FOREWORD


“President Felix Theonugraha: On Presidents, Pastors, and the Purpose of Seminaries”

09.21.2021  |  Season 3  |  Episode 3




SHOW NOTES

“President Felix Theonugraha: On Presidents, Pastors, and the Purpose of Seminaries”

In the third episode of the season, Dr. Michelle Knight and Dr. Fellipe do Vale sit down with President Felix Theonugraha of Western Theological Seminary and alumnus of the MDiv and PhD in Educational Studies at TEDS. Felix previously served as Dean of Students and VP of Student Life and University Ministries at TEDS.

Michelle and Fellipe engage Felix about his experiences as the President of a seminary—both the joys and the challenges. The inevitable complexities of leading during the pandemic are discussed, and Felix offers wise and compassionate insight. He also describes the journey into his current role, a path that involved both great hope and the recognition of the pressures of the task. From there, the conversation transitions from past to future as Felix lays out his hopes for the role of a seminary within the United States and throughout the world. Chief among them is the hope that the people who make up a seminary genuinely know God and see their education as an act of worship and spiritual formation. He also hopes that seminaries take seriously the global and racial diversity they ought to nurture. Questions of the relationship between strategies that have been good and worked in the past and those that need to change for the future are also broached.

Along the way, listeners will discover…

  • Which member of the Foreword crew is in a picture Felix has hanging in his house
  • Which TEDS professors have been most formative for Felix in thinking about institutional leadership
  • Of which club Michelle was the treasurer

To learn more about President Felix Theonugraha, visit his website bio, the President’s page at WTS (where you can find statements and interviews), or watch his talk from Mosaic at TEDS.

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Transcript

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Fellipe do Vale
[00:00:00] I’ve been told I look like the guy that plays the Hulk—Mark Ruffalo. And I actually lived in the town that he was born in.

Michelle Knight
I feel like…this feels like a trap right now.—

Do Vale
I know.

Knight
—Like I’m not really sure what to say. Do you want to look like him? Do you not want to look like him?

Do Vale
No…what I feel like people mean is before he transforms into the Hulk. So what people are—[LAUGHS]

Knight
I…right. Sure. [LAUGHTER] I didn’t think…that much was clear. Thank you, Fellipe.

Do Vale
[LAUGHS] So what they’re not telling me is, “Fellipe, you’re in such great shape—like the Hulk!”

Knight
Yeah.

Do Vale
They’re saying, “No, you look like the other guy who’s pretty useless on “The Avengers” until he gets angry.”

Knight
Kind of scruffy.

Do Vale
[LAUGHS] Yeah. Yeah.

Knight
That guy.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

Knight
Welcome to Foreword: A TEDS Faculty Podcast. I am Michelle Knight.

Do Vale
And I’m Fellipe do Vale.

Knight
Today, we are super excited to welcome Dr…nay, President Felix Theonugraha at Western Theological Seminary. Felix is a TEDS alum and former VP for student life here at TIU. Fellipe and I both had the pleasure of working with and learning from him when he was here on campus. So welcome, Felix. We are so glad you’re here with us.

Felix Theonugraha
Thank you. It’s a privilege for me to be here with you both.

Knight
[LAUGHS] It’s fun! I mean, while you’re not the first president to be on this podcast, you are certainly the first one to be on the podcast in this studio—

Do Vale
In the studio, yep.

Theonugraha
Nice!

Knight
—though you are technically not in the studio, which is perhaps for the best, because I’m just not sure all of your secret service agents could have fit in this small studio. So this is for the best.

Theonugraha
Right, right.

Do Vale
I mean, as president do you drive around with a barricade of cars—armed cars, and things like that, you know, black SUV’s I’m assuming?

Theonugraha
Yep!

Do Vale
Is that how it goes?

Theonugraha
You know, it’s my 2008 Toyota Sienna. [LAUGHTER]

Knight
It’s black, right? It’s black. It looks very professional. We were talking earlier—I’ve actually never been the president of anything. And as an achiever, just kind of by personality, as I look back on my life, I feel like I’ve failed. I was treasurer of the French Club and I feel like that’s important.

