Saturday, September 20, 2014

Family History 17: Notes for My Children

So we come to the end of my family history posts. I'll end with a few notes on my own life.

I was born in Indianapolis in the mid-60s, but my Dad's job took him to Florida in 1970. So I am a Hoosier by birth but a Floridian by childhood. I've never really felt like a Hoosier, although the family history I have been telling is a story that nearly goes back to the birth of the State of Indiana in 1816.

I have always been grateful for the high school education I received in Florida in the 70s. Integration was never a question. My teachers taught critical thinking and the evaluation of ideas on the basis of evidence, not sentiment or tradition. I know several of them were devout believers, but I am grateful that class was a neutral ground, a place where all ideas could be considered and evaluated by the canons of evidence and logic.

I felt like my teachers in high school could have been college teachers. I can't even express what a phenomenal math teacher Mr. Pickett was. He was a devout Christian too. Mr. Atkinson taught chemistry to bring everyone along, so I'm sure we didn't get as far along as we could have. But those were two tremendous years. I still remember some of the experiments we did. Mr. Stock made me a citizen of the world with a run through world culture that included everything from philosophy to art history to architecture. What great literature we read with Mrs. Gauss, Mr. Hadley, and Mrs. Van Roo.

These teachers began to open up my mind to a world of understanding beyond my wildest imagination. They gave me my first glimpse of what it meant to touch the universe with your mind. Those moments of enlightenment can come hard and fast when you're in your teens and twenties (not as frequent in your forties, I'm afraid). My passion has always been to share that world with others, which is why my all time favorite class to teach has to be introductory philosophy.

Central Wesleyan College
After high school, I felt like God wanted me to go to our area church school, much to Mr. Atkinson's puzzlement. I don't know if I'd have been mature enough at that point not to crash during a first year at the University of Miami or Florida State. CWC, now SWU, was a very personal place, where you knew your professors and they were truly in loco parentis. I probably needed that care my first year of college, sad to say. I probably needed to mature more as a person than I needed to learn chemistry.

SWU is in a beautiful location, with beautiful mountains and lakes nearby. The flowers at Clemson are astonishingly beautiful at the beginning of the Spring. I took a physics class there and got a taste of what a big university is like.

I started as a chemistry major. A warning to all high school AP students--whether you get AP credit or not, you should retake courses that are fundamental to your major in college. Two years of high school chemistry just isn't the same as a year of college chemistry, no matter how good your teacher is.

I hate to confess that I was pretty lost in the advanced experimental chemistry classes I found myself in my first year at Central. But there were also advantages to such a small school, with only three chemistry majors at the time. We all had keys to the lab and could spend an all nighter catching up on experiments if we needed to... making instant tea with magnetic stirrers and serving mac-n-cheese in Petri dishes, after boiling the noodles in a beaker on a Bunsen Burner.

I had enough AP credit to graduate in three years. I really didn't want to, but my scholarship only covered enough hours to graduate, not to go four years. My Dad, by the way, was on the Board of Trustees of CWC at that time, which is how I really got acquainted with CWC in the first place.

I finished the first year in chemistry, but felt called to ministry at the end of the first semester. I wanted to finish the degree in chemistry too but, alas, it was not to be. At the same time, I had the hardest time focusing in college. I wanted to read, read, read with all my heart. But I would read the same sentences over and over and over and over. I had the hardest time focusing.

Sometimes you wish you could go back and help yourself out, give the techniques you eventually learned to cope with those sorts of problems.

Asbury Seminary
Asbury was to deepen a new direction and trajectory for me as a Christian. My family was obviously very conservative Wesleyan holiness. I've written a little of my hermeneutical autobiography elsewhere. I don't want to take up much space here to write of my struggles of conscience as a young person.

Let's just say that I spent years tortured over the question of whether I was truly saved or not. The preaching of my childhood clustered around a couple of key themes. One was the need to have certain landmark spiritual experiences, namely, salvation and sanctification. The other main one was the need to live without sinning, including all the external things you shouldn't do.

Given that preaching, I pretty much felt like I was the only Christian at my high school (which was completely false)... except that I constantly questioned whether I had experienced a definitive enough experience to count for any of the landmarks. In college I tortured one girl as much with my self-doubt about whether I was truly saved as I did over whether I was truly in love. I'm sure I was a little reminiscent of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.

College raised questions, brought up "naughty data" about the way I had grown up looking at the world. I had grown up thinking that a spiritual girl, for example, would ideally look a certain way. But some of the most spiritual female students I knew at college didn't look that way at all. I read through Galatians on Easter Sunday, 1987, and had a cathartic moment of realization: my approach to Christianity aligned with Paul's opponents, not with Paul.

