I grew up in a military family and moved around my whole life. I had a father who taught me how to fix anything and a mother that introduced me to hand crafted things. I grew up in the church. Early in life I decided to be a follower of Jesus and was baptized in a hot tub in California.
My parents named me Joseph Daniel, both biblical characters were interpreters of dreams, and I have always held language not in verb or noun but metaphor and symbol. When I was in high school I tried to sign up for an art course. The councilors there said it was âfor serious artists onlyâ and they denied my enrollment, so my first course in Art was in College and it changed the direction of my rudder. For the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere, I had realized english was my second language.
In my formal studies I was introduced to challenging works such as Andres Serranoâs Piss Christ (among others) that forced me to define my beliefs within a culture that has a deep history in religious belief and perspective but often does not accept the christian perspective as sufficiently valid. God has always had a way of using other peoples creations to speak to parts of me that I didn’t know could hear, or that needed to. Art for me, is an opportunity to share experiences and beliefs with a wide range of people, including myself. It exists not in the physical but in the spaces between viewing, understanding, dialog, and exploration. The creation of things and concepts is something that longs so seep out of all of us but I believe this desire becomes something spectacular when paired with an apprenticeship under Gods direction.
In one of my favorite scenes from Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell explains to his sister, âJenny, God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure!â As this classic movie clearly demonstrates, Liddell lives up to Godâs purpose for his life in many ways; one of the ways that he knows he lives up to that purpose is precisely because he feels Godâs pleasure. Donât we all want to live lives filled with Godâs pleasure?
It is in teaching that I live out that calling. I donât just mean lecturing in the classroom, but striving to educate, lead, and inspire students, to know them and be known by them, and to lead them to a richer understanding and deeper practice of ethical and spiritual life as they lead me to the same. I find that it is nearly impossible to hide who I am as I teach; my virtues and vices will out, whether my students are paying attention enough to see them or not. As a Christian scholar, I find teaching to be both an awesome responsibility and an incredible opportunity. What I do with these students matters, and I find that in equal parts frightening and wonderful.
Teaching, in all of these ways and for all of these reasons, energizes and excites me. I also enjoy the life of the mind, and I couldnât be nearly as good of a teacher without also striving to be a good scholar, but scholarship will never be my passion nearly so much as teaching. In this way I know that this is part of Godâs purpose for me. May my epitaph be: When he taught, he felt Godâs pleasure.
My conception of what it means to be a Christian scholar has been developing since my undergraduate studies at Liberty University. My own religious upbringing was quite hostile to the very idea of genuine Christian scholarship, but as an undergraduate student at Liberty, I became a member of their intercollegiate debate team; the larger debate community was for the most part rather hostile to Christianity but open to compelling arguments. In this environment, I learned quickly the value of Peter’s admonition: âAlways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you haveâ (I Peter 3:15). My interest in philosophical and public policy issues raised during my time as a debater as well as an interest in exploring the relationship between my faith and these issues initially sparked my interest in philosophy and Christian scholarship.
As my views have developed, I have become primarily interested in the formative role that Christian community and the Church has in shaping disciples of Christ â as well as the place that Christian education plays in this endeavor. My initial interest in the topic was filtered through my primary research interest in Kierkegaard, nineteenth and twentieth century continental thought, and social thought. Partly based on my academic scholarship and partly based on the formative influence of my church, Tates Creek Presbyterian Church, I have come to see my own views reflected best in the neo-Calvinist, reformed thinkers like Abraham Kuyper. In particular, I value Kuyper’s view that all of the created order â both the natural and social world â is subject to Christ and yet he also respects the independence of each domain from the others (e.g., the difference between businesses or the church and the academy). I think his reformed views adequately deal with the tensions between faith and scholarship that I have seen in my own academic and religious heritage. It balances intellectual honesty and careful scholarship according to the highest academic standards with my Christian faith and practice.
I found my way into Christian scholarship through two remarkable influences. First was my father, now a retired minister. Growing up as a preacherâs kid in the 70s and 80s, especially as a Southern Baptist in the North (York, PA), I often had a difficult time living out my faith. My father worked steadily and faithfully with the people in the congregation, and he also read continuously. He did not make a show of his learning or intellect, but I knew there were deep resources behind his preaching and living. The other significant influence was C.S. Lewis, first through his novels and later through his more philosophical works. Lewisâs way of exposing the spiritual character of a serious pursuit for truth continues to resonate with me.
Through my formal training in philosophy and theology I have been able to locate my research interest in figures and in movements I believe are central to understanding the meaning of faith and the reflective life. I see my role as a teacher touching both these strands. The way I demonstrate the Christian reflective life has as much an impact on my students as the ways I challenge them to engage and understand philosophy. I enjoy taking students on mission trips in addition to teaching an adult Sunday school class and serving on committees at Faith Baptist Church. As a researcher I combine my interest in Christian thought through figures like Jonathan Edwards with figures that challenge this faith like John Dewey and William James. With these foci I continue to face the tension of living faithfully for Jesus in a culture and discipline that finds such faith problematic.
