Introducing Kester Smith

0 Commentsby   |  06.29.15  |  ACU, Alumni, Announcements

The ACU Graduate School of Theology is pleased to announce that Kester Smith has joined our staff as the GST Recruiter.

Kester is a recent GST graduate, having completed his MDiv. in May. Prior to pursuing an MDiv, Kester worked as a teacher, youth minister, and, most recently, a bi-vocational church-planter and bookseller in Austin, TX. This combination of ministry and GST experience make Kester an invaluable asset for understanding the calling of those considering theological education and how the GST might best serve that calling.

Kester is married to Rachel Smith, who works as an Instructor and Clinical Supervisor in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Kester and Rachel have one son, Harrison, who will be a 6th grader at Craig Middle School this coming fall.

We asked for an informal interview with Kester, in order to get to know him a little better.

Favorite…

  1. Food – When I was still eating meat, it was my mom’s chicken potpie. Now that I’m a vegetarian it’s either a spicy yellow tofu curry (Krua Thai serves a great one) or my chickenless version of my mom’s pot pie. My favorite “on the go” food is a potato, egg, and cheese breakfast taco.
  2. Song – People that know me will be shocked that it isn’t a Bruce Springsteen song, but they probably wouldn’t be considering my love for hymns. My favorite song is either “Amazing Grace,” “Come Thou Fount,” or “Be Thou My Vision.” Were Springsteen to record acoustic versions of any of those songs, my head would explode.
  3. Book – Not to give the obvious answer, but the Bible truly is my favorite book. With that as a given, my favorite novel is either Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. My favorite authors (besides Dostoevsky and Robinson) include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Flannery O’Connor, Abraham Heschel, Toni Morrison, N.T. Wright, and pretty much every member of the Inklings. I’m also partial to the writings of Maximus the Confessor and Julian of Norwich. I like books a lot.
  4. Movie/television show – My favorite film is It’s A Wonderful Life. My favorite television show is probably The Simpsons, as long as we’re talking about the early seasons.
  5. Vacation spot – I was raised in Chicago and it is still my favorite place to visit, when I have the chance to travel. I’d like to visit Ireland, England, and Scotland some day, but haven’t yet been able to afford the trip.

Either/Or

  1. Kindle or bound book? – Bound. I like how it feels to turn a page.
  2. Indoors or outdoors? – Indoors. I’m a city kid. I don’t mind walking in the outdoors, but I don’t want to sleep or bathe in them.
  3. Coffee or tea? – Tea. Earl Grey. But a cold glass of ice water over either of them.
  4. Time with a group or time alone? Alone. I like to have time with people, but I have to have time to myself.
  5. Big city or small town? Big city, though small town has grown on me a bit.

Have you ever…

  1. worked in a restaurant? – Yes. Pizza Hut. First job I ever had and it led me to the conclusion that everyone should have to work in the service industry at least once.
  2. been horseback riding? – Yes. Once. Never again.
  3. climbed a mountain? – Yes. Twice. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but I’d say it was worth it.
  4. performed on stage? Yes. I’ve performed in plays, as the lead singer of various bands, and as a stand-up comedian.
  5. run a marathon? – No. Though I imagine I’d feel about it the same way I do about mountain climbing.

What’s a particularly interesting skill or hobby that you have?

  • I used to be a pretty decent mimic and impersonator, back when I did stand-up. I’m probably still not half bad. I’ve got a head full of pop culture trivia. And I make amazing mix tapes. Unfortunately, no one listens to mix tapes anymore.

What’s something distinctive (or even weird) not many people know about you?

  • I can pop both of my shoulders out of joint. My right eye is prone to dryness and then squeaks when I scratch it. And Kester is a nickname I’ve had for just over a decade.

What excites you about your work in the GST?

  • I am very much a pastor more than a salesman, so it excites me to help students discern their calling and to introduce them to a program that is as committed to academic excellence, spiritual formation, and preparation for vocation as the GST is.

