Category Archives: GST

A Word to the 2020 Graduates

What are Your Credentials?

Philippians 3:4b-4:1

Welcome Graduates, family, friends, faculty, and staff to our 2020 Covenant Service. Normally, we have an Awards Ceremony on a different date than the Covenant Service but today we are combing the two. Covid-19 and healthy social distancing practices have caused us to reschedule all that and we are now meeting through Zoom. We are glad you are with us today.

Tonight, whether in person, in abstention, or virtually, you will become an official graduate of the Graduate School of Theology. Whether you actually walk across the stage tonight or only do so in spirit, you have fulfilled the requirements of your degree. Your degree signifies your credentials, your professional qualifications and competence.

Credentials are important. Today is the day when you are being credentialed by Abilene Christian University. When I go to the doctor’s office, I want to know her credentials. They are often hanging on the wall behind a glass frame. When I go to H&R Block for tax advice, I want to know their qualifications and achievements. I want to know their certifications.

The fulfillment of degree requirements for your GST degree, and certified by the university, is what qualifies you for the credentials you are receiving today. Well Done! Congratulations.

  1. Speaking of credentials, Philippians 3, our reading today, Paul lists his credentials.

Circumcised on the 8th Day

Member of the people of Israel,

Of the Tribe of Benjamin;

Hebrew born of Hebrews;

As to the Law, a Pharisee;

As to zeal, a persecutor of the church;

As to righteousness under the law, blameless.

  • Paul’s list of his credentials, for his peer group, for his community, these credentials were impressive.
  1. But for Paul, his criteria for credentials changed when he became a Christian. Paul no longer played by the rules of the credentialing game. Paul offers a different alternative. You see, Paul is on a journey, a journey that has become his consuming passion. He no longer relies upon credentials, documentation, or other identity markers. But now he presses on, forward, with all his credentials behind him, to press toward the high calling of his salvation.
    1. Paul, doesn’t become entangled or look back with any longing to the days of yesteryear. All that was to his credit, his credentials, he now considers rubbish. Therefore, he keeps his eyes glued forward toward his calling in Christ Jesus.
    2. If you were graduating as an accounting major, I might look at Paul’s list as a ledger with two columns: Credits and Debits or Assets and Liabilities. I might describe how there is an exchange in Paul’s life where the assets become liabilities or the credits become debits and vice versa.
    3. You are not accounting majors. For us the Exchange Formula theologically is found in concise texts like 2 Corinthians 5:21, 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Or later in 2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
    4. And said in Philippians 2 in an extended description, Jesus did not consider holding on to the form of God, but instead became formed in human likeness, so that for those who come to know Christ, God will transform our body of humiliation, that it may be formed to the body of his glory.
    5. And lest anyone of us think Paul was a special case and was receiving something like an honorary doctorate for his specialness; he says, “Brothers and Sisters join me in following my example.” And again in v. 15 that all of who are mature should take such a view.
    6. And what is that view? That new view where the exchange has taken place, where we are now transformed in his image?

To know Christ,

the power of his resurrection,

to be conformed to his death,

to share in the fellowship of his sufferings,

to attain the resurrection to come.

Communities live out their resurrection by living out the credentials of the cross. And Paul exchanged all his old credentials for the single credential of knowing Christ and the cross.

On this day, it is your day to be credentialed by this school. On this day, it is your day for recognition of your achievements. Well Done! I am proud of you. I speak for the whole faculty represented here today. We are all proud of you. I would not want you to miss this day. You were recruited by this institution and by the GST so that you could be here on this day and walk across a stage whether physically or in spirit. The GST is accredited to be a credentialing institution. Congratulations!