My experience with Christian education began as a freshman at a small liberal arts Christian College. It was here that I had the opportunity to benefit from professors who merged their faith with their love for their discipline. They established intriguing courses where questions about faith and society were discussed openly in the classroom and many course assignments were reflective which provided the opportunity for students to express their thoughts about God and the topic at hand. But beyond the classroom it most certainly was the relationships that these professors developed and nurtured with the students that showed me the importance of a faith-based higher education. As expected professors were available, but it wasnât that they merely had the answers to your questions in addition they listened and mentored students who were on their own journey of faith. My college experience nudged me along in my discovery of a career path.
However, the desire to use my faith to influence and support others began much earlier in my childhood as I quickly learned that people suffer in this world. They suffer from illness, abuse, hardships much of which is hard to understand in the context of a loving God. I donât remember a time as an adolescent that I wasnât questioning this reality. Fortunately through prayer and service the frustration and discouragement with these issues subsided and I was overcome with an understanding that God is love and through that love we learn to love others—showing support and encouragement to their needs. In return, in times of our own struggles that love and support is given back sometimes in the simplest ways. Even what seems to be an insignificant action or thought can be life-changing to someone. And thus itâs no surprise that psychology was a field I deeply connected with, a field that studies human behavior and the resiliency of children, adults, the mentally challenged and the abused to name a few. It has been a wonderful experience for me to teach the great theories of this discipline everything from cognitive processing to discrimination and prejudice of women and children. It has provided me with a natural channel to connect faith to human experiences. I am regularly reminded in my classes of the vast needs of students, they have struggles and hardships as well and by teaching in an environment where my faith can openly be discussed it gives me the opportunity to mentor to students while reminding them of the love of Christ. Iâm guided by the thought that perhaps just one small word of encouragement, one informal conversation about calling, or one moment of listening rather than talking could make all the difference âa life could take a different path âa life could sense the love of God and be moved to show that love to someone elseâthe effects could be endless.
I grew up in a family that helped me to understand that faith and learning were helpful handmaidens to one another in life. My parents were Southern Baptist missionaries to the Navajos in New Mexico until I was 15. A particular book that shaped my vocation as a teenager was Karl Barth’s, “Epistle to the Romans.” I did not understand Barth well, but was shaped by the struggle itself to comprehend and the awareness that he was saying something theologically significant that required a shift in my faith-thinking. My vocational journey was also formed by the church which is made up of people called to serve as teachers, doctors, stay at home mothers, social workers, sheepherders, and dentists. Their struggle authentically to understand and live faith in the world has taught me much about God’s gracious love displayed in Christ.
My formal training is in historical theology. Following Anselm’s dictum that theology is best defined as faith seeking understanding, I challenge students in my classrooms to ask questions about their Christian faith and to wrestle with difficult answers. I find helpful the scholarship of theologians such as Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Miroslav Volf, and Douglas John Hall. But authentic faith not only seeks understanding, it must be practiced in the world. To that end, I encourage students to discover their vocation through mission trips and internship experiences that open up a whole new context for questions. Through teaching the Vocation’s Seminar, I have become more aware of the power of narratives such as those of Paul Farmer, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King Jr., who displayed a lived faith that enters into the world of questions. I have found that Georgetown College provides the academic freedom for seeking to understand and practice the Christian faith.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” [Hebrews 11:1]
I believe this verse describes most people’s religion, whether Christian or non-Christian, but it certainly describes my own approach. I do not consider myself a paragon of faith and virtue, but I do live with a consistent emphasis on hope. I believe that I (and most other people) lean far more on hope, rather than on demonstrable truth, to sustain me (us) in the walk of faith. And this is OK. This is the human condition, at least for most. Most of us do not dream dreams, see visions, hear divine voices, etc., in order to have our faith confirmed. We live our lives and struggle for truth “in the dark,” or, as the Apostle Paul said, “For now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:11).
Recognizing this brings an attitude of humility to all I do as a Christian scholar. It encourages me as someone who is forever seeking greater clarity, but often not receiving it through any direct, divine revelation. I think the beginning of Christian virtue and Christian scholarship should be located in an attitude of humility and a greater love of the truth, wherever I find it, rather than a love of thinking that I alone am ‘correct.’ In other words, I should love correction as much as I love trying to prove others incorrect. Such a perspective allows me to keep learning from others, and helps me earn the right to be learned from.
This attitude informs my approach to teaching as a Christian scholar, whether I am teaching Hebrew Bible, World Religions, or Religion and Culture. It also informs my day to day interactions with people of other religious (and non-religious) perspectives. I subject my own faith to at least as much scrutiny as I apply to the faiths of others, and this is done not maliciously, seditiously, or subversively. I do not seek to undermine my own tradition. Instead, this approach is an attempt to be pious. The life of faith, for me, is more about seeking truth and valuing other people, whoever they are, as it is about me and my perspective alone being ‘right.’