Scott Hahn is a Catholic scripture scholar, author, and currently serves as the Distinguished McEssy Visiting Professor of Biblical Theology at Mundelein Seminary (Chicago); he also holds the Fr. Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he's taught since 1990. Founder and President of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Professor Hahn earned his Ph.D. in Theology from Marquette University (1995). His latest book, “Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does),” was just released on Oct. 21, and is his fourteenth book with Image.
On Oct. 31, I conducted the following email interview with Professor Hahn about his upcoming book.
Why did you write this book?
I’ve written many books, but this is probably the only one that requires no explanation or excuse. It’s about Christmas! Everybody loves Christmas. We can never have too many books about it.
But why this book specifically? Today we need the joy of Christmas. We live in a world that’s a lot like the world Jesus came to change—a world that’s losing hope, a world of cultural decline and political division, a world where the family’s breaking down. And into that darkness came a great light, brighter than the sun.
The good news is that it didn’t stop coming. The light shone in the darkness, which could not overcome it. The light is still coming to us, every day. This seems too good to be true, but it’s truer than anything else we might find, and it truly overcomes the world’s confusion, division, and rivalry.
It’s the joy of Christmas that overcomes the world. Joy is the one thing we desire, and the one thing the world can’t give us. God gives it, through Christ, in the midst of hardship and sorrow, now as at the First Noel.
Who is your audience?
Everyone whose life could stand a little more joy. All my books begin as self-therapy. I write about the things I need to know more deeply. I know I need more joy in my life. So I guess the book is for people like me.
Who is Jesus Christ to you?
He’s the fulfillment of all desire—the satisfaction of a hope that has been in the world since creation. He’s the end for which we were created. He is the source and summit of history. He’s all that, and yet he’s my constant companion, my friend and brother.
That’s the amazing thing. God’s eternal Son came to share his life with me, so that I, too, could live a divine life—I too could live as a child of God. That’s a cause for joy.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ has been the subject of countless books and studies for many centuries. What makes your book different?
Readers of Joy to the World will get more history, and by that I mean stories. They’ll come to know characters like Herod and Caesar Augustus, not as mere dates on a timeline, but as people — people key to our own life story. They’ll come to know the religion of Israel, centered on the Temple in Jerusalem, and how it was observed in homes like Mary’s and Joseph’s — and in Herod’s palace! They’ll learn about the Jewish roots of Christian liturgy — how our rites emerged from the sanctuaries of the Temple and synagogue.
I place a great deal of emphasis on the continuity between the Old Testament and the New, the promise and the fulfillment.
I also emphasize the central role of the family, because that’s how salvation comes to earth — through the Holy Family, my family, and yours.
My book leans a lot on the ancient sources, the Fathers of the Church, because they’re ancient and reliable, but also because they remain Fathers in the family of the Church. They still guide us and teach us. For Catholics, family is bigger than our street address.
Your subtitle claims that the coming of Christ “changed everything.” What do you mean by that?
The eternal Word “was made flesh and dwelt among us.” For every Christian that was the turning point of history. God became incarnate in the kind of chubby baby flesh we grownups love to love. What could be more ordinary? And yet an unprecedented drama was to follow. There was a massacre. There was a suspenseful flight, under cover of darkness, to a faraway land. And there was deliverance. Since that day, every human life has been mysteriously caught up in the drama begun at Christmas. We find that we can’t help but celebrate, even in these most secularized times. We want joy. We’re built to want it. But what can deliver it? That’s the question. The answer is in the holiday we call “The Christ’s Mass”—Christmas.
Although you’re an academic, you write in a popular style. Why?
My life was transformed because I had the privilege, when I was very young, to study with scholars who were brilliant, but managed to convey their message in simple terms. In turn, I too became a teacher. I may never equal my mentors in brilliance, but I strive to emulate their simplicity and effectiveness.
Your theology has been described as strongly patristic and covenantal. How do you explain these things to people who are new to Bible study?
The academy holds no title deed on the saints and the Fathers, the covenant and the Scriptures. These belong to the church. They belong to God’s people. Why would we cordon them off and keep away the pastors and parents and children to whom they truly belong.
I teach a theology I can take home with me, and one that I find and continue to learn when I arrive home. Salvation came by way of the family. God continues to form us through family life. Life prepares us well to understand the Scriptures. The Scriptures prepare us well to live life.
Biblical theology is my vocation and profession. But it’s not my property. I am constantly learning from the insights of people who have not had the opportunities to study that I’ve had. Sometimes non-academics see more clearly because they’re not blinded by the latest fads in scholarship, which will last a season and be mocked by the next generation.
What’s your favorite scripture verse and why?
Romans 8:28, because suffering is inevitable—and it reminds us that we are children of God. That whole chapter of Romans is an amazing key to life in this world.
Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.