But if a police officer asks you to put your hands behind your head and pats you down, may he find only cross-shaped credentials. You exchanged what you earn today for a cross back when at your baptism. The cross is the universal symbol of shame, suffering, death, and redemption. Cross credentials then have implications about how you live and practice your faith. Congratulations! No matter what they hand you when you walk across the stage, or deliver to you in the mail, the cross is your only credential that counts. And what gives me the greatest joy on this day as I witness you crossing a stage, is that I know that you already know all this. Well done! The pain of the world and the love of God meet at the cross. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, the graduating class of 2020, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” Amen.

 

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Baptist Studies Center

June 13, 2020

Abilene Christian University (ACU) announces the opening of The Baptist Studies Center as part of the Graduate School of Theology (GST). Dr. Myles Werntz, presently the T. B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at Logsdon School of Theology, will be named the first Director of the Baptist Studies Center. Dr. Werntz has nearly ten years of experience teaching in Baptist seminaries, as well as long-standing relationships with Baptist organizations and churches regionally and nationally. He is a tenured Associate Professor at Hardin-Simmons University (HSU) and the author and editor of five books in theology and ethics. In addition to courses in Baptist theology, ethics, and ecclesiology, he will serve as an Associate Professor in the GST and will teach general classes in theology and ethics.

The Baptist Studies Center will offer a certificate in Baptist Studies that includes two courses—Baptist History, and Baptist Theology and Polity. Additionally, the Center will provide vocational discernment and mentoring to Baptist students. Working closely with Baptist ministry partners, the Center will also facilitate field education placements.

The GST is deeply grateful for this opportunity to partner with and serve west Texas Baptist churches that have a longstanding relationship with a regional seminary. The mission of the GST is to equip men and women for effective missional leadership for ministry in all its forms and to provide strong academic foundations for theological inquiry. The Baptist Studies Center will both participate in the GST’s mission and complement its services for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Given the well-established cordial relationship between ACU’s Graduate School of Theology and HSU’s Logsdon School of Theology, the opening of the new Center can provide a natural transition for current Logsdon students looking for a regional seminary in west Texas after its closing.

Here are two links to the story:

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PPE

“PPE” “C0VID-19” “Pandemic” “Social Distancing” “Essential Workers”

“Epidemiology” “Quarantine” “N95 Respirators”

“Masks” “Testing” “Ventilators” “Supply Chains”

“Re-Opening” “Depression” “Negative Markets” “Coronavirus”

 Words I did not expect to be part of my vocabulary in a Graduate School of Theology 2020 newsletter. What does one say, especially one in a leadership role? While my reflections sometimes turn quickly to the irony and tragedy of social commentary, I am grateful to be part of a community that engages in thinking and doing theology, so instead, I turn to the familiar territory of theological reflection. Social commentary these days leads me to cynicism, frustration, and incredulity; faith leads me to hope, refuge, and calm.

In my theological reflection, I begin with experience. My personal experience comes from a place of luxury and privilege. I am a white male who can afford to work from home without it affecting my life except for a few inconveniences. Those dearest to me can afford the same. I also begin with my communal experience. I have enjoyed the blessing of an employer, family, church, and city that takes science seriously, promotes healthy practices, acts for the sake of others, and responds graciously. I listen to the voices of nurses who risk their lives so I might live. I listen to essential workers who often cannot afford to work from home. I hear stories of loved ones holding onto a cell phone because they cannot hold onto a hand as their father, spouse, or child dies alone.

Next, my theological reflection turns to the Christian witness. Scripture, liturgy, tradition, and creeds inform my imagination. Virtual worship experiences with my church, chapel experiences with my school, devotional guides provided by ACU’s Office of Spiritual Formation and the Carl Spain Center, and voices from ages past in The Book of Common Prayer all have provided me theological resources. I found a word about community from Luther in one of my student’s papers, and a word about lament from N. T. Wright on LinkedIn. The cloud of witnesses testifies loudly in pandemics.

