Academics as Global Missions

Last year in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Keith Campell issued a challenge to the North American evangelical academy (see “The American Evangelical Academy and the World: A Challenge to Practice More Globally,” in PDF below). If we really care about global missions and believe in the power of biblical education to transform lives, he argues, why don’t we make it easier for those who wish to teach at academic institutions overseas (Christian and secular) to do so?

Campbell wants seminaries and denominations to develop more of a global mindset and begin training their talented pupils with overseas teaching in mind. Given the excessive supply and waning demand for biblical educators in North America (a trend I’ve highlighed here, with links), these institutions should be thinking globally:

To meet this global need, I suggest that those entering (and some who are already in) American evangelical scholarship reassess their vocational goals. As implied above, the traditional vocational track for most aspiring American scholars is Bachelors—Masters—Ph.D.—teaching position in the U.S. A more theologically consistent vocational track, based on the missional heartbeat of Jesus in the Great Commission and based on the global need just discussed, is Bachelors—Masters—Ph.D.—teaching position in a strategically global location. Theologians have long argued for believers to practice their vocations missionally. Those who serve in the disciplines of evangelical academic life, wherein a thorough understanding of biblical missions is assumed, should be first to practice their disciplines globally. (342)

Obviously, going overseas doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years of training, support-raising, and lifestyle adjustments:

More practically…in order to practice their disciplines more globally budding evangelical scholars should plan early by structuring their lives and education towards these ends. Moving and living abroad rarely occurs quickly, easily, or without significant sacrifice; often, mountains of obstacles stand in the path. To navigate this terrain as efficiently as possible we should plan our savings, property ownership, marriage relationships, and debt wisely within a long-term agenda of serving globally….In essence, up and coming scholars who want to contribute to the world’s broader academic communities will be wise to plan earlier rather than later. (349-350)

Financially, Corrie and I have worked diligently over the last eight years (since college) to remove as many obstacles as possible to whatever calling God might have for us.

  • We have also been blessed by gifts and support from family, and with good health. Corrie’s parents committed to paying for her university studies, but Corrie worked very hard to earn substantial scholarships. Her parents have provided innumerable gifts that have benefited us financially: letting us live with them for several months; watching the kids while Corrie teaches lessons; letting us do laundry for free; letting us piggy-back on their cell-phone plan so that our bill is only $30/month; letting us use a spare car; and too many more to list.
  • In decades past, missions organizations would not consider candidates who had any debt, even student debt. Today, most organizations recognize that student debt (unfortunately) accompanies nearly all sorts of academic preparation for ministry. Currently, we have no debt except for $9,000 remaining on seminary loans. We have never paid interest on a credit card bill or a car purchase.
  • We paid for my graduate studies at Stellenbosch–MTh, PhD, four trips to South Africa, including one vacation for just the two of us after my master’s defense–out of pocket (or with credit-card points!).
  • We have never had cable/satellite TV–not only to save money, but also because I would not have finished my thesis and dissertation with sports perpetually available on TV!
  • We don’t own a house. Renting has prevented us from worrying about repairs and other homeowner’s expenses.
  • I have diligently (though sometimes ruefully) resold books that I used in seminary and graduate school, keeping our expenses down and my library relatively small and portable. Living within driving distance of Westminster and Princeton Seminaries has helped with this tremendously.
  • My job in pharma has a generous benefits package that has allowed us to build up retirement savings that are quite decent for a thirty-year-old couple. Family members have contributed very generously to our children’s college savings. So, we can afford to a couple of years without contributing to these important savings plans.

We are grateful to God for His many financial blessings. We feel that it is important for those who sacrifice to support us financially to see that we ourselves have been financially responsible and made sacrifices. We celebrate our “portability” that has allowed us to consider this transition in a relatively short period of time.

We also feel that teaching at LCC is a good “investment” in God’s Kingdom for us and for our supporters. LCC is providing housing and a few other expenses, so our portion is only 60%. LCC is an established ministry, which provides a great deal of continuity–if something were to happen to us, or if our finances collapsed and we had to come home after one or two years, the ministry would go on, and our contribution would “count.”

As many challenges as there are to packing up and moving to a small apartment in Eastern Europe, I compare our situation to those of my friends and acquaintances, and I ask, “If not us, than who?”

Thank you for your prayers and support. Campbell concludes his article:

In paying the price to leave the crowded corridors of evangelical scholarship in the U.S., I think that scholars will satisfyingly resonate with a quote traditionally attributed to John Keith Falconer, nineteenth-century missionary to Yemen: ‘I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land of darkness than in one flooded with lights.’ (353)

Article: D. Keith Campbell, “The American Evangelical Academy and the World: A Challenge to Practice More Globally,” JETS 56 (2013): 337-353.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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2 Responses to Academics as Global Missions

  1. Pingback: The Surprising Truth about Why I’m Moving to Kensington | Kickin' It in Kensington

  2. Pingback: Best of 2014 | think hard, think well

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