Do Vale
Yeah. I don’t feel like I’ve been a president.

Knight
But you were on Student Government here at TEDS.

Do Vale
That’s right. Yeah, so my experience with Felix is that I was the Vice President of Academics here at TEDS, which is probably the most dignified title I’ve ever had.

Knight
It’s very prestigious.

Do Vale
Yeah. Although I technically didn’t earn it. [LAUGHS] I just… my friend James just was like, “Hey, I’m going off to get married. Will you take over for me?” [LAUGHTER] And I said, “Sure!”

Knight
Yeah. And you assumed the throne.

Do Vale
That’s right. That’s right. I didn’t consolidate any power or anything, but it’s…yeah.

Theonugraha
I think you tried, Fellipe.

Do Vale
I did. I failed, actually. [LAUGHTER] I didn’t win.

Knight
That’s really hard.

Do Vale
But that’s ok. That’s ok. Somebody more qualified got it.

Knight
Do you have any excellent stories about Felix during those days?

Theonugraha
Oh dear.

Do Vale
Any old stories…well, I mean, Felix just revealed to me that he has a picture of me in his house.

Knight
Oh, well that’s lovely!

Do Vale
Do you want to share about that, Felix? [LAUGHTER]

Theonugraha
You know, yeah! It was fun. I mean, I got to work with the student government when I was the Dean of Students for TEDS. So I had you and Zachs Gaiya and Susie Sang and Yulee Lee over… I think for an end of the year celebration, so that was a lot of fun.

Do Vale
That’s right, yeah! It was fun.

Theonugraha
And so it’s the four of you—it’s two pictures, so maybe I can even send them to you. It’s a picture of you—the four of you—you know, sitting very nicely and posing in a very dignified way. [LAUGHTER] And I think the four of you tried to get up at the same time [DO VALE LAUGHS]—half collapsing into each other.

Do Vale
Oh my days.

Knight
That sounds right. That’s perfect.

Do Vale
That’s perfect, yeah.

Knight
I love that.

Do Vale
Oh, I’d love to see those. [KNIGHT LAUGHS] No, those were good times. Those were good times.

Theonugraha
Yeah, no it was a good time. And Michelle, I want to say even…you were one of those students that like, you didn’t get into enough trouble to make it into our office, but you were so accomplished academically—in terms of your passion for teaching—I mean, you were teaching Hebrew as a student—

Knight
That’s true.

Theonugraha
—if I’m remembering correctly. So… both you and Madison—

Knight
I don’t think ATS lets us do that anymore, but…

Theonugraha
[LAUGHS] They don’t let you do that anymore?

Knight
They don’t let us do that anymore.

Do Vale
You’ve got plenty of time to be the president of something.

Knight
Yeah, I’ll work toward it.

Do Vale
Do you know what you would want if you could be president of anything?

Knight
Well, actually, right at this moment, that sounds exhausting.

Do Vale
Yeah, yeah. [THEONUGRAHA LAUGHS]

Knight
Honestly.

Theonugraha
You could create something. I nominate you as the president of the Foreword hosts club.

Do Vale
Ooh. Wow.

Knight
I like it. I like where that’s going. I like it.

Do Vale
Alright, yeah. Well, with all of that joking aside, we generally want to know, Felix, what’s it like to be the president of a seminary? What are the challenges, the joys, how have you found it to be?

Theonugraha
[00:04:39] Yeah. That’s a great question. You know, I think it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been…it has brought me a lot of joy. It’s been really exciting to get to know a different institution, a school, that has a long denominational history. You know, having spent 17 years at Trinity, it was really exciting to see how God is at work in another part of the church. And so, coming here to Western Theological Seminary, getting to know the faculty, the staff, the students—what motivates them, what keeps them here, the passion that they bring to the task of teaching and learning…to meet just alumni all over the country and the world who have been formed at Western Theological Seminary and to continue to see how God is using them—it’s been a lot of fun.