My theological reflection also engages the cultural location of my larger context. I always thought viruses knew no social boundaries, but here I find a virus that is no respecter of persons. This virus preys on those most vulnerable and leaves others asymptomatic. I am 60 with occasional asthma so I take the preferences and disrespect of this virus seriously. The systemics of my culture also provide this virus with avenues to flourish among those most vulnerable, people of color, essential workers, people with underlying conditions, and those who cannot afford certain preventative luxuries. This virus does not respect folks forced to choose between working in public and paying rent; those without health insurance or access to basic care; or those living in crowded spaces or long-term care facilities. This virus does not respect persons who live in large multi-cultural cities, states with slow-acting public officials, or outliers who prefer the economy over the right to life. The systemics of my culture have nurtured this virus’s disrespect of persons and promote it as a partisan pawn.

The conversation between lived experience, theological resources, and culture leads me to discernment, actions, and over time new habits, practices, virtues, beliefs, and dispositions. And the evolutionary spiral continues with new lived experiences. What is the telos of such reflection? C. S. Pierce, one of my philosophical interlocutors, says the fruition of the evolutionary spiral is love. I have taught in class that the goal of such reflection is theosis. Others advocate that the end of all things is a flourishing and abundant life in God.

During this pandemic I am thankful to be part of a community that engages in theological thinking and doing, for it turns me back to the basics of my faith: “[Y]et for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6). As I reflect theologically about all these things under the sun, faith(fulness) leads me to hope, refuge, and calm.

May you lead your communities of faith to think and do theologically about the “words” of our day. If our education in seminary means anything, it means this.

Reflections on April 22, 2020 (written for the forthcoming Summer GST Newsletter)

Tim Sensing

Associate Dean

Graduate School of Theology

 

 

 

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Opening Chapel 8/28/13

Proper 17, Year C Luke 14:1, 7-14

Musical Chairs

Focus Statement: God calls for a humility of heart and actions.

Function Statement: To challenge the graduate school community to live in a non-competitive way with one another.

Video of Opening Chapel at the Graduate School of Theology, Abilene Christian University

Welcome to Graduate Chapel!

While at Duke I was given the assignment to write a series of sermons from the Lectionary that covered one season. I chose Easter. There are seven Sundays in Easter and the assignment felt manageable.  I chose the seven Sundays of Easter because the Lectionary followed the book of Acts (lectio semi-continua). The assignment also asked me to preach one of those sermons. One student responded, “It doesn’t feel like Easter. It feels like Advent.” Everyone else in class chose Advent (only four Sundays in Advent). They had not chosen Advent because the season was short, but because Advent was rising on the horizon. They all had a deep sense of sacred time. “I may never know what Advent feels like.” While I have a keen sense of the time of the day, I do not have a keen sense of the time of the season.

  • Throughout my years at Graduate Chapel, organizers have created a rhythm out of a deep sense of sacred time. Spiritual Themes or Sacred Texts have organized their planning. It has not been haphazard. And organizers in the past have created connections with the Christian Year, particularly certain days like All Saints Day and Easter, or certain seasons most notably Advent and Lent.
  • Growing up in a Free Church tradition, I did not learn about sacred time. The Sunday closest to Jan 1—resolutions; July 4—freedom; late May—graduation Sunday; Nov—thanksgiving; etc.  The tension was evident to me one Sunday morning when I realized that the occasion was Mothers Day and Ascension Sunday. And to quote that sermon in 2005 @ Eastland Presbyterian.

I appreciate the invitation to come and speak to you on this special day. I personally lack the capacity to handle, to juggle, the times and the seasons when they come into conflict. For example, Mother’s Day and my Father’s birthday often overlap.  You know the phone call, “Happy Mother’s Day.” She responds, “Thanks. I just finished talking to your brother. What about your Father’s birthday yesterday? Is his card in the mail?” Mother’s Day is an important day, a time to remember and appreciate the many women who have loved us and nurtured us along our journeys to adulthood. … a time to affirm mothers who are currently engaged in R & R (run and rassle). … and a time to comfort mothers who have lost children or to comfort children who grew up without the gentle hand of a mother, to comfort men and women who are childless.

