In one of my congregations, there was a discussion about the miracles of Jesus, and I thought it would be helpful for them to study some of the miracles under the Gospel of John’s view of the “Signs” of Jesus. This would enable us not only to explore Jesus’ miraculous ministry but provide an avenue into the deeper significance of Jesus’ redemptive grace and his summons to us for faithfulness in our commitment to him.
For our readers, you split the book into ten different signs of Jesus. How did you choose the signs and why did you structure the book this way?
New Testament scholars usually designate seven miracles of Jesus as “signs.” But I believe there are several other “events” that are clearly signs as well. The “new birth” discussion, the Bread of life event, and Jesus’ reference to himself as “the resurrection and life,” I believe are signs as well. I laid out the book to lead the readers to sense the depth behind each sign, moving them to the last chapter on the “supreme sign” of the resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for us.
As you’ve written multiple books about theology, how has your writing, perspectives and faith transformed through your career?
In my theological journey, I made a vow to be open to new insights in my theological quest and never to assume that I have “arrived” theologically. This has guided me down numerous theological paths and to writing books on various themes. My book, The Difficult Sayings of Jesus, for example, arose out of inquiries that I had from several persons who could not understand the meaning of some of Jesus’ teachings and caused some to deny the faith and give up on Christianity. I felt challenged to address this concern. My book, Star Thrower: A Pastor’s Handbook, was a response to the need of many pastors for guidance in the various and challenging dimensions of ministry. Many especially wanted guidance in the ministry connected with funerals, weddings, baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as other areas. Many of my other books arose out of a similar need.
One of the major elements that stood out to me was your distinction and conversation between literal and metaphorical interpretations of the signs of Jesus. What is your goal in raising this angle?
For one to examine only the literal meaning of the signs of Jesus would, in my opinion, put the focus in the wrong place. For example, in the first sign, where Jesus changes water into wine, to assume that Jesus’ primary purpose was to be in the “wine making business,” is to miss the purpose of this sign. This sign revealed the abundance and graciousness of Jesus’ unlimited gifts and reveals something of the identity and character of God. This is true of the other signs as well. Each sign reveals an aspect of Jesus’ redemptive work. As the “Bread of Life”, Jesus is not in the bakery business but is the one who nourishes our spiritual hunger. The example of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is not merely a summons to cleansing but a sign of spiritual cleansing and a call to one who follows Jesus to a life of servanthood. Each sign invites us to probe deeper into the significance of Jesus as the Incarnate One, and our call to faithfulness in our Christian journey.
How can we, as a people of faith, connect and relate ourselves to scripture? What are the challenges to this and how can we overcome them, individually and as a church?
Christians state that the Scriptures are our “guideline” for our faith. This means, of course, that we need to study and seek to follow their teachings. This needs to be done on an individual and churchwide basis. One of the biggest problems in trying to interpret the Scriptures, especially the teachings of Jesus, is they were written for the most part to people who lived in a rural world. Even Paul’s Letters written to city churches are addressed to a different lifestyle and centuries ago. We must “translate” the teachings of that ancient world, so they relate to us in our contemporary setting. This means that we have to interpret, for example, in what way Jesus is our Good Shepherd today for a people who do not for the most part raise sheep or know what a shepherd does. This will challenge us to determine the setting of Jesus’ teaching and ministry and how it needs to be interpreted for our generation. This will cause us to explore the background of whatever Scripture we are studying, the people to whom it was addressed, the time it was written and to whom, and by whom, and examine the verses before and after it. This means a church needs to explore genuine Bible study with an informed and trained teacher of the Bible and not settle for discussion by persons who really are simply speaking “off the top of their heads.”
What continues to surprise you about scripture?
To me, I am surprised at how often I read a passage of Scripture I have read many times, and it still brings to me a new insight that I did not see before. Sometimes it summons me in a different way to understand Jesus or how to apply one of Paul’s teachings to my life today. The surprising and wonderful thing about the Scriptures to me is their eternal freshness and challenge that never ceases. Although the Scriptures were written centuries ago, the ever-surprising fact is they never fail to offer guidance that I need to find meaning and purpose in my life’s journey.
As you were published amid the pandemic, how do you think your approach to Markers Along the Way would have changed if written now?
I think much of it would be the same, except I would attempt to help relate the meaning of the “signs” to one’s struggle with the isolation, fears, anxiety, loneliness, illness, and death that many experienced during the pandemic. I would attempt to show how Jesus is present with us in the midst of our separation from others during the pandemic and is concerned with our threat of sickness and death. The sign of the “example of service” is a lesson on how we could assist others during this difficult time. Even if we could not be with someone in person, there can still be ways we could offer assistance to someone in need. The “signs” of Jesus could speak volumes to those in the pandemic as well as in other times.