It is not uncommon, if one is crossing from the Peavine Parking Deck over to Dickey Drive early on a Tuesday morning, to have a Kraftchick sighting: a lone figure just beyond you, striding purposefully toward the Rita Anne Rollins Building, books under arm, brimmed hat firmly on head.
Those sightings will grow rare as Steven J. Kraftchick, professor in the practice of New Testament interpretation and director of general and advanced studies, retires this spring after 37 years at Candler.
A 1985 graduate of Emory’s PhD program, Kraftchick wrote his dissertation under Candler professor Hendrikus Boers. But his academic life originated with the study of mathematics, an area that has been influential in his New Testament teaching.
“Mathematics is about seeing patterns and relationships, then connecting them to problems,” he says. “The same goes for biblical studies: seeing relationships, connecting them to interpretive problems, and relating them to human and communal concerns form the essence of why someone should study or teach New Testament in a seminary. It is more than a literary or historical enterprise, important as those are; it is an existential pursuit as well.”
An analytical mind paired with a heart for relationships has helped make Kraftchick a beloved professor, valued colleague, and enthusiastic collaborator across Candler and Emory for nearly four decades.
On the faculty of Candler and Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion, Kraftchick has won accolades for teaching in both. He’s also an Emory Distinguished Teaching Scholar, an honor that recognizes pedagogical leadership and a commitment to creating and maintaining a dynamic classroom environment.
Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching Thomas G. Long calls Kraftchick a Renaissance man who can turn from 1 Thessalonians to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on a dime. “His mind bristles with panoramic inquisitiveness, energy, and perception,” Long says. And he’s intentional about sharing all three with everyone he encounters.
“Being a faculty member, especially at a theology school, means thinking about how your work is integrated with that of others,” Kraftchick says. “Seminary is about forming habits of mind, of creative conversation, of relationship. I’ve had the privilege to develop those habits with many people at Candler—students, faculty, and staff.”
Kraftchick has taken full advantage of Candler’s location within Emory, grateful for being, as he puts it, “a university citizen.” According to Brooks Holifield, Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus of American Church History, “Steve is a walking faculty directory.” He’s taught courses across campus and participated in the life of the broader Emory community in myriad ways.
“His service on countless committees is well-known, as is his capacity to lighten the conversation and make the best of one of the least interesting aspects of university work,” says Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Carl Holladay.
Of particular note for Kraftchick is his work with Emory’s Fox Center for Humanistic Studies and the university’s Digital Pedagogy group. He credits both with elevating his game as a scholar and teacher. And he sees every opportunity outside of Candler enriching his role within it.
“Without intersection with other areas of Emory, we would just be speaking to and among ourselves—never a good thing,” he says. “All of this collaboration has allowed me to consider the intellectual aspects of theology in light of the humanistic mission of a university.”
At the Candler level, Carl Holladay highlights Kraftchick’s “creative, attentive leadership” as director of Candler’s MTS and ThM programs, the PhD program in New Testament studies, and a six-year stint as associate dean of academic affairs—a position, Brooks Holifield says, to which he brought “organizational skill and compassionate care with students.”
That compassionate care has been a Kraftchick hallmark in and out of the classroom. Kim Akano 20T says that Kraftchick’s “welcoming spirit” in class invites students to carefully and enthusiastically take on close readings of the New Testament.
“His passion for biblical studies encourages students to ‘steep’ in biblical texts, so that we may learn not only how to interpret them, but also how to allow them to inform, transform, and enliven us,” Akano says. “In a world overwhelmed by noise and distractions, Dr. Kraftchick always cultivates a hospitable space for students to press ‘pause’ and embrace the opportunity to read biblical texts afresh.”
In his courses, Kraftchick explores the New Testament through lenses that may initially seem out-of-place in biblical studies, but in fact serve to expand and invigorate the conversation. “Teaching in a seminary means learning about humanity and its puzzles,” he says. “This means expanding the areas we explore to literature, art, culture, and science. I believe my classes have given students room to do that, and to explore questions they had—and questions they should have had but didn’t know they needed.”