It was a major turning point in my Christian pilgrimage, perhaps the most significant one of all. It was the beginning of a path toward peace. Up till then, I spent my days hyper-reflective, filled with introspective naval gazing, a regular cycle of self-doubt and psychological torture. "Lord, please forgive me if I've sinned. Lord, please forgive me if I've sinned."

There was a kind of peace that Easter morning. It wasn't salvation. It wasn't sanctification. I had experiences of peace I counted for those, despite recurring doubts. This was a trajectory of peace. It was a peace about the fact that God was a God of love rather than wrath. It was a peace that God was a God of principle, not of precept.

In retrospect, I would say that I started to emerge from a pre-modern religious worldview at Asbury. Asbury taught me well how to read the Bible in context. Indeed, I consider my grounding in IBS with professors like David Bauer and David Thompson to have given me an advantage over many a PhD in Bible who are not rigorous in the discipline of listening to the text.

Bauer and Thompson are both men of faith, but I never felt like they were cooking the books. I had other professors at Asbury who, even though I agreed with them, seemed to me to be skewing the evidence to fit their version of faith. Ironically, they actually tended to de-convince me of their positions in the process of trying to convince me of their positions.

The IBS I learned at Asbury left me with a strong commitment to letting the inductive evidence go wherever it seemed to lead. Interestingly, I did not consider either Asbury or the Wesleyan Church at that time to be evangelical (a title that apparently only 2% of outsiders 16-29 have a good impression of). Indeed, IBS at Asbury increasingly led me to look with suspicion on the biblical scholarship of the "mainline evangelical" institutions because it seemed like they often were places of deductive Bible study, where they told the text more or less what it could mean.

University of Kentucky
When I switched to become a Religion major at CWC, I imagined that I would be a preacher. I enjoyed preaching because I liked thinking. There is a certain kind of preacher, like Steve Deneff, who are idea preachers. I found that very attractive and did some preaching in college with a traveling team of close friends. I supply pastored a couple summers, mostly preaching and doing visitation.

When I finished college, I didn't feel anywhere near mature enough to pastor a church full turkey, so I did what you did in my shoes. I went to seminary. As my time at Asbury continued, I began to realize that there was also a type of minister who taught in addition to preaching. I began to feel drawn to teaching.

In my final year at Asbury, I put out a fleece. If I became a Teaching Fellow at Asbury, teaching Greek and Hebrew, then I would continue on a trajectory to get a doctorate in New Testament. I had been interested in theology at first in college, because it initially seemed to me like there was more to work out at the intersection of philosophy and God. I figured I pretty much knew what the Bible already said.

But as the pre-modern blinders were more and more taken off, I realized more and more what an undiscovered country the Bible was for me. I also sensed subconsciously, I think, that I would always be a slave to someone else's interpretations if I did not know the Bible. I wanted to know what God thought for myself. I didn't want to be caught off guard.

In a way, the same reason I longed to know physics fueled my desire to study theology and the Bible. I wanted to know the ultimate basis for everything. Physics and philosophy could only take you so far. The Bible and theology could take me to the very thoughts of God.

Between the OT and the NT, it seemed clear to me that the complete mind of God was more to be found in the NT. Also, it seemed like the scholarly study of the OT had more landmines. No one seemed to care about Matthew starting from Mark. But to suggest that Genesis had sources would bring down the wrath of Josh McDowell on you.

If I hadn't been appointed Teaching Fellow, I would have taken a church in Florida and pastored. Who knows where that trajectory would have headed. I was not equipped to be anything but a small church pastor. I imagine I would have thirsted to study more at some point. I might have remained single a long time. The Wesleyan churches in Florida felt like islands far removed from each other.

But I became a Teaching Fellow. There are great moments in your life. 1985 was a spectacular year for me at CWC. 1990-93 were also some of the best. Great friends, a little money. I was largely free of my "Am I going to hell" fears. The future seemed endlessly bright.

I followed in the footsteps of Joe Dongell those years and did an MA in Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Kentucky. I always felt like, at the end of a degree, I was where I wish I had been when I started. For example, although I knew Koine Greek, my first foray into classical Greek was Greek Drama--not a good place to start. And I had only had a little Latin in high school. Now I was taking masters classes in Virgil and Cicero. It was tough, to say the least.

I also taught a little at Asbury College while Dr. Harstad was on sabbatical for a year. I also taught some nurses at Midway College. Good experiences. A real privilege.

University of Durham
My three years in England, with a two month time in Tübingen in 1995, were incredibly rich for me. Immersed in a different culture for that long a time changes the way you understand your own culture. You don't get that on a short missions trip. You don't even get that living on a military base in another country.

In those pre-9-11 days, we were those funny, loud, stupid Americans (we became those dangerous, stupid Americans when we invaded Iraq). I think the St. John's College students must have cast me in Romeo and Much Ado just to hear my accent. Durham didn't require nearly the thick skin that Oxford would have required but it did require a little toughening.

