Two Years Later…

It was early March, 2006, when I received a letter from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School telling me I had been accepted into their doctoral program.  I was still waiting on word from one other school, Southern Seminary.  I expected that Southern would accept me as well, and then I would have a decision to make.

But I was already about to be awarded the Master of Divinity from Southern, and I knew that a doctoral degree from Trinity combined with a master’s from Southern would probably look better on paper.  I also knew that Trinity was probably the most highly respected evangelical seminary in North America, that an education there would put me in touch with some of the finest scholars in the evangelical world, and that it would broaden my theological horizons and commend me to a wider pool of post-graduation careers than would Southern (though Southern would probably commend me more to positions at Baptist schools).  Two of my theology professors at Southern were themselves graduates of Trinity (though Trinity has, to my knowledge, never hired a Southern doctoral graduate to their faculty).  In addition, I had been offered a scholarship from Trinity (not much relative to the total cost, but still something), accompanied by a close working relationship with the department chair, including the opportunity to lecture for some of his classes in his absence.  For about a week after receiving the letter, I thought the decision had pretty much been made: we were moving to Chicago.

But somewhere in the middle of that week (March 16th to be exact), my world got turned upside-down (in a good way) when our first child, Benjamin, was born.  I cannot describe the level of joy mixed with anxiety that I felt that first night.  Major changes in life, whether for good or bad, always bring stress with them.  With my son being born at the same time that I was contemplating picking up my family and moving to Chicago, with little idea about how we would finance the next three years, I remember sitting in the parking lot of a Wendy’s across from the hospital, just letting the tears flow.  How was I supposed to make this decision? 

After that night, the plans proceeded much as they had before: Chicago would be our destination.  But a few nights later, I got a sudden moment of clarity.  I don’t remember which night it was, but I remember where I was when something suddenly occurred to me.  I knew that I could make this decision based on which school I thought would help me get a better career, but what I couldn’t decide was whether it would be better for me to seek out a career in the broader evangelical world or within the Baptist tradition.  So I pushed that criterion aside.  In any case, I thought trying to micro-manage steps toward a career was putting my focus in the wrong place.  As Kevin Vanhoozer, a professor at Trinity, wisely counseled me, I should pursue these decisions in terms of answering a call, not managing a career. 

Both schools had so much to offer from an educational standpoint.  But Trinity could not offer me two things that Southern could: (1) the ability to provide for my family while attending as a full-time student and (2) the ability to continue pastoring this church that I love so much while attending as a full-time student.  The cost of attending Trinity (even with the scholarship), combined with the cost of living in Chicago, combined with the cost of leaving a church that I loved and that would be able to provide our family with a home and a decent income (for a full-time student), thereby freeing my wife to stay home and be the mother that she wanted to be and that I wanted her to be, was too much to pay.  So I chose Southern.

I am two years into the program at Southern, and I have never looked back.  The experience has been wonderful.  Trinity is a great school with a well-deserved reputation, but I think Southern’s reputation will begin to rival it in coming years.  We have a great group of scholars here, and we are attracting more students than ever.  Furthermore, being at Southern has set me on a trajectory toward a dissertation that I probably would not have landed on at Trinity, and I will be assembling a committee ideally suited for it. 

But more than that, my call to shepherd this church at this time continues.  In the last two years I have seen people come to know Christ and have baptized them.  I have seen believers growing in the Lord and becoming actively involved in evangelism.  I have been with a family in the moments following the death of their loved one, a dearly loved member of our congregation, and I have preached his funeral.  I have prayed for healing for another member who may be now on the brink of death.  I have been given the privilege to perform two wedding ceremonies for two young couples starting their lives together.  I have shaken countless hands, preached countless sermons, said countless prayers, all for and with this particular gathering of people.  Of course, had I moved to Chicago, I would be part of a local church there, building up a different storehouse of memories.  But were that the case, I would have missed out on these exeperiences with these people.  I know I made the right decision.

Benjamin is two years old now, big enough to run and play, climb and slide, kick and throw.  And there are few things I love more than watching him do those things right outside in our yard, here in Milton, Kentucky.   

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2 Responses to “Two Years Later…”

  1. Ali Says:

    Great update. It’s great to hear the positive impact your decision has had. It’s also a useful testimony for teaching wisdom.

    I trust God will continue to bless you.

    What’s your dissertation going to be? (Have you explained this already? I’ve forgotten if you have.)

  2. fenderpooh Says:

    Thanks, Ali. I’ll email you some info. on my dissertation.

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