To parents, pastors, and friends of my students:
Welcome to my website, and thanks for coming.
This website is for everyone: Students, fellow professors, alumni, parents, and pastors. I want to overturn a few possible stereotypes about collegiate education, and if you have a relationship with a student in my classes, I want to invite you to assist in the educational process.
Stereotype: College is a place where students leave their parents, churches, and friends to embark on a spiritual quest in which the environment is controlled by the school.
Reality: College is a place where students bring the heritage of their parents, churches, and friends into conversation with the equally wonderful heirs of other families, churches, and friendships. I seek to strengthen those legacies, not undermine them, and extend those prior relationships, not cut them off. Stretching students' faith can compound the stress of college. It can intensify students' loneliness. It can create a sense of dislocation from the past and uncertainty about the future. The last thing we faculty want to do is alienate our students from their families and church homes. You are not only welcome, but encouraged, to check out the course syllabi, podcasted lectures, readings, assignments, lecture outlines, and other resources on this site. Read some of the books and watch some of the online lectures, and discuss them with my students freely and critically. While I do not want you to isolate students from the challenges of my courses, I want even less for my courses to isolate students from you.
You know these students better than I probably ever will. You have helped make them the tremendous people they are. Though they may be far from home because they may be far from home your continued fellowship, discipline, encouragement, and careful trust are critical.
Stereotype: Professors have the hidden agenda of turning students into theological liberals who have lost their faith just like the professors themselves did in graduate school.
Reality: Like all my colleagues in religious studies, I found my own theological education to be stimulating, deepening, and affirming of my earlier faith, even when it challenged and questioned it. My students tell me that they leave my classes with the same faith they had coming in, only deepened and enriched. That is just what we want. My former colleague Jonathan Wilson tells students: "We want to give you a faith that you will continually grow into, not a faith that you will grow out of." Amen.
The challenges we pose for students aren't automatically "liberal" or "conservative." (These labels have worn thin anyway.) The challenge to radical discipleship is neither liberal or conservative; it is simply Christian. Other things that don't fall into just one or another category are stress on the primacy of the Church to faithful Christian life; respect for the character, work, and history of the Bible; focus on God's work on behalf of the poor and excluded; insistance that we take seriously the history of the Church; scrutiny of the ways we have learned to see the world and ourselves; honesty about the Church's shortcomings; demands for hard thinking and clear writing and speaking; fidelity to our evangelical heritage; exposure to Christian witnesses who are not evangelicals, and critical appreciation of them; and discernment of the nature, flaws, and potential of our wider cultures. Students will hear me make claims that some people call conservative and even fundamentalist, and other claims that some will call liberal. But we professors don't spend much time determining whether we teach "liberal" or "conservative" or "progressive" or "reactionary" things (especially since we usually don't like the labels in the first place). We determine whether we teach the faith of Jesus Christ in accord with our school's mission and statement of faith.
Some of what we teach will expose students to ways of thinking that are unfamiliar or even unwelcome in their home churches. Please don't interpret this as a swipe at those communities. I have tremendous respect for any community that produces students with the robust, open, confident faith I see in so many incoming students. And much of what we teach reinforces and affirms exactly what made them that way, even if other Christians sometimes use different terms. Yet as Christians, we still live under the constant challenge of our living Lord. We are always being taught, rebuked, corrected, and trained in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). As I seek to lead students through God's challenges in their lives, I too am being led through God's challenges in mine. Please take my challenges to students as the exercises of a coach who is also a player.
Stereotype: Professors are aloof and condescending.
Reality: Well, being sinners and all, we may try to be condescending. However, God finds ways to humble the exalted. When I was accepted to Duke for my doctorate, a dear church friend put me in my place better than anyone else. He probably didn't even realize it. All he said was, "Well, you always were good at school."
It's true. I always was good at school. And, having spent a few extra years in college, now I can make people call me "Doctor." But there is a whole lot more to life than school. My friend, who dropped out of college, is one of the wisest and most faithful men I know. He has musical and artistic talents I can only wish I appreciated. He has raised faithful children and grown a successful business. He has been a leader in more than one church. Because of our social traditions, his name doesn't get a special title; but because of the gifting of the Holy Spirit, his crown is covered with jewels. How can I get away with being condescending when all around me are churchgoers, friends, students, and colleagues like him? As a 'coach' in the undergraduate interim of my students' lives, I have the utmost respect for the head coaches, parental and pastoral, from whom these students will never graduate. Thanks for entrusting part of your precious task to us scholars!
This website is here to help keep you in the loop. Feel free to reciprocate. I am eager to receive calls and e-mails when you have concerns and suggestions about my students or classes. If someday I find myself buried in a flood of parental and pastoral e-mail, then I may have to get aloof, at least for a while. But that hasn't happened yet.