Do Vale
That must be gratifying.

Theonugraha
And so, I feel myself year after—you know, with every passing year—just falling more in love with the school and the community here. So that’s been a lot of fun. I think that’s…I would say that’s probably the top joy of being the president of a school.

Do Vale
What have you found challenging? I mean, obviously you’ve been president at a very challenging time for many institutions. [KNIGHT LAUGHS] So you don’t have to get into those weeds if you don’t want, but obviously, there are things that you have to overcome. Have you—what kinds of things have you found so challenging about it and in the position?

Theonugraha
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think this might be a little bit of a cliché, but the pandemic certainly has thrown a wrench into everything, right? So it was March 13, 2020 when we gathered for our last day on campus, you know, in person. And we had chapel, and we’re walking out of chapel, and I remember a couple of students were in tears.

Do Vale
Wow.

Knight
Ohh.

Theonugraha
Like, they had figured out that this is not good and we may not be back for the rest of the semester.

Do Vale
Oh wow.

Theonugraha
And I remember going up to them, and going, “Hey, it’s ok. It’s going to be fine.” Like, “We’ll come back! And I’ll open the school for one day at the end of the semester so we can worship one more time..,” you know, “…if I have to.” And then, like, two weeks later, sending an email going, “Um, yeah, about that.” [LAUGHS] “Not only are we not able to come back; we’re postponing commencement,” you know? And I think that, I mean, that was a challenge that none of us saw coming, right? And so that first year—it really felt incomplete. I mean, we didn’t hold a commencement until this past May, and so it really took two years to feel like one full year kind of came together. And then, probably the other thing, you know, when I was in the interview process, I met with the search firm, and we were having dinner at a restaurant and at one point, I was just asking him, “What would it be like? What should I know about being a president of an institution if this were to continue?” And he said, “Give me a second.” And so he got up and walked around the table and stood behind me. And he said, “At some point in your presidency, you’re going to feel this.” And he put both his hands on my shoulders and just pushed really hard. And he was a strong guy. [LAUGHTER] And he just pushed down on my shoulders. And I was like, “Ohhhh!” You know? And he said, “You’re going to feel this way like you’ve never felt before.” And honestly, in that moment, I thought, “Oh, I’ve been in higher ed administration before—you know, 10+ years. I’ve gone through crises; I’ve gone through emergency situations. That’s not going to—I’m going to be familiar with that feeling.” And honestly, I wasn’t. There’s a different level of responsibility that you feel when you’re a president of a school, where you know that certain decisions are yours to make, whether it goes this way or that way. It ultimately comes down to you and what you decide, and everyone’s waiting for you to make the decision, and you know that whatever happens is going to be your responsibility. And that is a feeling that is hard to capture until you’ve been in it, you know?

Knight
You know what, Felix, as somebody who’s been kind of watching you lead from afar, it’s been really neat to see how you have handled that burden, and how you have grown in that role, and how you are serving that school so faithfully. So at least as outsiders, we are really impressed with your leadership and we are so grateful you’re there.

Theonugraha
Oh, thank you. That’s really kind.

Knight
Well, and, within that vein, I mean we were talking about you being a president, but how did you get here? What was it…how has God shaped you in your passions? What’s your story like? How do you get from where you began to being there at Western? We’d love to hear kind of how that developed.