The Church according to Paul

by   |  06.02.15  |  Church, Ministry

thompson-bookJames Thompson continues his excellent series with The Church according to Paul. On May 26, 2015 it received the 2015 Book of the Year Award from the Academy of Parish Clergy. Read more here.

All three books are significant contributions to the field of ministerial and ecclesial formation. Dr. Thompson has always excelled in combining rigorous academic research and ministerial sensitivities. His love for the church is most evident in this latest work.

The other books in the series are Pastoral Ministry according to Paul and Moral Formation according to Paul. 

International Residential Opportunities

by   |  05.28.15  |  Distance Education, Learning, Students

This week Dr. Mindi Thompson, Director of Distance Education for the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, wrote “Global Seminary Programs: Learning across Cultures Online, at Home and Abroad” for Colloquy. 

Read article here.

Commenting on the article, Brad Carter, ACU alumnus with both a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry (2000) and Master of Arts in Religion (2003), states,

Some of the lessons learned lead to an idea I’ve been tossing around with folks for the past 18 months. Situations like these may need for an African “guide” or “translator” that is on-the ground assisting African students and the professor in making the cultural connections, assisting with appropriate communication (like the email greetings as mentioned), translating cultural metaphors and colloquialisms, and helping African students make the relevant cultural application to the material that is often difficult for a Western lecturer to do — at least at first. This may be another area that is worth exploring in having someone in Swaziland that can communicate, participate in the courses as a guide, and play the role of translator/guide alongside the lecturer — much like the recruiter or person who was the original point of contact that serves as the go-between. –Brad Carter, President of African Christian College, Swaziland, www.AfricanChristianCollege.org

The GST is exploring other options for expanding our service to the continent of Africa. We are having extensive conversations with the good work at African Christian College. Once we figure out some logistics, the GST expects this site to be the third residential site for graduate theological education. The primary hurdle that faces us is the funding needed to scholarship African students is much higher than American students (90% scholarships or $1620/course). However, the GST’s commitment to serve out weighs these financial issues.

With the exception to offer residential courses in Zagreb and Accra approved by the ATS Board of Commissioners in 2013, ACU has the opportunity to be a leader in international theological education. Thanks to Dr. Mindi Thompson for her role in directing the GST’s distance education program and making these dreams realities.

Differences that Shape Us

by   |  05.23.15  |  ACU, Interfaith Dialog, Mission of God

It was around a Panera table that I realized that I needed to pursue ministry. We were sitting around the table, sharing our stories, our lives, our beliefs and doubts discussing national and global events, how our faith shapes our worlds, and how our wounds, particularly our religious scars, make us better people. We met once a week to have a meal and a conversation, but this was about the only thing we had in common. This table in Panera, just outside of Nashville, was where an agnostic Muslim, a practicing Daoist, a few non-religious folks, an atheist, a secular humanist, and a handful of Christians became my community; the unlikely community that helped me discern my call.

Around this table I experienced the good in humanity; we regaled each other with beautiful, and occasionally horrific, stories of our faith communities as we tried to figure out how to live life and be people of faith and integrity. Around this table I saw vulnerability and openness that was tender and inspiring, and I laughed at stories that were comical and too bizarre to be made up. And around this table I first came to fully know the rewards and challenges of interfaith dialogue as I was beginning to shape my ministerial identity.

While some of the challenges are obvious, occasionally they are quite subtle. Generally, we define and understand God differently, religious garb seems unfamiliar and perhaps unnecessary, and we have a different religious vocabulary and often different cultures, but to let these overt differences be the sole focus of our understanding of interfaith dialogue is to see it dimly, through a glass.

Around this table, with these people, I learned what it looks (and feels) like to firmly hold a belief in conversation with someone who firmly holds an opposing belief. This, especially in our social climate today, is incredibly invaluable. The skill of being able to not only articulate what you think and believe and why, but also to hold a real conversation with someone who doesn’t automatically agree with you because of the shape of your religious necklace is sharpened through interfaith dialogue.

