the weblog of Alan Knox

My PhD Mentor

Posted by on Mar 13, 2008 in blog links, community, discipleship, love, service | Comments Off

People often ask me why I decided to study for a PhD at SEBTS. There are many answers to that question. But one important factor regarding my decision to remain at Southeastern is my PhD mentor – my doktorvater. I was given some good advice about a year before I started my PhD studies. Someone told me to think about different schools and programs, but to also remember that your mentor will play a large role in your studies. Therefore, I was advised, pick a mentor whom you respect, with whom you can work, and who will be a good model.

My PhD mentor, Dave Black, fits that advice precisely – not merely in his academic work and his teaching, but also in his life. He constantly challenges me to live the new life that Christ has created within me. Consider this gem which he posted on his blog on Wednesday, March 12, at 5:44 pm:

In recent days I have been relating the intimate story of a pastor’s wife in Ethiopia. The scene is Addis Ababa, but it could be any city in the world. It is a case where one believer saw a need and did what she could – as a “layperson” – to help. I am absolutely convinced that had not Becky been an aggressive medical advocate for sister Aberesh, baby Nathan would be no more. Why go to so much trouble? The answer is found, I think, in the little letter of Philemon, which we studied today in New Testament class. Here Paul does something very simple, so simple in fact that it is easy to miss. He calls upon Philemon to act as a Christian. When we were worth nothing, God gave us everything. This is how God acts toward us, and we in turn are called upon to take that same attitude and exhibit it toward all men, even our enemies. The mark of a true believer, writes Paul to Philemon, is that his actions toward his fellow men are governed by the love of God poured out into his heart by the Holy Spirit. God has given every believer a new nature, one characterized by giving rather than getting, by love rather than hate, by selflessness rather than selfishness, by forgiveness rather than bitterness. Since this is true of all believers everywhere, it should be natural and normal for us to want to help each other. The family of God to which we belong includes all Christians of all ages, all levels of intelligence, all levels of social strata, all nationalities. We are all “fellow citizens with the saints,” and therefore we are called upon to demonstrate the reality of our oneness in Christ in tangible ways. “Bear one another’s burdens,” says Paul. “Place your shoulder beneath the burdens under which a fellow believer is groaning, whatever those burdens may be!” The reality of our unity in Christ makes inevitable and inescapable demands on us regardless of race, color, age, denomination, nationality, or political affiliation. Yet individualism has shattered our churches and our communities. How can I give up my job, my health, my ease, my family for the sake of others? Our oneness is organizational, occasional, and spasmodic. If any unity appears it tends toward the back-slapping variety of the country club. Paul was eager to remind Philemon that the church is nothing less than a community of love: Christ-in-me loving Christ-in-you. And for this love to be real it must issue forth in forgiving one another’s sins, bearing one another’s burdens, washing our brother’s feet, caring for our neighbor’s children, helping in the tiny incidents of everyday and the great emergencies of life. A heavy responsibility, then, lies on our shoulders.

The church today must deliberately move toward this type of Christianity. But only Christ can produce it. The danger of dwelling too long on “our” service is that we soon begin to speak as if we had done it by ourselves. We can be sure that we contributed nothing in comparison to what Christ has done for us. It is His wonderful and mysterious love that is at work in and through us. How much reason, then, to pray that God will turn our hearts to Him and set us free by His love to serve others.

As the drought makes me wish for rain, the clouds for the sun, the storms for the gentle winds, so my heart yearns for Thee, my Lord and my God!

And, this thought-provoking excerpt from his blog post on Thursday, March 13, at 8:20 am:

The genius of the Protestant Reformation lay in its struggle with the problem of justification in all its aspects. For the greatest question of life is the conversion of man and his reconciliation to God in Christ. But Protestantism, once it answered this question biblically, failed to press on to treat Christianity in its most radical form — the form presented in the New Testament. The Protestant teaching on justification, in emphasizing truth, sometimes leads to a neglect of the new life, life in the Spirit, life in Christ, life as Christ’s body. Koinonia takes on a superficial and rather suburban goodness — moral platitudes, covered dish fellowships, an occasional “mission trip” to the local nursing home or to a nearby state. The Christian life has become merely a fidelity to ethical prescriptions or participation in the multitudinous programs in our churches. There is little real sacrifice about it. Witnessing becomes a trite tract or a bumper sticker. Heb. 10:24 is cited to drive people back into church but not to encourage them to “provoke one another to love and good works.” Passive spectatorism becomes par for the course.

It is to the credit of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s (of which I was a part) and perhaps of the modern emerging church movement (of which I am not a part) that both sought to expose this hideous problem for all to see. There is a new generation and a new spirit at work today, and perhaps it will turn out to be the catalyst that will bring on our transformation from churchianity to a Christianity that is dedicated to the forceful living out of the life of Jesus in this world.

This is the kind of encouragement and admonishment that I – and all other believers – need! Plus, his teaching extends beyond the classroom, as he lives his life as an example for others, opening his home to visitors and spending his own time and money to serve our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. This is a very important distinction, because it is easy to think that scholarship is discipleship or that academic work is service.

If you are considering PhD work, I pray that God would provide a challenging, godly mentor for you as well.