Theonugraha
Sure. You know, I was telling my son the other day, when I was at TEDS—I think after my second year—my dad encouraged me to get a PhD. And it sounds like a stereotypically Asian dad thing to do, right? I’m like, “Dad, I’m not even done with my master’s, and you’re already onto this PhD thing!” [LAUGHTER] And I remember having a huge argument with him and basically making the case that you don’t need to have a PhD for the Lord to use you in a meaningful way in the church. I still believe that. But along the way, I started working at Trinity, and I ended up getting my PhD, and I look back at that, and I thought, “Wow, God was using my dad to kind of prepare me for something that was just not at all on my mind or on my heart.” And so in a lot of ways, my dad is an influence, and then also Trinity was a major factor. When I finished my MDiv, I was invited to apply for the Associate Dean of Students position, and up until that point, I sensed a deep call to pastoral ministry. I was planning to go back to California and serve as a pastor in the Chinese immigrant church for the English congregation. And so, when this opportunity came up, I thought, “This is not the calling that God has for me.” And Peter Cha—Dr. Peter Cha—was my advisor, and so I had to talk it over with him. And he used the analogy—I think it was Os Guinnes. He credited Os Guinness for coming up with the analogy of your life being like a train, and then God has given you gifts, but you will pull into different stations throughout your life. And so where and how those gifts are carried out can and will look different throughout your life. And so he asked me, “Will this role allow you to use your pastoral gifts?” And when you think about the role of Associate Dean of Students—Dean of Students—you know, in many ways, you’re a pastor. You’re providing pastoral care to students, right? And so that allowed me to make the connection, and I thought, “Oh, okay. Maybe this is how God is going to utilize the calling and the gifts that he has given to me.” And that started the journey into higher ed administration. I found out that I enjoyed it; I loved it. In the early days, I just loved being able to cut through the red tapes—the red tape for students, you know? Students come to my office, and they say “I’m experiencing this difficulty,” and I’m like “Let me just…this is so easy to fix. Let me just make three phone calls and resolve it for you,” you know?

Do Vale
We need people like you. [LAUGHS]

Theonugraha
So I think that was part of the fun in the beginning, and then over the years just realizing that, “Oh, institutions matter,” and, you know, we live in a time where institutions have… you know, are going through a rough patch because of integrity issues and maybe being motivated by expediency instead of continuing being mission-driven and what not. But institutions continue to shape us, and I sense that it’s a worthwhile calling to give my life to serving institutions. And so that’s what kind of led me to get a PhD and eventually to pursue a vocation in institutions.

Knight
That’s super cool.

Do Vale
[00:13:35] Yeah, well that’s actually a really nice segue into something that we would love to ask you about, which is a bit more of a bigger-picture question about institutions—specifically about seminaries. I mean, here you are, the president of a seminary, we work at a seminary—we’d love to hear more from you about…what do you think the role of a seminary is? And, maybe to make it a bit more narrow—more specific—what do you think the role of an American seminary—a seminary in the United States—is? But also, what do you envision—you’ve mentioned one of the joys of being president of Western is to see the global impact of your institution—what do you think the role of a seminary is globally-speaking as well? And do you see those two roles interacting with one another, and if so, how? You can take that in whatever direction you’d like. [KNIGHT LAUGHS]

Theonugraha
Yeah. Sure, yeah, that’s a long and… you know, that requires, like, hours of conversation. [LAUGHTER]

Do Vale
Yeah, for sure. For sure.