Interfaith dialogue is important to me and to my call not simply because I like people and diversity, but because it makes me a better Christian minister. It teaches me compassion and grace; it teaches me what aspects of my faith are central to who I am as a Christian, which aspects are central to the institution of the Christian religion, and which are matters of opinion and tradition. Interfaith dialogue teaches me conflict resolution in some very real and concrete ways. It teaches to me to see people and stories first, labels and dogmas second.

IMG_3759_2Here in this photo, I am with my friend Manel, who also serves with me on the Abilene Interfaith Council Board. Manel, along with many others in my work with the Abilene Interfaith Council, has taught me so much about being gracious in the face prejudice. Through hearing her story, I learned that she was inspired to start wearing her hijab by seeing the faith of Christians in our community, and I’ve been reminded that, in this largely Christian nation I will rarely, if ever, be treated the way she does for faithfully living out her beliefs and moral convictions. Truly, I have seen the embodiment of kenosis because of my friendship and partnership with her in our challenging work of pursuing interfaith dialogue.

There have been many things that have, and will continue to, shape my formation both as a Christian and as a minister, everything from the flannel graph VBS lessons to the friends and family who fostered in me a discerning and inquiring heart. The one that stands out, though, as I’m on the cusp of beginning my life’s work, is how I have been shaped by those who look and act differently than me and all the lessons that we have learned from each other as we seek the betterment of our community while being continually shaped by our differences.

 

Becca Kello is a third year M.Div. student and is serving as the President of the Abilene Interfaith Council.

A Sabbatical in Korea

by   |  05.11.15  |  ACU, Sabbatical

Ham 3What does a sabbatical have in common with a vacation? Absolutely nothing. And that’s a good thing too. Let me explain.

This spring, I have the privilege of living and working in Seoul, Korea with my wife Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton. Our apartment overlooks the Han River in the western part of this great city of almost 25,000,000 people, the sixth largest metropolitan area in the world. The energy of a city that never sleeps (or even dozes) makes life here the very opposite of dull.

Ham 2What does one do on a sabbatical in Seoul? For my part, I am teaching five courses on four campuses of three different universities. Two of those courses are at our host institution, Korea Christian University, where I teach one class on Israelite history and another on Old Testament theology. At the Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary, I am privileged to offer a doctoral seminar on divine kingship, working with excellent PhD students. And at Yonsei University, I teach an undergraduate course in Israelite religion on the main campus in downtown Seoul and a graduate (master’s and doctoral students in practical theology) course on Job and the Literature of Faith and Doubt (one of my ACU standbys) at an experimental seminary in the brand-new city of Songdo, involving a dozen or so students from many parts of the world. The teaching load, plus the hours of riding buses and subways to get from one place to another, makes for a busy week, but a very fulfilling one. It is always a privilege to be able to use one’s gifts fully. In addition to the (almost) daily teaching, I have given two major public lectures, one on Jonah and Lamentations at the Presbyterian University and the other on Psalms 93-100 for the Korean Society of Old Testament Studies, meeting this semester at the Seoul Theological University. I have also preached several Sundays at a number of congregations.

Ham 5Teaching students outside one’s native culture forces a teacher to work hard on his or her craft, to be disciplined not only with respect to content (which should always represented the state of the art), but also with respect to method. Good teachers are never satisfied with their work and always look for new ways to help students learn, and I have sought to do this as well as possible.

Ham 4Teaching biblical history and theology at three institutions in one of the world’s great cities offers a marvelous opportunity to gain a very broad picture of the possibilities of Christian education today. The old boundaries of denomination and heritage matter far less than the common interests and challenges we all face. And learning alongside such a wide range of people verifies the statement of Thomas Campbell two centuries ago:

[A]ll that are enabled, thro’ grace, to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together, no man should dare to put asunder. (Declaration & Address, Proposition 9)

Surely this vision, so central to our identity in Churches of Christ, is true, and it is important that we both believe it and act upon it. Living in a city in which God clearly works inspires us to think about how we are doing our part.