Watching Kraftchick work his pedagogical magic to help students uncover those questions was a sight to behold, says Tom Long. “More than once, I have seen him upend a plodding discussion with what might be called ‘the unexpected question.’ Inevitably students would become, for a moment, silenced and disoriented, looking at Steve with a quizzical, ‘why would you think about it that way?’ Then the light would dawn, and they would erupt into an excited and animated conversation that headed in an unexpected direction.”
Kraftchick has focused much of his scholarship on the Apostle Paul—and, Holifield says, has made Pauline thinking accessible to a broad audience, from future parish pastors to Transhumanists interested in artificial intelligence. “Steve can speak the language of this new world. But he can also speak the language of the first-century Mediterranean world, and he makes imaginative attempts to get these worlds to speak to each other.”
Julia Forrester 13T experienced this firsthand in her MTS capstone course with Kraftchick on the intersection of humanity and technology. “This seemed a little far afield for a New Testament scholar at first, but in focusing the course on what it means for humankind to be made in God’s image, Dr. Kraftchick quickly showed us how the topic was simultaneously ancient and modern, scientific and theological.” Now a nurse, Forrester says, “The class empowered me to think more broadly about my own future and the endless variety of contexts in which I could apply a theological background.”
In tandem with his teaching, Kraftchick’s students and colleagues praise his pastoral presence. “In many often invisible and silent ways, Steve has been Candler’s unofficial chaplain,” Carl Holladay says.
He has immersed himself in the world of Candler, says Holifield. “He is always fully present to his students, whether they want to talk about New Testament or a hard time in their lives.”
Jenelle Holmes 15T is one of many who sees Kraftchick as both professor and pastor. “If I needed an honest, thorough, and pastoral—even if a bit sarcastic—opinion about anything, I knew that Dr. Kraftchick’s office was the place to find it. He saw students for who they were, gifts and flaws, and worked with them to get to their best. It might be a lot of work, but if you were committed, he was committed.”
Even after graduating, the memories of mutual commitment that Kraftchick fosters with his students remains. Stewart Voegtlin 15T remembers working on his MTS thesis into the early morning hours, taking breaks to email Kraftchick. “I sent him a photo of the floor in my study, where stacks of Pitts books stood like ruins of an ancient civilization. He responded with a photo of his own—with stacks of books three times as high as mine—and a parental, ‘Get some sleep.’”
Forrester pinpoints one Kraftchick moment that has guided her beyond Candler. Down to the wire on a project she’d underestimated, she couldn’t complete it in the way she’d hoped. “I fully expected to receive a disappointed reprimand for poor planning,” she recalls. “What I got instead was compassion. We walked through the project together, discussing ways it could be improved and how to narrow my focus without losing value next time.
“The experience showed me how much more Dr. Kraftchick cared about what I would take away from the lesson than whether my paper had ticked all the right boxes. He helps his students tackle challenging questions with preparation and respect, but without fear.”
Kraftchick’s final semester at Candler is not ending as anyone expected. Classes moved online in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Annual celebratory traditions, including a gathering to honor retiring faculty, are happening via digital channels. Kraftchick notes the irony that he’s currently teaching a class on the relationship between science and religion. “The origins, meaning, and impact of this pandemic have focalized our discussions about divine/human interactions, nature and divine will, and the fragility of human existence,” he says.
Though there’s much to reflect on after nearly 40 years, Kraftchick doesn’t hesitate to name the best part of his time at Candler. “I met my wife Carol when I was a grad student, because Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Smith—the dean’s secretary at the time—set us up on a blind date.”
Now, he and Carol are off on a new adventure—moving from Atlanta to the eastern shore of Maryland, where he looks forward to fishing, woodworking, and introducing “the art of southern BBQ” to his new neighbors. And he plans to delve into the academic fields he passed through while teaching New Testament, now able to give them ample time. “The history of science, questions of philosophy and history…and I’m sure I’ll continue to explore questions of religion and technology,” he adds.
“That should keep me busy for a while.”