Theonugraha
[LAUGHS] Yeah. You know, I mean, I have some maybe, just, emerging thoughts about seminaries in general. I mean, there are so many people that have dedicated their lives to leading seminaries and working with seminaries, that I feel like I’m just trying to learn from them and their wisdom and stand on their shoulders. You know, I think one of the things that we have really tried to wrestle with here at Western is, “What can we do uniquely as a theological education institution that maybe a church or a non-profit organization can’t do?” Any way it comes down to is that we are an educational resource for the church. So, you know, while we care about forming students, about developing a deep discipleship life in our students, we have to do it with a particular attention to the fact that we are an educational institution—that we teach. And so we must do so with excellence and with passion. And so I think that’s, you know, I think that situates seminaries uniquely, kind of in the constellation of Christian ministries and church and the like. I think for us specifically, we have really honed in on the idea of formation. You know, we…and it’s a whole person formation—engaging the head, the heart, the hand—you know, loving the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and mind, right? I mean, that was part of my convocation address earlier this week, was that as a school—you know, we care about the formation of the whole person, but as a school, we want to pay particular attention to: what does it mean to “Love the Lord your God with all of your mind”? And so that means that approaching our teaching and learning as an act of worship—you know, from Proverbs 1 and 2. But also, you know, we had a faculty retreat last week, and our faculty had an inspired conversation about, “What does it mean to form our students through the classroom?” And I remember one of the faculty members saying, “When we teach, are we teaching with the awareness that we are teaching students about the God who is in the room?” And another faculty member said, “Can our teaching be an act of prayer? What does that look like? Does our teaching lead to mercy moments; moments of confession; moments of worship?” And I remember taking a class at Trinity, where it was a systematic theology class, and we would be listening to a lecture, and taking notes and everything like that, and all of a sudden, I was taking notes and I realized, “Oh, the professor just started praying!” I mean, he was just so moved by what he was teaching us, that he just started praying and praising God. And other times, he would break out into a hymn and he would just start singing in the middle of the class! [LAUGHTER] And it was such a good example and a reminder for me of what…how our study and our teaching and learning can be an act of worship as well. So, you know, we’re delving into that. Daniel Aleshire, who was the executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, just wrote this book, Beyond Profession, right?

Do Vale
Yes!

Knight
Yes!

Theonugraha
And so we read it as a leadership team, and he talked a lot about cultivating a knowledge of God, knowing God, but then also the relational, moral, ethical, affectional development that schools ought to focus on. Especially as we are entering…we are in this season when the moral failures and the compromised integrity of Christian leaders have led to a growing distrust of clergy and pastors in the United States. And so I think that’s a significant role that theological schools ought to engage with.

Knight
[00:18:52] Well, I just wanted to follow up if it’s alright. The kind of formative view of education that you’ve championed—and, as you said, we are actually reading that book around here too.

Theonugraha
Oh, good!

Knight
And I know ATS has started using—the Association of Theological Schools has started using this language of “formation” a little more prominently. I think it’s such a helpful move for us as we think about…it’s really easy to look at the seminary and say, “Maybe your time is done. What do you have to offer that YouTube, or the Internet, or this, that, and the other can offer?” And I think it’s been helpful for all of us to realize—there are some people for whom those other sources of learning are going to really be sufficient for what they need, but what a seminary really does uniquely offer is a moment for us to grow together and shape each other in a way that isn’t quite possible anywhere else, because you are formed in the church in a very special and important way, but when you are learning together in a seminary, that formation is a little bit different. And it’s a little bit more about forming your thought processes and forming the way that you ask questions and those sorts of things—and those are really difficult to replicate in other settings. And so I really feel like you’ve done a great job pinpointing what the seminary has to offer—a world, this world, the world that we are in.

Do Vale
Yeah. I love the image of loving God with your mind. That’s not something you usually think about—a place from which you love is your mind. Usually you associate “love” with art, emotions, and so forth. But I love that completeness that you’re trying to inculcate in your institution. That’s really lovely. I mean, what would you…you see so many good and encouraging things. Where would you like seminaries to go? You…I mean, if you could snap your fingers today, like Thanos in “The Avengers” or something like that, and something would change—

Knight
But not like Thanos. Don’t do it. Not like Thanos.

Do Vale
[LAUGHS] But maybe not like—yeah. Just the snapping bit. Not the other bit.

Theonugraha
[LAUGHS] Wipe out half of the entire population.

Do Vale
[LAUGHS] Yeah. If you had the Tesseract. What would you change? If you could inculcate something good instantly, what would it be?

Theonugraha
You know, Fellipe, if I can take a little detour—aren’t you the…you’re the big Marvel fan, aren’t you?

Do Vale
[00:21:14] I mean, I like a lot of things. I do like Marvel, yeah. I might not be the biggest, though. I’m not sure. [LAUGHS]

Knight
That’s not the first Marvel reference he’s made today, though, so I think you may be on to something, Felix.

Do Vale
I’ve been told I look like the guy that plays the Hulk—Mark Ruffalo. And I actually lived in the town that he was born in.