Ham 1During this time, Samjung has also been teaching courses at Korea Christian University in childhood development and multicultural education. For me, probably the greatest joy of this entire trip is the opportunity to see her use her gifts fully to make a difference in the mindset of students. It has been a pleasure to see her receive the honor and respect that her work deserves. In addition, she has also spoken in churches and exerted a positive influence on a wide range of people. And later this month, we will give a speech on theological aspects of immigration together at a conference of the East-West Theological Forum, an international group of researchers meeting this year in Seoul. Again, we have stayed busy.

Yet, staying busy is not really the goal of life, nor is it the real purpose of a sabbatical. The main goal is to learn. One does this by meeting many new people, listening to their questions and ideas and concerns, and opening up one’s own mind to the possibilities of new ways of thinking. Living in a foreign country in which many things are unfamiliar is of course an excellent way to learn new ways of thinking, because the only way to avoid learning is to work very hard to stay in the old patterns of thinking. Learning simply is the course of least resistance. I have been privileged this semester to meet students, professors, church leaders, and just plain regular people who have tried to teach me not just a little more Korean, but also how to relate to a culture with different rules than my own.

A sabbatical of this sort, most of all, teaches many lessons about faith. The vulnerability that comes from being outside our comfort zone at almost all times forces a close examination of the shape ministry is the ministry itself – the work, the plans, the goals, the big ideas driving everything – or the One whom we trust with our entire lives. If we really believe that God’s strength is shown most perfectly through our weakness, we must confront our own mixed motives, fears, excessive deference to other people, unreasonable expectations, and pride. None of this is easy. But it can be done.

So, does our sabbatical resemble a vacation? Not really. But it has been something much more valuable – a time of renewal. For that I am truly grateful.

–Mark W. Hamilton

Questions that Matter Most by Matt Hale

by   |  04.21.15  |  Church, Ministry, Uncategorized

HaleThere is a genre of stories told among Church of Christ ministers (and occasionally graduate students) that goes something like this:

“I was teaching a class/preaching a sermon/leading a devo, and the subject was controversial topic x. While everyone was milling about afterwards, an old person came up to me and asked why I said A about x when the Bible clearly says B. I tried to explain to her what the Bible really says about x, but you know how it is.”

The conventional audience response is an empathetic eye-roll, a shaking of the head, and another story about how those old-school folks can really get us down. The unspoken upshot of these conversations is that “one glad morning” when their “life is o’er”, we’ll “fly away” from their irrational, conservative restrictions and sing praise hymns accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a fog machine, and preach about whatever we like behind a very small, transparent lectern. We will have to endure these trials for a time, and then the church will be ours.

Having worked mostly in small-town, rural, conservative churches, I have had some experiences like these, more than a few. They can be very frustrating. Recently, however, I have begun to wonder if the attitude of dismissiveness is the only possible option. And I have wondered if I have misplaced blame for these experiences. I would like to blame their close-mindedness, or their lack of access to the kind of theological education I have received. But when I am honest, I admit the blame must lie with me, because I would rather be dismissive than take on the loving, patient, and careful work of explaining my position to them in a way they can accept, or at least understand.

If I want to console myself a bit, I can remember that it is very tempting to dismiss those with whom we disagree, particularly when they are naïve, ignorant, and inarticulate. Why take the time to truly engage with them, to give ear to their questions and answer them properly, when I can call them “uneducated”, “conservative”, “patriarchal”, “heternormative”, “reactionary’, “nationalistic”, or “old-school”? Of course, this is even easier and more tempting if all I am really good at is deconstructing a position, but have never done the hard work of constructing something better.

This temptation, however, must be resisted. I am beginning to wonder whether, paradoxically, it is not the “progressive” young-folk who are asking the most subversive and important questions, but rather the old lady who wonders why the communion table has been moved to the back of the church? Or perhaps it is the octogenarian who wants to know if the preacher really think scripture is inspired, a question he is not ready to answer even though he should be. Maybe it is the grumpy old man who says he doesn’t like instrumental music because of the Bible, but it is really because it makes him feel left out of the worship because he can’t hear his own voice over the practiced praise-team and drums. Though their questions can reflect some unsophisticated assumptions, they are questions that demand answers. And maybe this frustrates me because it isn’t their lack of reflection that is revealed when they ask these questions. Maybe it is mine, my unpreparedness and inability to directly answer their concerns, carefully leading them through the morass to deeper spiritual nourishment like a good teacher must.

