Admissions News - January 2011
Q&A: Rolf Jacobson, associate professor of Old Testament
Rolf Jacobson received his M.Div. degree from Luther in 1991 and his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2000. He recently co-authored two books, "Crazy Book: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Biblical Terms" and "Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms."
How were you first called to ministry?
When I first enrolled in college, I discerned a call to be extremely wealthy. So, naturally, I expected to be a business major. In the spring semester of my freshman year, my Irish Catholic Western Civilization professor, Bill Delahanty, said we had to read primary history texts for our final paper. He said to me, "Rolf, you're Lutheran. Why don't you read Luther's 'On the Freedom of a Christian.'" I did, and my life was changed.
How did you decide on Luther Seminary for your M.Div.?
I decided on Luther because I didn't believe that there was anywhere I could get a finer education. I believed then and I hope it is still true today that the M.Div. training that Luther offers is as excellent as any in the world. When I got to Princeton, I found that I was as well prepared as anyone in my class.
What things surprised you about life at Luther Seminary?
I was surprised to find so many forgiven sinners here—both among the students and faculty. I think that some of us who come to seminary are a little afraid that everyone is going to be "holier than me"—that I would be judged as not holy, pious, prayerful or spiritual enough. Instead, I found that everyone was just like me—people who knew they were sinners and who were living in God's grace.
You returned to teach at Luther Seminary years later. How did you make the decision to come back?
When my alma mater contacted me and asked me to consider a call to come back home, my first reaction was, "You mean people who know me would actually want me?" After I got over the wonderful shock of that, the decision was clear. The call to come to Luther was a call to be more directly involved in the mission of God and the work of the church. And that is why I went to seminary in the first place.
You recently co-wrote two books that make the Bible more accessible from a Lutheran viewpoint. Where did you come up with the idea to write these books?
I was working with several Luther students and a professor to write the adult introduction year of the Akaloo Sunday School curriculum. In one meeting, I suggested that each lesson in the book should include a sidebar that defined in everyday language one of the basic concepts of the Christian faith. One student smarted off, "That's 'Crazy Talk.'" "That's it," I said, "That'll be the title of these side bars." And it became the title of the first book.
Why did you choose to take a "not-so-stuffy approach" to theology and the Bible in these books?
The goal of the books is to equip people to talk about their faith. The strategy of the books is to use humor to make people feel comfortable learning the vocabulary of theology—that is, the terms for the basic concepts of the faith. I think humor can be a great teaching tool, and I think the strategy worked pretty well. While I was speaking at a conference, one woman told me that she and her teenage son were driving on a freeway, laughing and discussing the book. Then she said, "Suddenly we realized that we had driven an hour past the exit we were supposed to take." We are sorry that we contributed to the waste of fossil fuel, but we were heartened by how engaging they found the book.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking at attending Luther from the perspective of a former student-turned-professor?
As a former student, my advice is to take as many professors as you can. Theologically, we are the most diverse Lutheran seminary because we are the biggest. That is an incredible gift. Tap into the teachable moment of as many professors here as you can.