(Note: for a much briefer profile of what I’m like and what makes me tick as a worker, read this self-assessment.)
From Childhood to College
God’s faithfulness to me is linked with his faithfulness to my parents. They both grew up in nominally Roman Catholic homes, and came to relationship with Christ shortly before my birth. When I came along, their church environment was a mixture between conservative Baptist and non-denominational. And yet, their departure from the Roman Catholic Church was still recent enough that my grandmother persuaded them to have me baptized as a baby. This was when the first seeds of faith were sown into my life.
At age five, I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” after my dad shared the gospel with me. But after I read the first Left Behind book at age ten, I was terrified about my eternal destiny. After all, I could not directly remember my mindset at age five. Was I really sincere, or did I merely pray the prayer to make my dad happy? Searching for certainty, I lost many hours of sleep worrying that my family members were being raptured without me that very moment.
Although my views on the rapture have since changed, I look back upon this spiritual struggle with gratitude to God for providing me with guides, my pastor and parents, who pointed me to the Bible to prevent me from turning my faith inward on itself, from basing my salvation in my sincerity rather than on God’s faithfulness to redeem. Although I would not now advise this to my younger self (I view my Roman Catholic infant baptism as my valid baptism), I was baptized again at age ten, in a public declaration of my rededicated faith.
Although I languished in spiritual apathy and bitterness during junior high, God used a friendship with a missionary-kid and a trip to Brazil to revitalize my faith and give me a love for foreign languages and cultures. In high school, God used a committed youth pastor to encourage my development into a student leader and worship leader. As a missions bookend to my high school experience, I was given a glimpse of how God could use me for his glory when our youth group traveled to Mexico City and I led bilingual worship and translated for my peers.
After returning from Mexico, however, my first opportunity to preach wrecked my plans for the future (I wanted to be a mechanical engineer). As I prepared my first sermon, it bothered me that I knew much more about calculus, physics, and Spanish than I did about Scripture. Wanting to learn more about the gospel to preach that good news to others, I changed my major from Mechanical Engineering to Pre-seminary Bible just three weeks before my first semester of college.
College (Cedarville University)
I had a lot going for me as I entered college. Although I am the son of a bricklayer and a homemaker, I was able to go to a Christian university because God miraculously provided a full-ride scholarship. Furthermore, the conservative Baptist environment of my high school days had given me a love for the gospel, for prayer, and for studying Scripture.
And yet, I suffered from a nasty combination of piety and pride. I was full of myself and I wanted to be really good at theology, to prove to myself and my parents that I was not crazy for abandoning engineering. I had also hidden an addiction to pornography throughout high school. God had some chains to break and an ego to deflate. Thankfully, although pride and lust are still temptations that I battle through accountability, confession, repentance, and prayer, God both humbled me and set me free from bondage to porn.
In college, I fell in love with a nursing student from Pennsylvania (we got married during the summer before our senior year, August 4, 2012). I also fell in love with the gospel. My college theology professors were invaluable guides, first revealing the shallowness of my theology, and then pointing out the depths of the theological task. They demonstrated what it looked like to be in love with the God of the gospel and to be faithful with the intellectual gifts he provides. I emerged from their classrooms wanting to advance God’s kingdom by investing in the Church academically, pastorally, and globally—as part- professor, pastor, and missionary.
Nevertheless, my college years ended on a painful note. In what I now refer to as the “Cedarville Purge,” the most conservative constituents of the university exacted revenge for a shift to moderate evangelicalism that had taken place in the years just before I arrived as a freshman. My professors were forced out because being a moderate evangelical was too liberal for the university’s new vision. I and others protested the shameful actions of the trustees and administrators—but we failed. Although God was gracious to provide other jobs for my professors, it was a very painful experience during a formative period in my life.
Seminary (Beeson Divinity School)
Given the unhappy ending to my college career, I am extremely thankful that God led me to Beeson Divinity School and St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL. The theological tradition and breadth of Anglicanism, as well as the ecumenical spirit of Beeson, were breaths of fresh air and balms to my wounded spirit. In not throwing out the theological baby with the bathwater, it was healthy for me to step back from the prophetic fervor of my final days at Cedarville, and instead to devote myself to being faithful with the gifts and opportunities God gave me in Alabama.
I learned a lot as a seminarian. And I was also given the opportunity as a youth minister at St. Peter’s to teach others about the God of the gospel who has captured my thoughts. The joys and challenges of student ministry reinforced my identity as a student and a teacher. While I used to think I could be satisfied as a professor even without a pastoral role in the Church, my time as a youth minister in seminary changed that. If forced to choose between the Church and the academy, I would choose pastoral ministry every time. I was ordained as a deacon in October 2016, shortly before completing my M.Div.
Ph.D. and The Priesthood (Wheaton College)
Nevertheless, in the interests of becoming a pastor-theologian, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. I entered the Ph.D. program at Wheaton College in 2017. Since then, God has blessed me and my family in many ways. He provided fulfilling work as a Nurse Practitioner for my wife, Rachel. He provided me with a part-time job as the Managing Editor of Anglican Compass. And he also blessed us with two wonderful children (Eva in July 2018, Andrew in July 2020).
Another blessing has been our church family at Church of the Savior. When we left Alabama, I was really anxious about finding a place to serve as clergy while a full-time doctoral student. Our rector, Kevin Miller, has been incredibly supportive as a mentor. He’s given me opportunities to serve and he sponsored my ordination to the priesthood in November 2019—all while allowing my roles in preaching, pastoral care, student ministry, worship, church website, and church administration to change over time as my Ph.D. commitments necessitated.
Nevertheless, I have also faced several challenges in the past couple years. I ran into huge dissertation roadblocks right before the COVID-19 lockdown in March, when I lost access to my library carrell for 5 months. These obstacles, plus employment uncertainty, the arrival of our second child, and increased isolation from the church due to virtual-only worship made 2020 one of the most difficult years of my life.
I made the decision to start medication and therapy for depression and anxiety in fall 2020. In early winter, after a lot of prayer, deliberation, and seeking godly counsel, I made the difficult decision to hit pause (“excused program leave”) on my Ph.D. program for a year for the sake of my mental health. Since making that decision, I’ve grown more and more confident that stepping away from the Ph.D. for at least a year is the right thing to do.
Where does that leave me? My rocky road as a Ph.D. student has convinced me even more that my heart lies with the Church, not with the Academy. I thank God for the blessings of formal theological education, and I’d like to do everything I can to help bridge the gap between the Church and the Academy by making gospel-centered theological education accessible to each and every Christian, and not just for specialists!
So, I’m still a student and a teacher at heart. And I’m still trying to discern whether finishing my Ph.D. is the right decision at this point in my life. But, at the end of the day, I’m a pastor at heart. And, whether or not I finish my Ph.D., the following words from my ordination to the priesthood are my North Star in ministry:
“Work diligently, with your whole heart, to bring those in your care into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of God, and to maturity in Christ, that there may be among you neither error in religion nor immorality in life. Finally, equip and lead your Congregation to proclaim tirelessly the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
May it be so. Amen.