Soon, these “old-school” folks will be gone, and while we will lose their “literalism” and “legalism”, we will also lose their invaluable questions. But we will lose more than that. We will also lose their love of scripture, their unhesitating generosity, their commitment to truth, and their faith. When I have lost my most irritating interlocutor, who will drive a dozen hungry neighborhood kids to church twice a week in a wood-paneled van? When inane scripture wars finally end, who will take potato salad and casseroles to the bereaved, and the Lord’s Supper to the shut-ins? When they are gone, these will be the troubling questions posed to us, their final subversive inquisition. Once again, they will have unmasked us, and rightly so.

I encourage you, then, to cherish these questions, questions that catch us off guard, and do not dismiss them simply because they are based on conservative assumptions you’ve left behind. For perhaps it is not their limitations that are being revealed, but yours.

Matt Hale is a third year Theology M.A. student and preacher at Cottonwood Church of Christ in Cottonwood, TX.

News from Israel

by   |  03.25.15  |  Sabbatical

To many people, the word “sabbatical” conjures up images of professors sitting on the beach sipping cold drinks or something equally restful and unproductive. In reality, however, sabbatical time for professors is usually a time to retool and create new works of scholarship that will also serve their teaching.

This was certainly the case for me last fall. I had the privilege of serving as the Seymour Gitin Professor at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research (AIAR) in East Jerusalem. Sy Gitin was the longtime director of the Albright and one of the most illustrious archaeologists of the past generation, and so it was an honor to bear a senior fellowship bearing his name. The Albright Institute, in turn, is named for the great Syro-Palestinian archaeologist William F. Albright, whose influence has been felt far and wide for many decades. Again, a great honor.

So what does the holder of a fellowship (i.e., a fellow, whether male or female) at a research institute like the Albright do for four and half months? First of all, I lived in the building you see in the attached pictures, a grand old structure representing the best of Palestinian archaeology from the last century. Several fellows lived in dormitory-like conditions (private rooms but with the bathroom down the hall), a situation very conducive for work, but also for new friendships. These scholars, both men and women, came from several countries (the U.S., Britain, Hungary, China, and Malaysia) and worked on projects ranging from Mycenaean pottery to Iron Age Israelite seals to Middle Kingdom Egyptian texts. Our only daily duty was to share dinner together each evening in the Institute’s dining room. This is a great community of young and not so young scholars (from those writing PhD dissertations to more senior scholars), who genuinely enjoyed each other’s company and learned from each other.

The second thing I did was write and read, all day, every day. The Albright has a fine library of its own, particularly for the archaeology of Palestine/Israel, but three blocks away is one of the half dozen best theological libraries in the world, at the Ecole Biblique et archaeologique française, a Dominican house of study world renowned for its scholarship. For more information, see their website at www.ebaf.edu. My project is a book I’m writing on the idea of God as king. It’s a theme I’ve been working on for several years and hope to finish in the next year or so.

The third thing I got to do was tour. Since the fellows at the Albright are all scholars, and most are archaeologists (with a few of us biblical people thrown in to liven things up!), this was an exciting thing to do. We had the privilege of touring ongoing excavations usually led by the primary excavator or his or her most senior assistant. This is always an opportunity to learn a lot, and not the run-of-the-mill touristy sort of trip.

And lastly, the time in Israel was an opportunity to pray and to think about my relationship with God. To pray inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, near the probable site of Jesus’ passion, is of course a moving thing. So also are joining on many Sabbaths with a messianic synagogue in their pursuit of a relationship with Yeshua ha-Mashiach, praying in the Anglican Church of St. George, and attending a Christmas Eve service in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity with Palestinian Christians. All these were meaningful experiences for my own walk. Also, living with a number of people who are not Christians, but are marvelous and honorable people, gave me an opportunity to become clearer about what it means to be salt and light in the world.

So what is happening this spring after a semester in Israel and Palestine? That’s the subject of my next post. Stay tuned.

