As of July 1, 2015, I am joining the faculty of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I will be Associate Professor of Christian Theology at the seminary and Director of the Center on Theology and Culture (more on this to come). My work as CBMW President will continue in full as we drive the organization onward.
Why am I joining MBTS? Four reasons.
1. I love the vision of the school. The slogan of Midwestern is “For the Church,” which I love. In all that the seminary seeks to do, it strives to serve gospel-formed congregations. MBTS is focused like a laser on training pastors and ministry workers. That’s what I am after with my life. There is a marvelous synergy here.
MBTS loves the model of pastor-theologian, which I have written about previously. In August 2015, I publish The Pastor as Public Theologian with Kevin Vanhoozer. It is my intent to help raise up an army of pastor-theologians who train at Midwestern to love God’s Word and to minister it with extreme skill. Through teaching at the MDiv level, I am keen to help send out missionaries, counselors, and servants of Christ who glorify him in myriad vocations. This is the chief calling of my life, and I can’t wait to exercise it at Midwestern.
This is not a professional move, first and foremost. I see it as a gracious recognition of the ability to train teachers of God’s church. The stakes are almost forebodingly high with this kind of work. Not many should become teachers, James says; the cost of leading God’s people astray is devastating (James 3:1). Teachers are judged with “greater strictness.” I am sobered by this. Pray that I will be faithful in this position.
2. I see a ton of young energy at MBTS. President Jason Allen has been blessed of God since he assumed his role three years ago. MBTS was just named the fastest-growing seminary in America (read this truly incredible ATS report). Allen is young and is full of vision, acumen, and theological knowledge. He believes in traditional pastoral training and is committed to excellent in-person instruction. He is a man of gospel conviction and great ability.
Jason Duesing, the provost at MBTS, is a man I greatly respect. In 2014, I asked him to join the board of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood because I saw in him serious faith, biblical fidelity, and uncommon intelligence. I am very excited by the scholarship Christian George is producing (ten volumes on Spurgeon to come–wow). Christian looks to be the historian par excellence of our generation and is leading the Spurgeon Center, which will be the Bodleian of the midwest (I’ve seen the interior, and it’s going to be a spectacular place to study–future doctoral students take note). It’s my hope that Christian and I can further build on Midwestern’s reputation in the fields of church history and theology.
Jared Wilson is widely loved for his winsome and searching writing, and I think he’s establishing himself as the Eugene Peterson of our day. John Mark Yeats, a fellow TEDS PhD grad, is a very gifted scholar and leader. Charles Smith has already built a culture of excellence and won the trust of many donors. These men, along with others, signal that something very unusual is happening at MBTS. Once a generation, it seems, God blesses a school in a special way, and calibrates it for maximum gospel impact. This happened at Southern Seminary in the mid-1990s, it happened at Fuller Seminary in 1947, and it happened at Princeton Seminary in the late nineteenth century. God is doing something similar at Midwestern.
(Also, the guys at MBTS know how to have fun. They have impromptu ping-pong tournaments and wiffleball games, for example. Though I am no ping-pong Jedi, I look forward to dusting off my paddle and entering in.)
3. I will zero in on writing. The primary call of God on my life is to write. In this next phase of ministry, I hope to step back a bit from the day-to-day rush I’ve been in for several years now. I want to focus on reading, thinking, and writing deeply. My role at MBTS is going to allow me to do all this.
The time I’ll have with my young family is priceless. I’m eager as well to spend much time meditating on Scripture and praying at length on strolls through Kansas City, much like my New England forebear, Jonathan Edwards, in his own habitat. The chance to draw near to God in order to draw others near to him is by far the best part of this move. If I am not a serious Bible-reading and praying theologian, cancel my union membership and call the whole thing off. It’s all for naught.
I have five books releasing in the next few months, including my study of Chuck Colson, entitled The Colson Way (Thomas Nelson, foreword by Eric Metaxas). It’s exciting to have these launching soon. In future days, I’ll think about tackling a theological anthropology, some more work on Carl Henry, and perhaps a public theology (a companion to systematic theology, and a blend of theology, ethics, and worldview).
My working model in this period is Carl Henry. Numerous friends over the years have encouraged me to look to him as an example of evangelical scholarship, and I will seek to do just that. Henry’s writing left a major mark on evangelicalism, and in my view went a long way to demonstrating that the faith in Jesus does not pulverize the mind or heart, but enlivens each and brings them to full flourishing. In some small way, I want to perpetuate this mission, and to do so through serious theological scholarship. There will only be one Henry, but I love the model he provides.
4. I will train up future pastor-theologians and scholars. Pastors in no way need a doctorate to do theological work. But some are called to get further training. I will be supervising students in theology, and I am really excited about training pastor-theologians and scholars. It’s my hope that my students can play a serious part in producing excellent confessional scholarship that will strengthen the church, defend the truth, and promote a glorious vision of theistic reality in a world of lies. I would love to help place academicians in key posts throughout Christ’s kingdom, and to see an array of dissertations published by my doctoral students.
If you’re interested in PhD studies, think further about MBTS. I’ll be supervising in the full range of theological topics, and I’d like to be a kind of David Wells-like figure in terms of what I write and shepherd. Wells is a theologian who taught primarily systematics, but his ministry and writing ranged over matters ethical, moral, philosophical, and historical. That fits with me. I’m a theologian who is interested in different disciplines, and I want my students to cover different ground.
Possible courses I’d consider teaching at the masters and doctoral levels, in addition to the full range of theology classes:
—Patrology (doctrine of the Father)
—Theology of the Body
—Doctrine of Salvation
–Theology of Jonathan Edwards (I taught this at SBTS)
–The Pastor-Theologian in Biblical, Historical, and Theological Perspective
–The Christian Moral Tradition (ranging over the ethics of gospel faith)
I believe in the life-or-death importance of the Christian mind, and I want my students not simply to take a pass at doing a dissertation, but to do their part to demonstrate that Christianity unleashes the mind to take dominion of the world. That’s why my forthcoming academic monograph, Awakening the Evangelical Mind, is all about.
This is an exciting time for my family and me. It is also, as all such moves are, bittersweet. I will miss my faculty colleagues, students, leaders and many friends at Southern Seminary tremendously. I love SBTS. I had no hooks in the water prior to having MBTS come on the radar, because I’ve been very blessed at Southern.
Southern is a terrific institution, and I have only good things to say about it. I am especially grateful for President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., whom I trained under, and who has given me a stellar model of the confessional theologian. I am deeply thankful as well for Provost Randy Stinson, who has been a major blessing to me. Denny Burk brought me to Boyce five years ago; he and Dan DeWitt have led the school very, very well in different seasons. I’m thankful to have been a part of God’s work here, work that is continuing apace.
God has been lavishly kind to me and my family in giving us five great years at Southern. Now, he has been extraordinarily generous in giving us the chance to help build something great at Midwestern. I have no idea what is ahead in days to come, but I know that I intend to risk everything I have and to spend all I’ve been given in order to exalt Christ.
That, and no other, is at the end of the day why I am joining Midwestern.