Sadness and excitement. Some emotions fit well together. Others, not so much. I can be happy and nervous at the same time (e.g. at my daughter’s piano recitals). And holding anger and fear together is pretty easy too (e.g. my usual reaction when reading You Tube comments). But sadness and excitement? It’s hard to do both of those simultaneously. Instead, you jump back and forth between them like a middle schooler struggling with adolescent mood swings.
To be honest, I’ve been that middle schooler for the last few weeks.
Yesterday I announced that this would be my last year as Academic Dean at Western Seminary. That announcement contained only excitement. (Well, to be honest, there was a lot of joy, exuberance, and impatient anticipation in there as well.) Today’s announcement comes with much more mixed emotions. And, although the title of this post makes the actual announcement somewhat unnecessary, here it is anyway:
I’ve accepted a position at Wheaton College (Associate Professor of Theology), where I’ll be teaching mostly in their M.A. and Ph.D. programs.
As you can anticipate from an announcement like that, the sadness comes from what we’re leaving behind, and the excitement from what lies ahead. Let me explain.
1. Why the Excitement?
It would take too long to explain all the reasons that Wheaton is an incredible school. At the very least I’d have to talk about the students, faculty, global network, and opportunities to connect with the many other schools in the Chicago area. So there’s a very real sense in which Wheaton itself is the biggest reason for excitement. But I’m going to skip over all of that and focus just on three things that really stood out about moving there.
The Doctoral Program
When I started teaching at Western, I told everybody that this was a place I could imagine being at for the rest of my life. (More on that in a moment.) But I often followed up by saying that the one thing that could tempt me to look elsewhere is the opportunity to work with a really good doctoral program. So when something like this came along, I had to look twice.
Nonetheless, this isn’t the first time I’ve had the opportunity to consider working with a doctoral program. But it is the first time I’ve pursued that opportunity. So what made this one different?
- Cost: I’ve written before about the difficult job market facing Ph.D. graduates. So I’ve always been concerned about how much it costs to complete a Ph.D. in Bible or Theology at an evangelical school, where most students have to pay their own way. Wheaton is one of the few evangelical schools able to offer full tuition and a modest stipend to all doctoral students. That may not change the realities of the job market at the other end, but it does help people face that market on stronger financial footing. I like that.
- Size: Although large doctoral programs have their advantages, my preference is to supervise a smaller number of students in whom I can really invest. So I appreciate the fact that Wheaton’s doctoral program is intentionally small, accepting only 6 students most years. And this also means that Wheaton’s program is not producing too many graduates for an already job difficult market. For both reasons, the size of the program works for me.
- Integration: Anyone who reads this blog with some regularity has probably noticed that I’m not a specialist by nature. I find too many things interesting to focus too deeply on just one. And I particularly enjoy working in all the theological disciplines, especially biblical languages, church history, philosophy, and theology. Given that generalist orientation, I’ve always wondered if I’d be a good fit for a doctoral program, where a high degree of specialization is usually preferred. Wheaton’s doctoral program, though, is intentionally different. Although students specialize in one of the biblical disciplines, they’re expected to work integratively across all of them, even demonstrating that integrative ability in their doctoral dissertations. That makes the program a great fit for my own integrative bent.
The Liberal Arts Context
All my teaching so far has been at a seminary, which is something I’ve really grown to love. But the closer we looked at Wheaton, the more we began to realize what a great fit this would be for our whole family.
- Research: My research/writings interests focus on the human person, which means I routinely have to engage disciplines outside my normal Bible/theology context–especially philosophy and the sciences. Having people right on campus who specialize in those areas will be very helpful.
- College Ministry: Mary has really fallen in love with the idea of living close to a college campus so she can get more actively involved with the students. (We live about 40 min. from Western, so she hasn’t been able to do that here.) She’s already thinking about what kind of house we should buy and what church we should attend to facilitate her involvement.
- Family: A big swing moment came when both of my girls decided that they wanted to move. My youngest daughter was excited about it from the beginning, but it took a while for my oldest (she’s 11). Having them on board made this much easier that it would have been otherwise. Beyond that, though, we’re really looking forward to seeing our girls grow up in a context where they are constantly exposed to young Christian leaders from around the world preparing for all kinds of vocations. That combination of global exposure and young adults modeling Christian commitment should provide great learning experiences for the girls.
