This week marks the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new journey. Starting in August of 2002, I first stepped foot upon a college campus. I was sixteen years old and I enrolled for my first college courses in Old Testament and New Testament at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Sitting here in May 2016, nearly fifteen years later, with a BA, MA, Th.M., and PhD, I am now completing my journey in higher theological education.
The purpose of this blog post is to trace briefly my academic journey. This is the first in a multi-part series. I hope it encourages you along your journey and informs you a bit about mine.
- I have attended five different colleges: Iowa Wesleyan College, Barclay College, Southern Evangelical Bible College, Southern Evangelical Seminary, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The first was a liberal Methodist school. The second a conservative Quaker school. These two were located in the Midwest. The third and fourth were the undergraduate and graduate of an evangelical school located in the South. The fifth institution was a Southern Baptist school located in the South.
- At Iowa Wesleyan I studied humanities and Bible. The Bible professor was a retired Methodist minister. Overall, he represented the traditional and conservative wing of United Methodists. To this day, I still remember his commitment to Scripture, preaching, and evangelism. He encouraged me to attend Bible College and Seminary. Sadly, I cannot remember his name. But I do remember he had an awesome buzz cut and I wrote my NT term paper on the Beatitudes.
- After I graduated from High School, I packed my bags and headed to the Quaker school named Barclay College in Haviland, Kansas. This school will forever hold a special place in my heart. I believe I learned more about the Bible at Barclay College than any other institution, mainly because it provided the necessary foundation for later theological training. It was at Barclay I took courses in Bible, theology, Greek, church history, and ministry. Not only did Barclay provide the foundations of a fine theological education, it also developed some of my best friendships and closest ministry partners to this day. My life never has never been the same since my classes with professors Herb Flinkman, Prosperly Lyngdoh, Glenn Leppert, and David Williams. I am forever grateful for friends such as (please don’t take it personally if I forget some of you or you aren’t first in the order): Nels Carlson, Andrew Happle, Michael Vance (whom I’ve known since elementary school), Brandon Clubb, Steve Woods, Brent Hall, and so many more.
- Brief caveat. Many of you know I was saved out of a Roman Catholic context. I remember the so-called bells and whistles of it all. Many of you might not know, however, that I heard the gospel and became a Christian in the context of an evangelical Quaker church in Salem, Iowa. I am forever grateful for Salem Friends Church. It was there pastor Tom Palmer spent numerous years sharing the gospel with me. By God’s grace I was miraculously converted, and in God’s providence I was discipled and called into ministry. In particular, I am thankful for Charlie Sander, who to this day was used by God to daily disciple me during the early years of my life more than any other individual. God forever used this faithful congregation of believers to help call me into the ministry. It was at Salem Friends I heard the gospel, preached my first sermon, taught the Bible, and was genuinely loved by the people of God. Moreover, to those of you who are reading this post, hopefully that explains the reason I first attended a Quaker college.
- Brief caveat 2. Many of you probably know that I am currently a Baptist. Long story short, through my reading of the New Testament in college I came to the conviction that the Bible taught believers baptism, congregationalism, and complementarianism; hence, in 2005 I was baptized and became a member of the Southern Baptist Convention.
- Brief caveat 3. By God’s providence in college I was led to intern at a church in downtown Chicago. I absolutely loved my time at that church. In fact, looking back, I was never happier than at Fellowship of Friends. I loved those kids, workers, community, and church. However, I also had another life-changing experience. In brief, I was faced with the fact that the watching world does not believe what I believe. Even worse, those who claim to be Bible believing Christians (which you can find a lot of in Chicago), don’t always believe everything the Bible claims and teaches. I was completely distraught and confronted with the fact that I needed to learn to defend my faith (e.g., apologetics). Through the writings of Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, and Norman Geisler, I recognized we are in a battle of worldviews. Therefore, I asked God to please equip me to 1) continue to fulfill my office as a minister (e.g., expository preaching, discipleship, etc.); and 2) to become an apologist in order that I might present a biblical, theologically sound, rational defense of the Christian faith.
