Category Archives: PhD/MDiv

First Moments at Southern Seminary 2013

Originally in my August 14th, 2013 Journal

First moments at Southern Seminary [where we stayed for a year & I got my MDiv]

Now we’re in our new apartment (Springdale Apartment, #623) at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, KY. We drove all day yesterday (14.5 hrs) to get here. Getting out of OKC it was pouring rain, but after that we had mostly clear weather. We got here at 9:30 pm EST. We got our key & met our good friend from China, who was waiting for us with all the furniture he’d gathered for us in the U-Haul. He & I moved the furniture (bed, kitchen, table, sofa, leather chair) into our 2nd floor apartment. We finished around 11 pm local time. It was an exhausting day, but the Lord carried us through it. We’re excited to be in our new home.

Western vs. Chinese Theology

In my “Teaching across Cultures” class this week with Dr. Craig Ott, he had us read a book by Richard Nisbett from 2003. The crux of the book is that Westerners and Asians think differently because of their different ancient roots. Westerners were most highly influenced by the ancient Greek mindset, which is to make laws and formations for everything around them. Whereas, the Asians were most influenced by the ideas of Confucius, which do not put so much emphasis on making laws or explaining everything with air-tight rules.

Within the realm of theology, Western theologians always need to have air-tight explanations and arguments to explain everything from the Bible. Whereas, most non-Westerners (Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners, Hispanics) are not as concerned to make air-tight theological laws, but are able to accept the mysterious and paradoxical parts of the Bible (i.e. Calvinism vs. Free Will).

Thinking about these factors interested me greatly. I think about my best Chinese pastor friend, who leads a small house church in NW China. He knows all parts of the Bible incredibly well, as well as any Chinese person I know. However, he has never been one who is interested to discuss more debated theological topics that may be normal for Westerners to discuss. These debates just are not important for him.

A New Semester Starting…

Tomorrow morning I begin my summer semester.

It will be a busy summer semester, as I take 3 classes. For the 12 weeks of summer, for 6 of the 12 weeks I’ll have 3-4 hour intensive classes from 8:30-12, from Monday through Friday. So it’s gonna be busy.

As goes with the beginning of any semester, I have mixed feelings. I’m anxious about having such a big load and weary from school in general. I’m anxious about how my classes will go and how I will interact with my classmates and professors. I wonder if I will be able to handle another busy semester.

At the same time, I’m excited for the friendships that I develop through my classes. I’ll become close with some people I have never met up to this point. And of course I will learn a lot from my classes. These things may be valuable for me in the future, whether it helps me as a missions organization leader in China, or it helps me in just having a greater understanding of God and His people.

This semester my classes are:

Teaching across Cultures – Craig Ott

History of the Expansion of Christianity – Alice Ott

Anthropology for Mission and Evangelism – Darrell Whiteman [visiting prof]


I think of Ezra’s words: “Because the hand of the Lord was on me, I took courage and…” (Ezra 7:28)

my first full seminary class teaching

Today I finished my last co-teaching with Dr. Priest at TEDS for MDiv students.

Dr. Priest was out of town today so I taught the whole 3 hours 20 minutes class by myself. The previous 6 weeks I would lecture about 40 minutes each week. I tried to balance the students having discussion and me doing lecture. And I think that ended up happening.

What I covered during the last class was:
a) priority of missions<– also, how they can be involved in reaching the unreached now
b) discussion on Dr. Priest’s articles on short-term missions & other things about short-term missions
c) discussion on how churches use missions budget
d) challenges missionaries face
e) in small groups they chose people groups from & spent time reading their info & praying for them
f) reading & discussion about how they can minister in the most needy places in the U.S. & abroad: Quoted something I heard while at Southern Seminary: “80% of seminary graduates will minister in a place within 100 miles of where the wife’s parents live”

I was thankful for the opportunity to co-teach with Dr. Priest. The Lord pulled me through and I learned much from it.

Cramming Seminary Well

A couple days ago I did a guest blog post on the website Servants of Grace.

The article is titled ‘Cramming Seminary Well’. You can view the article here.


Or you can read the article here:

Certainly only through the Lord’s strength and grace to me, during one whole school year on-campus at Southern Seminary, I took a whopping 61 credit hours of class! How is this possible?

Still, now, I have no idea how all that happened. God’s mercy pulled me through.

During my first six months at Southern Seminary, I crammed seminary very poorly, which I go into detail more in an article on Desiring God. The first six months at Southern were one of the hardest periods in my life, which seemed like it would never end. But the second half of the school year, the Lord graciously guided me on how to cram seminary better. I didn’t slow down my course pace at any point but actually did better in my classes while still taking a huge load.

So why did I need to “cram” seminary at all in the first place? Before going to Louisville, KY for the ’13-’14 school year, we’d only planned to stay one year as a so-called seminary “break” from serving in China. I’d done some classes online beforehand and planned to take a light load at Southern for that year since I was doing a shorter Master’s degree [only 48 credit hours]. But during the summer before moving to Southern, I changed my mind and decided to do the M.DIV [94 total credit hours – usually spanning 3 or more years] instead of the M.A., so I knew I needed to cram tons of classes into that one year on-campus at Southern.

