Yesterday, I looked out the front door of our church and saw a man whom I did not know taking pictures of our facility with a camera phone.
I was immediately alarmed. Is he casing us out so that he can break in and rob us later? Plotting an attack of defenseless civilians? Or planning to start a church called Better Shepherd United Methodist Church?
None of the above.
It turns out he was a pastor from Kentucky travelling through the Carolinas this summer, and he had heard about the ministry here and wanted to see it for himself. Most importantly, he identified himself as a graduate of Asbury Seminary. Immediately, my suspicions vanished and a friendship formed. I took him for a brief tour of our space.
The bond I felt when I discovered the Asbury connection got me thinking . . . what are the ways my alma mater has influenced me?
Here are five:
1. I learned that you can be evangelical without being fundamentalist. Asbury stands for something — it has a strong statement of faith that you can read here. Yet it is the kind of faith & doctrine that doesn’t stick its head in the sand. People in the school believe the earth is billions of years old, not thousands. They don’t spend time accusing others branches of the faith of being “non-Christian.” And they recognize that the bible, as part of its inspiration, has conversation within itself. Much of what I posted here back in June on the nature of the bible came from what I learned and sensed at Asbury.
2. On the other hand, I learned that evangelicalism has an intellectual rigor that is lacking in classic Protestant liberalism. Protestant liberalism — characterized by a minimizing of biblical authority and a blurring of lines between religions — feels good. It’s even been described this way:
“A God without wrath brings people without sin into a kingdom without judgment to a Christ without a cross.”
Fortunately, the founders of Asbury Seminary saw right through that canard and built a school that from its foundation went through the intellectual work of articulating and defending the ancient truths of the Christian faith.
3. I learned how to prepare a sermon manuscript . . . and then deliver it without notes. As my preaching professor said, “write that sermon out and then leave it at home.” Done.
4. I learned how to sit with people in grief. I still have a paper I wrote back in 1989 — printed out on a dot-matrix printer! — on how pastors & churches should respond to grief. It is uncanny how we follow that same basic blueprint around here.
5. I learned that Christian organizations are still full of dysfunction. You’d think that if you get 1,000 prospective pastors together on an idyllic campus on the Kentucky countryside and expose them to some of the best teachers on the planet, everyone would get along, right? Wrong. During my time there, we still had petty jealousies, rival factions, and relational trauma. Just a few years ago, the school went through a nasty presidential transition, full of finger pointing, petition writing, and faculty departures. It all goes to show that even institutions built on holiness are full of sinfulness. Hmmmm. Sort of like local churches, right?