As someone who found and was inspired by the gospel in an academic setting, Daniel M. Gurtner envisions a strengthened relationship between classroom and church at Southern Seminary, hoping to accomplish for his students what the academy did for him.
“I became a Christian in the classroom. I attended a Christian college — Grove City College — and got saved there,” said Gurtner. “I learned to study the Bible in the classroom. I was discipled in the classroom. For me, careful, close study of the Scripture and my walk with Christ have always been hand-in-hand.”
Gurtner joined the SBTS faculty in August 2016 as the Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation to teach Greek exegesis, textual criticism, and Second Temple Judaism — subjects close to his heart.
“I really press people to encounter the Word and the Lord well by studying the text first and foremost,” he said.
Gurtner discovered his passion for the Bible during his undergraduate years at Grove City College as a mathematics major. He continued his education by earning his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Gurtner would go on to earn his Th.M. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and receive his doctorate in New Testament from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland.
“[Attending seminary] was the biggest transition for me because I had never really thought about it before,” Gurtner said. “I wasn’t a Christian growing up and I never would have thought about going into seminary.”
Between his years of education and training Gurtner stepped away for two years to work in the pastorate — a move that proved integral to his vocation as an academic. According to Gurtner, it gave him a practical experience he’s since been able to pull from to better instruct his students.
“It certainly becomes relevant when we’re talking about how to apply texts to the little old lady in the nursing home — whom you’re not sure how she is before the Lord,” he said. “How do you speak to her?”
In 2005, Gurtner became a professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he taught until Southern’s board of trustees designated him to an endowed chair in spring 2016.
“Coming here was a bit of a surprise … I felt like I wasn’t really the type to fit in at Southern. I’m very conservative theologically, but I also do a lot of research outside typical Southern Baptist publications,” said Gurtner. “I came down here and taught a class on textual criticism and just fell in love with the place. Coming to Southern is allowing me to do a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do that I’ve never been able to do.”
A veteran of the academic field as both student and instructor, Gurtner believes a key difference between Southern and other institutions is its faculty and students’ commitment to Scripture.
“I really think that pastors should be trained rigorously to work hard in Greek, Hebrew, and exegesis, and be equipped to handle the Word of God in ministry — and I find that Southern students are really eager to do that,” he said.
This academic freedom allows Gurtner to bring his fields of research into to the classroom and equip expositors of God’s Word for the pulpit.
“A mentality that there is academic study of Scripture on one side and there’s pastoral ministry on the other is profoundly unbiblical,” Gurtner said. “Good thinking should be done for the church — even if it’s not done through sermons and Bible studies and things like that. It’s for the church. I love it when students go through here, get Ph.D.s, write books, and pastor. Some people in the academy may see that as a concession. I think it’s the best of both worlds.”
Gurtner hopes to continue bridging relationships between the ideas and people in high level of the academy with the gospel and the church.
“My burden here is to be someone who is an evangelical and do scholarship with people around the world at a high level,” Gurtner said. “I try to promote and encourage other evangelicals to get involved in that dialogue. Obviously, without compromising the beliefs or your principles, but really as a witness to unbelievers. There are people I get to talk to that I would never get to talk to if it weren’t for the fact that I’m doing the kind of research that I am. It’s my mission field.”
Gurtner and his wife, Beth, and their three children moved the summer of 2016 to Louisville, where they have been settling into Immanuel Baptist Church and adjusting to Gurtner’s new job at Southern.
“People here take the gospel seriously,” said Gurtner. “They take the Word of God really seriously. They’re willing to put in the hard work for it. That enables me to push a kind of academic rigor in the classroom that I think is required for effective pastoral ministry and is essential to handling the Word of God.”