J.T. English hears it all the time: “We live in a post-truth world.” That’s true, he says, but we have to resist the temptation to assume the church is a post-truth church. Such a thing is impossible. The church is set apart and committed to the truth — particularly the truth of God’s Word — and it is defined by its hunger and thirst for it.
During his college years, English heard the gospel through Campus Crusade and quickly had a desire to know more about the God who had saved him and the Bible God had inspired. He approached his pastor about his desire to grow more in his knowledge and application of the word of God, and his pastor encouraged him to pursue theological education.
English’s pursuit of a richer understanding of the Bible led him eventually to Southern Seminary. Two components drew him to Southern, he says. The first was Southern Seminary’s commitment to biblical truth. This aspect of Southern is what he considers most valuable in his own ministry. “I didn’t want to be shaped by an unrooted theological institution.” Southern Seminary is driven by unwavering, resolute, and Spirit-led convictions regarding the timeless truth of God’s Word and the church’s need for it.
“The local church is starving for theologically grounded leaders, and Southern is the premier place to train them.”
The second was the faculty who teach at Southern. With how often he teaches at the Village Church, English has especially benefited from Southern’s rich and diverse teaching faculty, he said. If he had not had the opportunity to watch the faculty at Southern teach every day, English says he “literally could not do [his] job” today. One faculty member in particular made English want to pursue his Doctorate of Philosophy at Southern: Gregg Allison. The two met at the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, where English expressed interest in Allison’s research. Soon, English found in Allison not only an academic from whom he could learn – Allison was someone he wanted to emulate.
“It was clear fairly quickly that he and I could not only have a good academic relationship; he was somebody I wanted to be like,” English said. “He was someone whose virtues I wanted to embody – his love for the lost, his love for the church, and his love for his family. I didn’t want to just learn about the Bible from him; I wanted to learn Christian maturity from him.”
As his doctoral studies drew to an end in 2014, English became the executive director of the Village Church Institute, a theological training program that focuses on equipping church members with the mental and spiritual tools to encourage their growth as disciples. The last five years have reminded him of how deeply important theological education is for church members and pastors alike, as they continue down the path of greater Christlikeness.
“There is often a distancing between the life of the academy and the life of the church. But what is clear is that theology matters for everyday life. A deeper understanding of the faith should fuel a greater love for the Lord, leading to a life lived to his glory. The challenge for me is to serve as a translator, helping to stand in the gap between the robust work going on in our seminaries and the every-day lives of our church members.”
After five years at the Village Church Institute, English has reflected significantly on his time as a Ph.D. student at Southern. English’s advice to seminary students preparing to enter ministry in whatever way God has called them reflects the same unwavering commitment to the gospel that first drew him to Southern almost ten years ago: “Don’t follow the latest Christian fad; preach Christ and him crucified.” So much of our current moment is shaped by whatever happens to be popular, he said; remember that your calling is to be a minister, “servant,” of the Word of God to the people of God.
“The local church is starving for theologically grounded leaders, and Southern is the premier place to train them,” English said. “The most practical thing you can give yourself to in ministry is the truth of God’s Word.”