Knight
I feel like…this feels like a trap right now.—

Do Vale
I know.

Knight
—Like I’m not really sure what to say. Do you want to look like him? Do you not want to look like him?

Do Vale
No…what I feel like people mean is before he transforms into the Hulk. So what people are—[LAUGHS]

Knight
I…right. Sure. [LAUGHTER] I didn’t think…that much was clear. Thank you, Fellipe.

Do Vale
[LAUGHS] So what they’re not telling me is, “Fellipe, you’re in such great shape—like the Hulk!”

Knight
Yeah.

Do Vale
They’re saying, “No, you look like the other guy who’s pretty useless on “The Avengers” until he gets angry.”

Knight
Kind of scruffy.

Do Vale
[LAUGHS] Yeah. Yeah.

Knight
That guy. [LAUGHTER]

Do Vale
[LAUGHS] Anyways.

Theonugraha
[LAUGHS] Alright, sorry about that detour—[LAUGHTER]

Knight
Yeah—finger snapping—No…those are allowed. That’s fine. [LAUGHTER]

Theonugraha
Um…yeah, I…that’s a really thoughtful question. I feel like we’re in this season where the name of Christ and the church has fallen to disrepute. You can’t go more than a few days without hearing about some kind of a dysfunction or pastors who have abused or misused their authority, power—stories of immorality that have come out. And so one of the things that we have really wrestled with at Western—you know, we kind of spent some time this summer just engaging with various churches, denominations, networks, and to just ask them, “What is God doing in your neck of the woods—in your denomination; your organization—and what do you desire for future pastors?” And I think there were two themes that emerged: One, is to expand our imagination on healthy ministry. I think up until this point. I think for a lot of times—and not for everyone, but I think in the broader Christian culture—we assess healthy or successful ministry with the size of the building, the number of people in the pews—in the chairs—maybe the quality of excitement of the worship services, the number of influencers—the number of followers you may have on Twitter—

Knight
Absolutely.

Theonugraha
—the number of networks you have on YouTube and what not, and what kind of conferences you get invited to speak in, right—speak at. And those are great and wonderful. But that’s not the end-all-be-all of what a healthy, faithful—maybe even successful—ministry looks like. And so we have really made a considered effort at Western to talk about “faithfulness” as kind of that…in that Eugene Peterson vision of “A long obedience in the same direction.”

Do Vale
Yes. That’s awesome.

Knight
I love that image. I love it. Yeah.

Theonugraha
Yeah, and—do you know your flock? Do you know God? You know, first and foremost, do you, yourself, know God? And as you stand in front of your congregation, inviting them into a relationship with God, are you the kind of person; are you the kind of pastor; are you the kind of woman; are you the kind of man that you, yourself, know God so that you can invite people into an experience with God that you—out of your own experience with God? And so resisting some of the ways that we label—or we want to measure—success, and just encouraging our students to be faithful to God and to the people that God has entrusted into your care. And that’s tough, because in our kind of data-driven world, it’s really hard to measure qualitative, spiritual growth.

Knight
Absolutely.

Do Vale
Right, yeah.

Theonugraha
You know what I mean?

Knight
Oh, totally. We try really hard. [LAUGHS]

Do Vale
Yeah. One hundred percent. One hundred percent.

Theonugraha
Yeah. It’s just much easier—even for a seminary, right? It’s just much easier to count, head count, number of students—number of countries that your students come from—and other things like that. But that’s just PR. How are our people growing as they…and how are we forming our students to help their congregations grow and go deeper in their discipleship? I think that’s one, and I think the other one is just, kind of in our conversations, is to expand the demographic of people that we think of when we think about ministers and Christian leaders. And that specifically has to do with diversity—the growing kind of racial-ethnic diversity in the United States. You think about access to theological education—

Do Vale
That’s big.

Theonugraha
—both for them, and, going back to your earlier question, Fellipe, in response to the global church. It’s no longer rising, it’s here.

