August 10, 2013
Indie: You were a Bible school teacher for many years. What were your favorite subjects to teach, and how did that experience contribute to your writing?
JB: I was a Bible college professor for 15 years as well as occupying positions as Registrar and Academic Dean. As the Dean I gave the other teachers the courses they wanted and I took the left-overs. As a result I taught a variety of subjects. My favorites were Greek, Theology, and Romans. Most of my books relate to those three subjects.
Indie: I had the privilege of being in some of your Bible school classes, and I distinctly remember a lot of (mostly dry) humor. What’s the funniest thing you can remember happening in one of your classes?
JB: One of my students at the front row was dozing with his feet stretched out in front of him, so I motioned to the class what I was going to do. I kicked the sole of his foot and startled him awake. We all laughed. Later he and I posed that same scene for the yearbook picture.
Indie: Given that penchant for creating laughter, what place does humor have in your writing, and is humor appropriate when writing about theological subjects?
JB: Teaching theology and writing theology are two sides of the same coin. My theology writing doesn’t have much humor, but it really should have. Certainly the Dummies books have captured humor in their dry subjects. In my class exams, I always included cartoons and humor because they tended to ease the tension a student feels in coming to an exam.
Indie: What do you most enjoy writing about? What do you think is unique to your contribution?
JB: I really enjoy what I am doing with my Greek. I’m getting the Greek text into the hands of students so that we don’t lose scholars in this valuable language.
Indie: Can you name three contemporary writers (or historical writers, if you prefer) who have made a significant impact on your theology and how you think about Scripture? How has that affected your own writing?
JB: David M. Lloyd-Jones is my favorite. Through his books I have learned to preach. I had been taught the format of a sermon, but I didn’t know how to get from the Scripture to the format until I tore Lloyd-Jones sermons apart until I discovered how he did it.
J. Sidlow Baxter’s book A New Call to Holiness helped me to understand sanctification—especially Romans 6-8, together with Lloyd-Jones’ treatment on those chapters.
This next one will surprise you: Dena Korfker, My Picture Story Bible, which we read to our children because of its format. It told a short story from the Bible, then asked a few questions to be sure you were listening. The approach helped me to see that information can be more clearly communicated in small chunks.
Indie: Do you look for sources of inspiration, or do you basically just sit down and start writing? How many hours a week do you devote to writing?
JB: I do a lot of riding on my bicycle. That’s a time I use to dream up new ideas for fiction stories.
However, the work on non-fiction is a process of hard work. For instance, the re-write of Pilgrim’s Progress took me several months, but I worked on it only three or four hours in the morning. Then I would go back to work on my Greek in the afternoon or evening.
All told, I keep at it about 8 or 9 hours a day, Monday to Saturday. That still allows me two hours for a bike ride and some yard work.
Indie: Given that you write both fiction and nonfiction, how do those two sides of your writing play with one another?
JB: I’ve always had a good imagination. I rarely watch a movie of a book I have read. My imagination is much better than the movie. When I read Scripture, I like to picture the scene. As I understand more about the times and culture, the picture becomes clearer. Fiction, therefore is the process of making imagination clear while non-fiction is making truth clear.
Indie: You have written a lot of books, on a lot of subjects. Among those, is there one book that holds a special place in your heart?
JB: My Twelve Sermons on Nehemiah was a delight to compose and preach because its truths helped to shape my own life and ministry.
Indie: You have successfully sold thousands of books online. What do you think is the single most important factor in that success?
JB: Niche market. I’ve got something they want and need for low dollars.
Indie: Our culture is saturated with many forms of media the world never knew until our generation. Is there a future for books?
JB: There will always be books in paper format. They have some advantages over ebooks. The mind remembers both information (i.e., content) and location. When searching for something in a book, I’ve often said something like, “I know it was on the top of the left-hand page.” That’s hard to do with an ebook.
Indie: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
JB: Pretend you are writing for someone who hasn’t a clue about the subject—make it that simple.
Thanks to John Barach for this insightful and interesting interview. Be sure to check out his title listing on Indie Bookroom’s Authors Listing page.