My identity as a scholar
As a young adult I responded to two deeply exhilarating interests. One was Scripture. The other was culture. I pursued higher education in biblical scholarship over the next couple of decades while ministering cross-culturally in America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. I discovered that my two interests overlapped. I found that the cultural world of the Bible became increasingly important as I sought to understand its teaching. Moreover, listening to Christian leaders in other parts of the world constantly challenged my interpretation of Scripture. For my doctoral thesis at Harvard, I wrote Shame and Honor in the Book of Esther. This was my first of many research projects intended to understand biblical theology “from the ground up.” I went on to write another commentary on Esther and then a Handbook for Hebrew Exegesis.
As annual professor at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in 2003-04, I engaged in anthropological interviews among the Bedouin tribes in Jordan, Sinai, and Israel. The exegetical work on biblical passages about spiritual shepherding led to the publication of Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible. Upon returning to the U.S. I began speaking at conferences and seminars on shepherd leadership, illustrating the talks with images of Bedouin herding practice. In each setting I observed a deep-seated hunger for leadership principles grounded in Scripture, understood within its cultural context. In response to this encouraging feedback, I packaged the images and insights into a richly illustrated forty-day journal entitled, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks: Reflections on Biblical Leadership. My most recent book explores seven central images of God and his people that run through the Bible: Architect, Artisan, Farmer, King, Warrior, Shepherd and Father. It is called Finding the Lost Images of God.
I am currently developing a convergent media curriculum for the seminary’s “BibleJourney” program. The rhythm of what we teach follows a pattern I now use in all of my Bible courses: In the Text, Behind the Text and In Front of the Text. My desire is that we all come face to face with Scripture first, then become competent in its cultural and historical world, and only then describe what God’s eternal Word means in our world.
I grew up in a Christian home in the suburban North Shore of Boston. I attended Christian schools and a Bible-believing church and was blessed with constant exposure to Scripture and missions. In school, I played sports and was active in student government and various ministries. During the summers, I worked in landscaping, house painting and in my father’s machine shop.
Wheaton College opened up a broader Christian world and worldview. While pursuing Bible and Social Science majors I was actively engaged at Bethany Chapel (Brethren) and paid the bills by working at a machine shop. Two highlights of college took place away from Wheaton. One was a sophomore year at Salem State College back in Massachusetts. There I witnessed a wonderful spiritual revival that included the new birth of my wife-to-be, Maureen. Another life changing experience was the Wheaton-in-Israel program. As my first fully cross-cultural experience (including Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy and travels throughout Western Europe), my eyes were opened to both the cultural context of the Bible and the various cultures in which Christianity has taken root.
As a college graduate, I returned to participate in Countryside Bible Chapel, another Brethren assembly in Lexington, Massachusetts. I took up work as a carpenter and helped lead the youth group. Maureen and I were married in 1981 and were sent as short-term missionaries to Greece in the summer of 1983. This was one of many cross-cultural ministry opportunities that God opened for us in our colorful life together. Maureen first worked in an Armenian pre-school and then in an urban day care with refugee children from Southeast Asia.
Maureen began her MA in Religious Education at Gordon-Conwell Seminary (GCTS) when we returned from Greece. I soon enrolled in the MDiv program. When she graduated in 1984, we set off for a year of study in Israel at the Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). I couldn’t get enough of my studies in geography, history, archaeology and Bible. I pursued independent research in biblical imagery and culture and was a teaching assistant on student field trips. Maureen taught a class of children from around the world at the Anglican School that memorable year.
When we concluded our year in Israel, we took nine months going home “the long way” – that is east through Asia. The memories of how God led us and supplied our needs during that year are forever etched in our minds. We served and travelled through over twelve countries, ending up teaching ESL in Osaka, Japan for our last two months. While there, God opened the door for us to return to the US and manage the International Fellowship House (IFH) in Boston. For the next five years we lived with 20-25 students from around the world who were studying at Boston’s fine educational institutions. We provided food and field trips and many occasions to see the gospel lived out. Maureen, meanwhile, was working with World Learning, an organization that brought Au pairs to families in the US. We often mixed our international students and Au pairs in our global “extended family” which now included our first two children, Aaron and Jesse.
After finishing my MDiv at GCTS, the door opened at Brandeis University where I began my PhD. A year later I transferred to Harvard where I spend the remaining six years finishing a ThD in Old Testament. We lived in Brookline (part of Boston) during those years. While studying, I was also a building manager for a community of elderly Eastern European immigrants living in welfare housing. We had our third child, Adrienne, there and found a way to manage life in 650 square feet, surrounded yet again by a global village.
In 1997 we moved to Charlotte where I was offered a position at GCTS-Charlotte. I began teaching Old Testament and launched the Urban Ministry Program. Maureen continued working with World Learning, but a new interest emerged in our life outside of the seminary. We launched Union Academy (UA), a charter school of character, in 2000. Maureen worked at the school and I chaired the board for its first few years. Two of our children went to UA and Adrienne was among the first to go from 1st to 12th grade.
In 2003 we went back to Israel, this time with two children, Jesse and Adrienne. There I researched shepherds from antiquity through the present, laying the foundation for subsequent years during which I wrote two books on spiritual shepherding and began the speaking and blogging ministry of ShepherdLeader.com. Maureen began the ministry of TruthGirl during these years and we continue to enjoy building relationships in the context of these two ministries.
In 2008 we were engaged in short-term missions in Africa when a call came to serve as dean of the Charlotte campus of GCTS. We have since become increasingly involved in the many ministries and relationships of the seminary, including the BibleJourney program which I started in 2010 and Maureen’s current teaching in the Theological ESL program. We love watching all that God is doing in the lives of our students and alumni. The campus is expanding its size and vision every year!
As of 2013, we officially empty-nested (although we hear that this can be a temporary state). Aaron is in Tampa, Jesse is in Boston and Adrienne is finishing up at Chapel Hill. We look forward to continuing a life that keeps getting richer in relationships, and ministry that opens up more opportunities for biblical truth both in the Church and in the world. We especially love watching our children grow up and enjoy relating to them as young adults.