It is a tremendous luxury to be able to think freely. Durham was mostly that for me. At the Graduate Seminar, the only rule was that you be able to think well and make a good argument based on the evidence. I was able to teach Greek at the university, which gave me a stipend.

St. John's College graciously hired me as a "Residential Tutor," which provided for my room and board. I taught Hebrew and a little Christology for Cranmer Hall, a theological school within John's. At that time, it trained both Anglican and Methodist vicars. The Methodist church of England has since pulled all its training to a single location, to the great dismay of many.

My time in Tübingen was also spectacular. I lived in the Kellar of Frau Michel, wife of the late Otto Michel, and met regularly with Professor Hermann Lichtenberger. I had good friends there, one of whom had come to Durham for a year. We had been on a rowing team for Johns together, a team of international misfits to be sure, with the other two from Spain and England. Our cox was a quirky aristocrat who could have been straight out of Four Weddings and a Funeral (Sorry, Helen ;-).

The Real World
I guess I'm thankful that I was so naive all those years about how easy it would be to get a teaching job with a doctorate in New Testament. Everyone is plenty willing to take your money for the education, but it's a quite different thing to get a faculty position. The current situation is notoriously difficult, with lots of unemployed, top flight, PhDs out there. I am thankful every day to have a job.

I spent a year substitute teaching in Florida to make end's meet, living at home. In the Spring of 1997, Kerry Kind also asked if I would be willing to spend a few months in Sierra Leone teaching at the Bible College just outside of Freetown. The country was in a lull in its civil war, and he wanted the Wesleyans there to know that they were not forgotten. I was single and expendable. :-) It was a great experience that I treasure, although for me it was not without its fears.

Freetown was overtaken less than two months after I left.

On the way back, Bud Bence arranged to have me come through Indiana to have a preliminary meeting about a possible teaching position at IWU. Very ironic, the thought of returning to the state of my birth. We met at a Steak n Shake in Elwood, now gone.

I think he saw it as taking a chance, to consider me. He felt like he had been burned with a Dunn graduate at Houghton who was at the center of a controversy on a particular issue. Bence was also looking for "thoroughbreds," people who could teach a wide range of courses. He had me pegged as a stereotypical academic who goes deep but not wide.

Ironically, I wasn't hired for that NT position. But they needed someone to teach philosophy for a year because Duane Thompson was retiring. There was no promise of a second. But one led to two, then the person they hired in NT left and I slid into her role. I'm now in my 18th year.

Indiana Wesleyan University
I have been at IWU since the Fall of 1997. I met my wife my first year there. I've raised my children here. I am, as I said, immensely thankful to have a job. IWU has truly been a family. I have felt valued. I have been able to teach subjects and write things I probably wouldn't have been able to teach or write elsewhere. IWU and Fulbright afforded me two more trips to Germany (2004, 2011), the first back to Tübingen and the second to Munich.

I've had a lot of good experiences while at IWU too. I adjuncted several years for Notre Dame, which was a great change of pace. My first few years at IWU, my family was able to go back to Europe for various conferences. At one in St. Andrews, Carey Newman took a chance on me and got Westminster John Knox to publish my first book, Understanding the Book of Hebrews. That was the break I needed to start writing.

In 2009, I felt called to be part of the seminary cadre to form the first ever seminary belonging to the Wesleyan Church. I have learned more about leadership, management, and organization in these last five years than all the rest of my life. In August we had a snapshot with 470 students, making us probably the fastest growing seminary in the world, under the leadership of Wayne Schmidt.

Who knows what comes next... For now, here endeth my family story.

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd, also supplement)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller, with clarifications here)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

4. A New Family
Joining Two Streams (my parents)
A Young Family

5. The Closing Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
The Wright Stuff (Seba Wright)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

6. Tales of My Life
Memories of Childhood
Notes for my Children


John Mark said...

When I began pastoral ministry, without much education (I still don't have much) I realized my ignorance, so, hopefully led by the Holy Spirit, preached through Mark for two years, with the help of every commentary I could afford. An aha moment for me was when I saw myself as way more sympathetic to the Pharisees than I would have ever wanted to believe. I would have willingly identified with them, joined up if membership were like a 'club.' And I can certainly resonate with your struggles over salvation. I won't bore you with details except to say that I have been 'entirely sanctified' around five times in my life. I don't discount those experiences, but have many days when I question myself....I don't blame God for any failures on my part, but being raised on Palmerism, with the implication of 'eradication' as the result of ES has been a real source of struggle for me. Anyway thanks for this post. Just ordered Keeners NT commentary and the Eerdmans, since I will never go to grad school to get past my ignorance on how to approach scripture with a proper hermeneutic. :)

Ken Schenck said...

Just ignore me! For me, if we're helping people love others more and take the focus off of ourselves toward God, we're a success in ministry. Everything else is distraction, I think...