There were many painful points throughout the “cramming,” but here are some very valuable tips I learned along the way on how to “cram” better:

1) It’s important to take breaks in your life. Initially, I was studying Monday through Sunday, seven days a week, from 7 am – 10 pm each day. Don’t do that. You’ll just beat yourself to the ground. Thankfully I eventually adjusted from that brutal schedule to a much more manageable one – 7 am–5 pm, only Monday through Friday. I stopped studying at all on weekends or on weeknights. Taking rests is a way we refresh ourselves. If we don’t have such time for rest, we are constantly consumed by whatever we’re doing all the time, whether it’s schoolwork or work or something else. That means that thing becomes much greater to us than God, family, friends or our church.

I found that the most efficient studying for me was when I took regular breaks in my life. Even though I was studying much less than previously, I got as good of grades as before, although I was spending 15 or so fewer hours each week on schoolwork. A good practice we started doing is setting aside Saturdays as Family Days. We’d have a full, undistracted day together as a family, going out to parks or other places in the city. Even for the single folks, it’s good to have a few long breaks each week, to be doing something else than what you do all week.

2) On your holidays, be intentional not to study if possible. Take a small trip out of the city, or do something special with family or friends. Even if you decide to study during the break, make sure that you have as many days as you can in a row without any studies. When I studied at Southern, I didn’t have too long of a break in between the Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer terms. But even then, it’s good to take a few days off completely from schoolwork, and longer if possible.

3) Don’t try to work ahead significantly. I found that trying to do reading too far ahead of time doesn’t work out well. By the time I have that class a few weeks later, I will have forgotten most of what I tried to read in advance. Then I have to reread everything I already read. Or I end up failing a quiz about the material because I didn’t remember anything about it. And certainly, don’t try to begin coursework in one semester for a class in another semester. It was helpful for me not to have any of my coursework overlap from one semester to another semester. Have a clear end to one semester, take a break for as long as you can, and then begin the next semester.

4) Learn to speed-read. At least at Southern Seminary, Professors and Seminary Department heads themselves told us not to read every word of every page. This can save you tons of time. This is not valuable for just seminary, but just life in general. I found this especially true when I engaged in speed-reading as I was able to retain a much better idea long-term about the main things from the book. If you read every word meticulously, you may lose sight of the main points of the book. But there may be a few books that are of particular importance to you that you can read slower. These should be the exception, not the norm.

5) Plan your classes well. Do your best always to monitor which classes are offered when. Be on the ball with your classes. I’d suggest making an Excel chart showing all your classes for your degree, and then mark a checkmark under the semester you took that class. If you want to cram lots of courses into a short period, you have to each semester prioritize which classes are required that you need to take. And then think about electives you want to take if you’ve still got time in your schedule. You don’t want to be in a situation where you realize you need a class, but you didn’t take it when it was offered the year or two earlier, and it won’t be offered again before you had hoped to graduate. This can unnecessarily extend your seminary stay an extra semester.

6) Physical exercise. Make sure to have some regular physical exercise. This could be running a few times a week, or playing basketball, or swimming. It could be something as easy as a 20-minute daily pushups and sit-ups workout in your home. Even when the weather may be too cold to exercise outside, still have some way to continue exercising regularly [more than once a week] throughout the year. This will help your mind work better, it’ll also give you more energy, you’ll be able to sleep better, and you will physically be healthier and in better shape.

A couple of things to note in conclusion. During the year on-campus in Louisville, I didn’t have any job. My wife worked full-time, and my mother-in-law watched our daughter full-time. For those of you who work at all, it may be a different dynamic for you. But still many of these main principles still apply.

Also, many of these principles would not be useful just for seminary students, but also a high school or college student.

PhD Scholarship Offer

In December I sent in my PhD [Intercultural Studies] application to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [TEDS].

I thought probably only if I got a decent scholarship would I end up going there to do the PhD at all.

I really wasn’t expecting that to happen, & was happy to continue living in China.

But a few weeks ago I received an email from TEDS saying that I’d been offered the 2nd largest PhD scholarship they have, which covers 2/3 of the tuition for two years spent on-campus. And I must begin this fall.

I’ve had to pray for guidance on this over the past few weeks. It’s not what we planned, but it seems the Lord has opened a big door for us to do this.

After our two years in the U.S., we’d plan to return to NW China to continue in the ministry here.