- Brief caveat 4. Therefore, we now enter to my journey down South. For those of you who know me, please laugh at this moment. I love my friends from the South. You are warm-hearted individuals. You love Jesus and people. But you guys (in perfectly placed Northern grammar) just do things completely backwards to everything I’ve ever experienced. I was ordained, educated, and married in the South. Nonetheless, God has used this to expand my understanding of culture, theology, and the local church. I am very thankful for each of you and my time, even if I don’t eat grits, drink sweet tea, and will never say y’all.
- Returning to our main topic. In 2006, I transferred to Southern Evangelical Bible College and Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. While at SES I studied Bible, apologetics, philosophy, languages, theology, and much more. I was the first graduate of the Bible College and later student body president of the Seminary. I earned a BA in Religious Studies and MA in Philosophy. I was the research assistant to Norman Geisler (more about this relationship in a future post). In fact, I had an office in one of the bedrooms of his house. I made some of my best friends during this time, including (again not an exhaustive list or in rank of friendship): Simon Brace, John Brannon, Joel Paulus, Brad Davis, Paul Johnson, Devin Pellew, and many more. If Barclay College taught me what it means to be a pastor, then SES taught me what it means to be an apologist. SES has a passion to evangelize the lost and defend the historic Christian faith. God has allowed me to fulfill that mission by speaking at places such as Columbia University in NYC, and as a worldview trainer with Focus on the Family.
- After completing my education at SES, I pursued doctoral work at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. SEBTS is a Southern Baptist school located in Wake Forest, NC. It is also unique because it is located in the Research Triangle close to Duke, UNC, and NC State. This creates a distinct academic and lively culture throughout the region. At SEBTS, I earned a PhD in theological studies under Bruce Little. I wrote my dissertation on Carl F. H. Henry (FYI: Albert Mohler was my outside reader). If Barclay taught me what it means to be a pastor, and SES taught me what it means to be an apologist, then I can say that SEBTS taught me what it means to be a pastor-theologian (which is what I believe consummates the ideal apologist). My time at SEBTS has been phenomenal. This institution is deeply passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Great Commission. The professors are excellent pastor-theologians. At SEBTS I studied topics from the original languages (4 in fact), hermeneutics, systematic theology, New Testament, and much more. I am thankful for each of my professors. In particular, I am thankful for Bruce Little and the years of one-on-one discipleship and mentorship he offered to me. Finally, I also made some great friends at SEBTS. Particularly individuals such as Cameron Armstrong, JR, Nick Dow, Jason Wright, Andy Knight, Michael Adams, and many more.
- Finally, I want to address my Pilgrims Regress. Yes, for those of you in the “know,” that is a pun from Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. In fact, I stole that phrase from Ravi Zacharias who cracked a joke about Simon Brace and used that phrase during a lunch we had in Atlanta. Let me explain my use of the phrase. When I completed my PhD, I was faced with a few realities. First, my father died a few weeks later. He had a long battle with cancer and passed away in July of 2014. Two, I still believed I needed more theological training in a few specific areas. Three, we did not have any full-time ministry jobs knocking at the door and I didn’t want to sit idle. Therefore, I decided to enroll into the Th.M. in New Testament and Greek at SEBTS. Note: The Th.M. is considered a lower degree than the PhD; hence, the regress of the “Pilgrims Regress.” I absolutely loved this degree. I took advanced Greek with David Alan Black. I took classes on Luther, Calvin, and Edwards with Andy Davis. In brief, I wrote my thesis on the New Perspective on Paul and studied with Charles Quarles. Dr. Quarles proved to be not only a very able scholar, but someone who has a deep and passionate love for Jesus Christ and the local church. I am thankful, clearly in God’s providence, for my two years with Dr. Quarles.