Nine years ago, in 2004, Faith Church, led by Pastor Steve Viars, asked Rob Green and me to seek out our doctorates. The goal of the request was to pursue appropriately credentialed faculty to establish a church based seminary that would train men for pastoral ministry. Dr. Green finished his PhD last year after eight years. During the last week of March, I successfully defended my dissertation, which constituted the final step in the process.
This nine-year journey has reinforced in me the value of a variety of spiritual virtues.
Faith’s vision for a church based training facility for pastors that included a credentialed faculty started long before 2004. The seminary initiative was part of a previous strategic planning cycle. The seminary has now been established and growing since 2007. And, Rob and I are fully credentialed. In the words of Hannibal Smith (from A-Team fame), “I love it when a plan comes together.” God’s granting Faith the fulfillment of these plans should stir us on to participate passionately in this year’s strategic planning cycle.
Nine years. Wow! I never would have conceived of being a part of a project that from start to finish was nine years in duration. This has reminded me that the Christian life is more akin to a marathon than a sprint. I had to persevere until the professors said, “you are done.” I pray that I will continue to persevere in my life until Christ says, “you are done.” For those of you struggling through challenges or hardship, remember that your momentarily light affliction (relatively speaking) is producing in you an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison if you persevere (2 Cor 4:17).
I failed my Greek comprehensive exams twice. Last year, I wasn’t even sure if my dissertation committee was going to let me proceed with my topic that I had spent eight years researching. There were months that went by when I had no idea of the outcome of my work. I had no assurance or promise that this PhD thing was going to end with doctorate. For me, academic uncertainty has never been an issue in my life. Worry and fear have been a regular certainty in my life, however. God continued to show me how I needed to trust Him in the midst of academic uncertainty. God was teaching me that I had to depend upon Him alone and not on any perceived academic abilities. I had to turn to Him daily for refuge or else I would have been consumed and immobilized by fear and worry. He quieted my noisy soul throughout the journey when I trusted Him (Is 26:3; Matt 6:25-34; Phil 4:6-9,).
I had to redefine “success” in this nine-year journey. Success could not be defined as whether I would obtain my doctorate—that was never God’s promise. Success had to be defined as, “Have I loved those I have encountered on this journey and have I responded to the difficulties like Christ?” So when my family and I were in Chicago studying at Trinity in 2004-2005, we had to remind ourselves we were there to be a blessing to those in our apartment complex and to those at the church we attended. Or, when my studies were not going as I thought they should, my goal had to be focused on how to be a blessing to my professors. I confess this was not always easy. But it is right. Whatever plans you have made for yourself that may not seem to be going as you thought, remember Christ does not define success by whether or not you achieved your plan, but by how you have loved God and served others during the journey (Matt 25:37-40).
The following is from the acknowledgement page of my dissertation.
Appropriate honor should be given to the many who have supported me during this endeavor. Foremost I give thanks and praise to Yahweh my God and His Son—Jesus Christ. Yahweh is my Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Lover of my soul in Whom I hope for salvation from my desperately sinful heart. He has given me a desire to know His word and on many occasions I have prayed, “God, please help me to understand Your word better so that I may know You more.” I believe this study is in part an answer to this prayer.
I would like to give honor to my wife, Janet, who has been the model of an excellent wife through this journey. She has truly been an “Edenic” helper to this man (Gen 2:18). Janet went wherever I went on this journey. Janet lodged wherever I lodged on this journey. Janet’s people became those in my sphere of influence. And Janet learned of God what I was learning of God through the journey. Janet was a model of hesed to me. Janet encouraged me to persevere. Janet comforted me when I was discouraged. Janet rebuked me when necessary. And Janet spent countless hours meticulously reading and proofing this work.
Third, I would like to give honor to my children Joshua and Karis. When I started the PhD journey in 2004, Joshua was six years old and Karis was five. At the completion of this work they are fifteen and thirteen. For nine years of their lives, they did not see their father as much as they would have liked on the weeknights or weekends. During these years they have grown in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and are becoming servants like their Savior. May the Lord keep their feet on this path.
I would like to give honor to my parents who raised me in a Christian home and gave me the foundation on which to build a life-long pursuit of God. They have always supported me no matter how far my studies have taken me away from my roots and proximity to my family in Oklahoma. I know that they would have preferred me closer to home.
I wish to acknowledge and give thanks to my pastor, Steve Viars, and the people of Faith Church. Pastor Viars encouraged and supported this endeavor throughout these years. My education costs were carried by the sacrificial giving of the Faith Church family of Lafayette, IN. And, obviously, time spent pursuing the PhD was time not allotted to shepherding the Faith family. Truly I am grateful for this body of Christ led by Christ’s faithful servant, Steve Viars.
I acknowledge and thank my dissertation readers: Dr. Mark McGinnis, Dr. Alan Ingalls, and Dr. Rodney Decker. All of whom have gone through significant personal physical trials during their oversight of my dissertation (Not because of me :-).and have been models of graciousness.
I acknowledge and thank the faculty and staff of Baptist Bible Seminary for the vision to create a modular PhD program without which I would not have been able to pursue this kind of endeavor.
I wish to acknowledge and thank Dr. Willem VanGemeren for challenging me in 2004 to become a student of Isaiah during his class on Isaiah 40–48. I have been striving to fulfill that challenge and God has helped me to see and hear the revelation of His Son in ways I had never known.
To God be the glory.