Do Vale
Right. One hundred percent.

Theonugraha
[LAUGHS] It’s here. And what does it mean for us to ethically, and responsibly, and intentionally engage with the global church, and not simply repeat some of the old patterns of engagement when it comes to racial-ethnic minorities, but also as the presence of World Christianity around the world?

Knight
Yeah.

Do Vale
That’s terrific. That’s terrific.

Knight
Yeah. You’ve already started to explore some of the challenges that you are trying to address as you think about higher education—as you think about the seminary. But, even if we spoke beyond the seminary, and just as people who care for the local church in some capacity—whether we do this well or not, ideally, we are always anticipating what’s coming next. Because we’re not training…we’re very rarely training people to minister today. We are very frequently training people to minister in ten or fifteen years. And so you have the difficult job of anticipating and casting that vision for the future a little bit, and thinking ahead. And as you think ahead—and I recognize this is a very difficult question, and I’m not even sure I have a good answer to it. No, I’m sure I don’t have a good answer. That’s why you have your job and I have mine. [LAUGHTER] But, what challenges do you anticipate? I mean, you’ve already… again, you’ve already spoken to some, and so maybe we’ve gotten into this a little bit. But what challenges do you anticipate? What challenges do we need to be considering as we are helping people grow in whatever capacity within the worldwide church?

Theonugraha
[00:28:26] Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think one of the things I’ve learned is that as an administrator, you live within the realm of possibility. And I think, Michelle, you are absolutely right on. You just kind of think about, “Ok, there are all of these things that are happening, and what does it look like for us to be forming students for ministry for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years—and not for the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years?” Right? As great as that may be! And I think part of the difficulty is that those last 20, 30, 40, 50 years—they have been the cultural…they have been the forces, both culturally and within the church—ecclesiologically—that have formed us, shaped us, and developed…and formed our instincts, you know? So there almost…there needs to be an unlearning. And not to say that we have to become—not to say that all of those forces are deforming, because some of them are good and they should remain, but you almost have to become, develop, a kind of self awareness as individuals, but also as an institution, to say, “These are the things that have been really helpful. Let’s hang onto the essence, but let’s imagine what it will look like in these next few decades.” Because ultimately, we want to form and graduate students whose ministries can be sustainable in the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

Knight
Yes! It’s so hard.

Theonugraha
So…I have a little thing—I think that racial-ethnic diversity is a major issue. And when I talk about that—when we talk about that at Western—it’s not just simply about bringing more students of color to campus. It’s actually about preparing all of our students, because their ministry contexts—be it the church, in non-profit organizations, or be even in businesses, in law firms, in medical fields, wherever…in chaplaincy…whatever it is—they’ll be surrounded with a rapidly growing diverse community that would be very different than the context that they grew up in. And so talking about racial-ethnic diversity, and preparing students for a diverse ministry context, is something that is beneficial to all—not just students of color. And, you know, we feel that way about recruiting faculty of color, is that we have this Hispanic ministry program that’s growing by leaps and bounds, but we made the commitment as a school to say, “We don’t want this Hispanic ministry program to just simply be an appendage to the institution. We want the courses in our Spanish language—Hispanic ministry program—to be powered by our core faculty.” And that means that we hire professors who can teach in both programs. And that takes a commitment from the board to say, “Yes. Let’s make those kinds of changes.” And I’m glad that our board is supportive of that. I think when it comes to the world Christianity—the Global Church—I mean, Dr. Tite Tiénou…I mean, he is like my north star.

Knight
[LAUGHS] Ours too!