But sometimes the seasons of the year come into conflict and we make choices. At home, we make choices to go to mom’s favorite restaurant, to buy flowers and cards, to do extra chores around the house etc. … But at church, we may graciously acknowledge our mothers, but we choose to emphasize the Lord’s time, to emphasize the Lord’s season, and emphasize the Lord’s Day.

Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia (341 C.E.) was the first to establish Ascension as a separate and special day.  …

This semester we will be using the lectionary as the rhythm for Graduate Chapel in order to participate in the rhythm of the Christian Year. And it’s odd practice, an odd choice because the academic year beats differently. For example, we are currently in Year C that tracks primarily through the Gospel of Luke. It is the season of Pentecost or sometimes called Ordinary Time. This coming Sunday is designated Proper 17, counting off the days of Ordinary Time. The Christian Year will not start for 16 more Sundays, December 1, the first Sunday of Advent, Year A and the Gospel of Matthew. Its odd to begin the academic year in the middle of a Christian season that is well underway. But for this year, Graduate Chapel is not going to beat with the drum of the academic year, but pick up, Lord willing, in mid-season of Ordinary Time in order to hear a Word from the Lord.

That said, this coming Sunday is Proper 17 and the Gospel text is Luke 14:7-14. Here the Word of the Lord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Will Willimon once remarked in class that preachers should resist running from the lectionary text on any given Sunday. While events of the week might spur the preacher to seek a relevant text, Willimon would say, “Don’t,” you might be surprised how relevant the pre selected lection might be. And as I look at Luke 14, Willimon’s advice pricks close to heart. While not a text that comes to mind to kick off a new semester with wit and optimism, it is what it is.

You heard the text read. It is one of many mealtime texts in Luke. The Gospel of Luke uses mealtimes to emphasize social inequalities. People noticed where one ate (5:29), with whom one ate (5:30), whether one washed before eating (7 & 11), and where one sat to eat (14), and who is invted (14). All of these matters determined one’s social position.

Today’s text is the one where folks are playing musical chairs. You know the game—keep your eye on the chairàthe prize; and your eye on the other playersàthe competition. And when it gets down to just the last few chairs, you know there’s going to be someone with an elbow here, a knocked down chair there, and someone crying foul. It’s the game of chairs where high society knows your status by the social graces you practice. Proper decorum and social conventions are indicators of your pecking order. And it happens in other segments of society. All cultures, societies, clans, tribes, neighborhoods, and kinfolks know the rules and the standings.

And churches and schools are no different.

Schools
  • GPA
  • Class rank; degree choice
  • School rank and reputation
  • Publications
& Churches
  • Attendance, dress, jobs
  • Choices of Ministries
  • Social, political, and doctrinal issues
  • Church reputation
  • Preacher’s Meetings
And Me, I’ve already named drop Duke twice and Willimon once. We certainly like footnoting ourselves.
  • And, to be honest, I get disgusted when I see schools and churches play musical chairs, … unless I’m the one playing and then I have a vicious elbow.

America teaches us to be assertive, aggressive, and self-confident in order to get ahead, win the prize, and be noticed.

  • In any context, we can learn the rules of the game in order to win. Taking the low seat because one is humble is one thing.  To take the low seat as a way to move up is quite another. You see, this is not good advice on how to be exalted.  Can you imagine the scene where twenty-five adults are arguing about the low seat because of their desire to get the high seat? Like playing the game of musical chairs and no one sits down.

So as we all begin this academic year, where many of the systemic structures are designed around competing, advancing, achieving, and winning—Our faith let’s us not only imagine a different way, but to live into a different set of virtues and practices.

Jesus radically reverses the social order. In order to climb the ladder of success, you step down. In order to win, you lose. In order to lead, you serve. In order to live, you die. In order to be resurrected, you are crucified. There are no reserved seats. There are no designated parking spaces. There are no corner offices in the Kingdom of God. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – And that, only by God.

The Word of the Lord.

 

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