A short conversation with John D. Wilsey
Why did you decide to pursue history as an academic discipline?
My earliest inspirations for the study of history were my grandfather and my freshman advisor at Furman University, Marian Strobel. My grandfather was a deeply Christian man who loved literature, history, art, and the outdoors. He died my junior year in college. I adored him as a boy and wanted to be just like him when I grew up. I still do. Dr. Strobel was the first academic I had ever known. I had originally wanted to study geology in college, but after receiving the fiery bolts hurled at me from upper level math and chemistry, I decided on history, my first love. Dr. Strobel was a wise advisor and a wonderful teacher. She still teaches at Furman and most recently has helped me with writing project on John Foster Dulles. She read every chapter draft and gave copious feedback in longhand.
Other than the Bible, what book do you re-read the most?
I don’t really have that singular book I go back to again and again — I have several. I love Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Russell Kirk’s The Roots of the American Order, Bruce Demarest’s The Cross and Salvation, Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory, Roderick Frazier Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind, Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Edmund Morgan’s three part biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Francis Parkman’s Battle for North America, the journals of Lewis and Clark, Augustine’s Confessions, Francis Paul Prucha’s The Sword of the Republic, and William Wordsworth. These, and many, many others, are the books that I enjoy rediscovering year after year.
What do you enjoy most about teaching at Southern Seminary?
My family and I have never been more at home anywhere than we have been at Southern. A wise friend told me when I started teaching nearly thirty years ago that “ministry is people.” The students I have come to know and love and my colleagues have made this place an earthly home. I love Southern because of the culture that has been cultivated here over the generations — a convictional culture, one that is focused on the glory of Christ, the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It’s also an academic culture where ideas are taken seriously, and specifically, a culture that values history and tradition in all the appropriate ways. To teach in this environment where these are all held in common among the students, faculty, and administration is the greatest privilege the Lord has ever bestowed on me.