Theonugraha
Yeah. And you know, in that book…in the volume Globalizing Theology, you know, he wrote that first chapter—I think the phrase that has haunted me ever since I read it is the part where he talks about the posture of the West as…the posture as “purveyors of raw, exotic, intellectual material” from the rest of the world. And our posture—that we look at this exotic, intellectual material as “unsuitable for consumption until it has been thoroughly processed by the West.” And to me, I want…we need to be different. We need to say, “We acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is at work around the world, and the church is growing. People are coming to the Lord. What does it mean for us to listen—to dare understanding—of the Spirit’s work; of Scripture; of theology? Because they’re developing it out of their current, local contexts. And then maybe our understanding, 2000 years from now, is limited by our own location as well. And then we need to embrace the full breadth and depth of the witness of the global church.” So what does it mean to engage with that as equal partners, but maybe also as students through the global church, and learn from Christians from around the world?

Do Vale
[00:33:40] Yeah. What you’re saying there reminds me of what is said at the end of the book of Acts, where “the things pertaining to Christ were not done in a corner.” And so often we act as if they were not only done in a corner, but only in our corner, right? But what you’re describing seems so interesting because it expands, or it takes the fullness of the room, not just the corner. So that’s so encouraging.

Theonugraha
Yeah. Amen. [LAUGHTER] And I think the other thing, you know, probably the one that more recently has kind of—I don’t have the answer to this either—but I think the last 18 months with the pandemic, with the election and everything like that, just kind of the continuing…the growth of kind of “litmus test Christianity.” And there’s no end to that litmus test. I never thought that…I could have never envisioned masks or vaccines being a litmus test for whether you are a person of faith or a person of fear. And so I wrestle with that. One of the pieces of advice that I received earlier on is to never talk about politics, because you are bound to offend 50% of the people who are listening to you. [LAUGHTER]

Do Vale
Yeah. 50’s a good number. If you’re lucky, it’s only 50%, right?

Theonugraha
Right. And so our dean, Kristen Johnson, she’s written a lot about political discipleship. And we wondered that—actually, by not talking about politics, we have kind of abdicated our responsibility when it comes to political discipleship. And maybe we ought to talk about it a little more, so that we can actually be a factor in helping shape the imagination of Christians of the church when it comes to political engagement.

Knight
Yeah. Felix, that’s so helpful and inspiring. I’m so grateful. And I hate to do this to us, but I’m actually going to have to draw this to a close. I could talk to you about this for years, I think.

Do Vale
Yeah. Oh my gosh.

Knight
This has been so helpful, but, you know, the listeners—they stop listening after 30 minutes, and we’re past that [LAUGHTER]—

Theonugraha
Right. Totally get it.

Knight
—so we’ve got to wrap this up. [LAUGHS] I’m kidding. I didn’t mean to blame you, listeners. You guys are awesome. You’re so cool. [LAUGHTER] But, as we say, “That’s just the Foreword.” We are so glad that we could have Felix join us today on the podcast. Felix was a part of the MDiv program here, and then he did the educational studies PhD here at TEDS, which is a really awesome program. And Felix is a shining example of the amazing students we’ve had go through there and the amazing work they’re doing in the world. So thank you for making us look good, if I may. [LAUGHTER]

Do Vale
President, yeah! President!

Knight
[LAUGHS] But, seriously, thank you for your example of how you can use what you have done in a seminary setting and think creatively about how to serve the church, so thank you for that. So thank you, Felix, for being a part of this. We also want to go ahead and thank our producer, Curtis, for making us look good. And to Lauren, our graduate assistant, for tirelessly helping us put this all together. But especially, we want to thank you listeners for—and viewers!

Do Vale
Yeah!

Knight
And viewers for tuning in, for clicking on that link and joining us. We are so grateful that you care about TEDS, that you care about our alumni, that you care about God’s church, and that you are coming and listening and sharing in this conversation with us. So thank you. I’m Michelle Knight!

Do Vale
I’m Fellipe do Vale!

Knight
[LAUGHS] Thanks, guys!

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Outro
Foreword is a podcast hosted by faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The views expressed by the hosts and guests of Foreword do not necessarily represent the views of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can subscribe to our newest episodes on your preferred podcast app or at forewordpodcast.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook @forewordpodcast to get updates and additional links to content. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is located 25 miles north of Chicago, with extension sites across the country and online. Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning. You can find more information at teds.edu.

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