“I know, O’ Lord, that a man’s life is not his own. It is not for man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23)

My Favorite Classes at Southern Seminary [Part 2]

Here are the five other classes that round out my top ten favorite classes taken in getting my MDiv at Southern Seminary [in no particular order]:

  1. Intro. to Christian Philosophy with Dr. Gregory Thornbury. A benefit of being at such a large and well-known seminary like Southern is that there are many visiting professors who come to teach intensive one-week classes during the winter and summer terms. Dr. Thornbury, who is president of the King’s College in New York City, is known for his hip clothes, his bow ties, and his rock guitar skills. He’s a great lecturer and an expert on culture and relating to modern culture.
  2. Intro. to Biblical Counseling with Dr. Stuart Scott. This was another class I took during a one week intensive for the summer term. Dr. Scott helped me so much on biblical counseling. He brought so much experience and wisdom into the class. It really helped me grow spiritually, and to be better equipped to lead a team in China. This was the only counseling class I took at Southern.
  3. Intercultural Church Planting with Dr. Jeff Walters. I really appreciated how Dr. Walters taught this class. It was a small class, so most of the class times were just discussion times with our classmates. One sweet thing about this class was that it was only about 15 or 20 students, and all of the students were those who had experience in missions or were interested to do missions. So it was one of my favorite classes at Southern. I appreciated that we could read and objectively discuss books that had recently been very popular in the missions world.
  4. Systematic Theology [online] with Dr. Gregg Allison. The reason this class was so monumental for me was because I had to write huge papers about many intense theological topics. The textbook was Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which cleared up many things for me in better understanding the Bible. Maybe this was the most beneficial and fundamental course for me biblically. Dr. Allison knows all about this subject as he’s been teaching it for many years. So he had lots to bring to the lectures.
  5. Survey of Christian Ethics with Dr. Kenneth Magnuson. The main reason this class is on the list is that I learned lots about different views that are relevant on current ethical topics. I’ve been surprised about how much I’ve thought about this class long after I finished it. Many topics have come up and been relevant in my life and in my ministry.

PhD Application Update

Well I took the MAT exam in Japan at the beginning of November. I studied for nearly two months for it and learned all kinds of random Trivial Pursuit knowledge through the help of my Kaplan study book.

The Lord pulled me through the exam, and I did well on it. I got a score of 447, which was good for 97th percentile among fellow testers. This was much higher than I expected.

I’ve applied to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [TEDS] to study the Intercultural Studies PhD there.

I should be hearing from them sometime in the next month or so.

My Favorite Classes at Southern Seminary [Part 1]

To commemorate my graduation from Southern Seminary last week I wanted to write ten of my favorite courses at Southern [in no particular order].

  1. Elementary Greek [online] with Dr. Rob Plummer. I took many online courses at Southern, and Plummer was the funniest online professor of them all. He’s the only one who could make Greek & Hermeneutics like comedy hour! His use of props, story-telling, etc. I’d regularly say to my wife, ‘Hey, you gotta come over here and see this!’
  2. New Testament Theology [online] with Dr. Tom Schreiner. I’ve read the New Testament many times obviously. But it was amazing how deep Dr. Schreiner could dig into various themes of the New Testament. With all of his popularity in books and at Southern, it was particularly great to see his humility and servanthood at Clifton Baptist Church and with the old ladies in our Sunday school class together.
  3. Personal Spiritual Disciplines [online] with Dr. Don Whitney. This was such a simple class and required for all MDiv students at Southern. But how important. A couple things that I particularly took away from this class was the simple ‘Pray-Read-Sing’ model we now use nightly for family devotionals; and Dr. Whitney reminding me of how precious my regular times of fasting in the past were and how I needed to return  to that
  4. History & Religion of Islam with Dr. Scott Bridger. I took 3 Islam classes with Dr. Bridger, but this was the only one of them I did on-campus. It was sweet to be in a class filled with students who had particular interest in the Muslim world. And Dr. Bridger could bring to the table his 12 years of experience living in the Middle East, and his extensive studies in Islam, the Quran, and the Muslim world.
  5. Business as Mission with Dr. Zane Pratt. This was a special conference course for the first Cross Conference in Louisville in Dec. ’13. Though Dr. Pratt was a full-time professor at Southern for a couple years, by the time I was there he was already gone. But he did teach this course, which as a conference course consisted of only a two hour lecture from him. The main things I learned through the course were through the required books and papers on a topic I was very interested in.

Reflection on Time at Southern Seminary & in Louisville

A few days ago I officially graduated from Southern Seminary [SBTS] in Louisville, KY.

I got an M.Div. in Missions with a focus in Islamic Studies.

As I’m still living in China, I wasn’t able to attend the graduation ceremony.

But I am greatly thankful for my time at Southern. I took some classes online beforehand, but most of the classes I took during my year living on-campus in the ’13-’14 school year. It was incredibly busy, but the Lord sustained me.

I’m thankful for everything I learned in my classes. I can’t say my theology changed significantly from going to Southern, but I can say that the broad range of classes I had to take for the M.Div. really gave me a much deeper and wider understanding of the Bible and Christianity and Missions.

I also made many friends there, particularly in our year living on campus. We also made many friends at Clifton Baptist Church, as I was a pastoral intern there during our year in Louisville. I was able to learn so much about Ecclesiology and church leadership through the many books read, papers written, discussions with other interns and pastors, and sitting in on the elders’ meetings twice per month.

All of the above things really made me further equipped in serving here in NW China and leading our small M organization here.

I really am thankful to the Lord for blessing me in that way and for many people at Southern and at Clifton investing in us.