The Opportunities and Challenges
To be honest, Mary and I both tend to gravitate toward new opportunities and challenges. Indeed, we both knew that we needed to be careful with a decision like this to make sure that we weren’t doing it just because it was something new. From the beginning, though, we were intrigued by the new opportunities presented by a school like Wheaton with its global influence, its strong ties throughout evangelicalism, and the incredible network of schools within easy reach of Chicago.
We’re also doing our best to trust all the people who tell us that Chicago is a great city. Mary has only been to Chicago once, and I’ve only been there for a few conferences. So we’re both rather ignorant of all things Chicago. Nonetheless, lots of people I like and trust say that it’s one of the their favorite cities. Assuming that they’re not lying to us just to be mean, we’ll have lots to explore there as well.
2. Why the Sadness?
It probably goes without saying that the sadness comes from all that we’re leaving behind. Mary and I are no strangers to moving. But this is probably the best situation we’ve ever had to walk away from. And that’s been exceptionally difficult.
I can say without hesitation that Western Seminary is one of the best seminaries in the country, and it’s been a joy and a privilege to work here these last seven years. Not only does it have an amazing faculty, incredible students, and a beautiful location in the Northwest, but Western has done an outstanding job staying focused on Gospel-centered ministry training, pressing students to think carefully and theologically about ministry, and walking alongside them as they put that into practice in real-life ministry settings. I realize that might sound like a marketing pitch, but those really are the things that Western does well.
And it doesn’t make it any easier that Western is in great shape these days: record enrollments, strong regional networks, a growing national reputation, and a strong commitment to making quality training accessible to people wherever they are, not for the sake of convenience, but so they can stay rooted in the ministry contexts in which God has already placed them.
It’s going to be hard leaving all that behind. But it will be fun to see how God continues to expand the ministry and vision of Western Seminary.
Family & Friends
People who read this blog regularly may be surprised to find out that I actually do have friends. (Well, to be more precise, my wife has friends, and they’re sometimes nice enough to let me hang out with them too.) We also have a great church community and a family that resides largely on the west coast. Maintaining those relationships from Chicago will obviously be more challenging.
On a surprising note, all of the grandparents involved have been amazingly supportive. I think they’re just glad that we’re not trying to take their granddaughters to Scotland like we did the last time we moved!
Driving to school the other day, I was struck by one simple truth: I like the Northwest. It’s beautiful and quirky, rainy and green, earthy and fun. It’s home.
Just to torture ourselves, we drove up the Columbia River Gorge on Monday and walked to the top of Multnomah Falls. If you’ve been there, you understand.
People tell me that there’s beauty in the Upper Midwest too. And again I’m doing my best to believe them despite the complete lack of mountains. But it’s still hard to leave behind all that is the Pacific Northwest.
3. What’s Next?
Even with all the mixed emotions, we’re still excited about what lies ahead. And now that the final decision has been made, that excitement is building. It will take a while for the sadness to go away, but that’s part of any difficult transition.
So what does the future look like?
Moving & Settling In
We’re hoping to move in mid-July. That should give the girls a month or so to settle in before school starts. We’ll then spend the bulk of the next year getting to know our new home. We’re planning for Mary to take the year off to help the girls make the transition. We’ll need to find a new church, which is never easy. And I have lots of new people at Wheaton to get to know. Add to that the normal activities of life, and it will be a busy year.
One of the main reasons I stepped down as Academic Dean was so I could do more writing. So even before I started talking with Wheaton, I was planning toward that end.
I’m still pursuing a publisher for my Good News for the Living Dead, and I’m also exploring a couple of other popular-level books. At the same time, I’m making plans for more academic writing, starting with at least two more books in theological anthropology.
This blog will be making the transition to Wheaton with me, so I’ll continue writing from there. And I’m hoping that the transition will actually help me spend more time on the blog in the future. As I’m sure you can guess, the last several months have been pretty crazy. As a result, my writing here has been rather inconsistent. I’m looking forward to fixing that as we make the move.
4. Prayers Appreciated
So that’s our big announcement. It’s an announcement that is still filled with both excitement and sadness, though we’re gradually moving more toward the excitement end of the continuum. And we would certainly appreciate prayer as we make the transition, especially for the girls. Thanks for your support, and stay tuned for updates as things progress.