Jerusalem, Fall 2014

Mark Hamilton

Robert and Kay Onstead Professor of Old Testament

The Mdiv Is Now Offered Online

by   |  03.05.15  |  Announcements

Students interested in advanced ministry training at Abilene Christian University will soon have a new online option. Starting this summer, the ACU Graduate School of Theology will offer the Master of Divinity degree online.

“The GST has always been called to serve the church for the sake of the world,” said Dr. Mindi Thompson, director of distance education for the Graduate School of Theology. “Now, we are even better equipped to fulfill that calling by offering the Master of Divinity online.”

A Master of Divinity is a professional graduate degree designed to prepare students for careers in ministry. Graduates are equipped to serve as congregational ministers, Christian educators, campus ministers, chaplains, church planters, and in various other ministry contexts.

Historically, students interested in earning an M.Div. or other advanced theological training at ACU were required to move to Abilene to earn their degree. “In some cases, we know that asking students to pick up their lives and relocate for graduate work also asks them to put their ministry careers on hold,” said Dr. Tim Sensing, associate dean of the ACU Graduate School of Theology.

ACU was recently granted permission by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) to offer the Master of Divinity degree online. Now, students will be able to complete the majority of their coursework online.

The program requires 72 credits and is designed to be completed in 48 months by students who are also working full or part time. Online courses will be offered in a seven-week format, and students will complete one course at a time over a seven-week period.

In addition to online courses, students in the Master of Divinity program are required to complete four courses in residence. Residency requirements may be met through completion of one-week intensive courses, courses scheduled over two long weekends or by participating in one of our international residency options.

“So many of our students are already serving in local congregations,” Thompson said. “Offering the Master of Divinity online allows us to serve students at a greater distance from Abilene. In doing so, we learn what God is doing in churches across the country and around the world, and this gives us greater insight into how best to train the next generation of church leaders.”

For more information about the online Master of Divinity, visit acu.edu/mdiv.

Congratulations Students

by   |  02.02.15  |  Announcements, Church History, Restoration History

Three GST students have been selected to present at the annual Stone-Campbell Journal Conference April 9-11.  This conference brings scholars and students from across the country both from schools affiliated with the Stone-Campbell Movement and beyond–including ACU, TCU, Claremont, Lipscomb, Vanderbilt, etc.
Sarah Dannemiler is one of three finalists in the general graduate student paper competition discussing her work on the influence of right wing politics on Pepperdine University in the 1960s. Kipp Swinney has been selected to present his paper on the use of the book of Job in Alexander Campbell’s “canon” in the “Issues in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement” study group. And Laura Estes won the Isaac Errett competition for Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement history studies with her paper on the first Stone-Campbell mission to Jerusalem and the theological rationale of a shift of focus from the Jewish population to the Muslims.
Appreciation goes to Dr. Doug Foster for mentoring and facilitating student research in the Stone-Campbell tradition.

Jacob of Serugh

by   |  01.24.15  |  ACU, Announcements

Dr. Jeff Childers, the Carmichael-Walling Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the Graduate School of Theology at ACU, has been invited to participate in a special workshop occurring at Princeton University in January 2015. A group of eight scholars from places such as Holland, Israel, and the U.S. will gather as guests of the university for a workshop-conference on Jacob of Serugh. Jacob (d. 521) was a Christian bishop whose extensive writings greatly influenced Christianity in the Middle East. Jacob wrote in Syriac and worked in a district now located in southeast Turkey near the Syrian border. Although his surviving works number into the hundreds and his legacy left a deep impact on Christianity in the region, our knowledge of Jacob is still at an early stage. A growing number of researchers, students, and even a popular readership are taking an interest in this creative author and leader. In an effort to help put our knowledge of this important figure on a more solid footing, specialists are gathering at Princeton this month to discus key topics related to Jacob’s legacy. Childers has been invited to present original research on Jacob of Serugh’s treatment of the New Testament text. Jacob’s sermons and letters are saturated with references to scripture and his brilliant treatment of the biblical text remains one of the most attractive features of his work.