Story Magazine - Fall, 2011

Donald Juel, the treasure of the church: Associate professor Matthew Skinner pays tribute to late teacher

by Kari Aanestad, M.Div. Senior

To inspire generations of scholars and leaders is the dream of any seminary professor—and a clear reality for the late Donald Juel. Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary for 17 years and a lifelong academic, Juel continues to make his mark on the church through the lives and work of his former students.

Matthew Skinner, Luther Seminary associate professor of New Testament and former student of Juel, is one living testament to the indelibility of Juel's legacy. In honor of one of his favorite professors, Skinner, along with Princeton Theological Seminary professor and fellow onetime Juel student Shane Berg, recently completed "Shaping the Scriptural Imagination: Truth, Meaning and the Theological Interpretation of the Bible," a book that showcases and reflects on some of Juel's most exciting work.

"Shane and I prepared the book to honor Don. We loved him and were grateful for how he shaped our lives as scholars and as Bible readers," Skinner said. "We wanted to introduce his ideas to a new generation of readers, and we wanted to interject his ideas into conversations about what it means to interpret Scripture theologically for the sake of faith."

"Shaping the Scriptural Imagination" features eight essays and eight never-before-published sermons by Juel, all of which discuss the Bible and how we interpret it. Skinner and Berg hand-picked these 16 pieces because they uniquely convey Juel's commitment to the Bible as a terrifying and invigorating challenge to its readers that Scripture be not only admired or studied but also imaginatively read for the sake of encountering God.

"[Juel] was a masterful teacher, and very provocative. He had a particular disdain for people who tried to explain away the Bible too easily, either to make it too tame or too knowable or too unknowable," Skinner said. "He was convinced that Bible readers will do all they can to protect themselves from God or from the wildness or messiness of Scripture."

At the heart of Juel's legacy was his belief that it is precisely in the messiness of Scripture where imagination can flourish and where God shapes individual lives and entire communities. Skinner hopes that the compilation of Juel's work will not only capture Juel's legacy but also inspire new generations to read the Bible with curiosity, uncertainty and imagination.

"For [Juel], the act of reading was a deeply theological enterprise because when we read Scripture, we have to contend with its depictions of God and lay our own assumptions about God on the
table as we discuss Scripture with one another," Skinner said. "Don taught me that interpreting the Bible is less about finding answers or creating a foolproof system than it is about entering into an engagement with God and with interpreters around me and throughout the ages. That is, interpretation requires imagination."

In his own words, Juel described living with Scripture as being "more like sailing than like building cathedrals. We don't have control over the elements—just enough to navigate in the face of surprising shifts of wind and changed water conditions. Some would perhaps hope for more stability, but for sailors, bedrock is where sunken ships lie."


"Shaping the Scriptural Imagination" was released by Baylor University Press on July 15. It can be purchased at www.baylorpress.com or at a reduced rate through the Luther Seminary Bookstore.