As the only evangelical in his college’s Introduction to the Bible course, Jonathan Arnold found his beliefs challenged frequently in a class teaching the gospel from an extremely liberal point of view. While the hostile environment opened the door for him to share the gospel and participate in debates over major cultural issues, Arnold learned that grappling with these challenges inspired him to pursue academic scholarship with his evangelical convictions intact.
“I enjoyed having the opportunity to put the gospel in the spotlight and being able to defend the faith,” Arnold said about his experience at a Tennessee liberal arts college owned by the Southern Episcopal Diocese of the United States, but with no stringent religious affiliation. Of the some 1,300 students in attendance, approximately 45 were evangelical alongside two professors.
“This led me to a place where I realized, in this situation as well as several others, that the biblical scholarship these people were getting their hands on was usually not good evangelicalism and was definitely not good scholarship,” Arnold said. “This drove me to a place where I wanted to go on and do more academic work. Evangelicals don’t have to check their minds out at the door. We can do good scholarship and still be evangelical.”
That’s the message Arnold, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College, instills in his students: Checking your mind at the door is not an option. Whether students desire to pursue vocational ministry or just be a faithful witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the ability to think both soundly and biblically is a necessity.
“My heart is with students and trying to push them on to do even more excellent work academically, for themselves, but also for the world, whether that is professional academic work or just being able to think and engage the culture,” Arnold said. “Regardless of what level they want to do that at, being able to encourage students to think well and biblically and soundly is undoubtedly a highlight for me.”
Arnold was raised in a Christian home in Alexandria, Louisiana, and immersed in Baptist life from a young age. His father was a minister of education with training from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He professed faith in Christ and was baptized when he was 6 years old at Parkview Baptist Church and from that point forward had a vested interest in theology.
It was during his second semester of his freshman year in college that Arnold felt the Lord calling him to ministry. He became the leader of the Baptist Student Union at the university, which was the only evangelical student group on the campus. Seen often as the black sheep of the student body and faculty, the believers on campus were often belittled for their faith and Arnold says several of the believing faculty were forced out of the university.
“It was a place where we were really just able to do life together,” Arnold said. “We were outcasts to a certain degree. The campus was not an environment supportive of evangelicals, so we had to learn to support each other.”
Arnold continued his education at Dallas Theological Seminary with the plan of training for the pastorate, completing his Th.M. in Systematic Theology and Pastoral Leadership. Because of his passion for preaching, he saw pastoral training as the most natural and logical conclusion. However, one of his seminar classes rekindled the fire for further education. He then went on to the University of Oxford in England where he completed both his M.St. and D.Phil. in Ecclesiastical History.
Upon the completion of his education, Arnold accepted an opportunity to serve as a pastor in lower Michigan where he remained for several years before joining the faculty of Northland International University in Dunbar, Wisconsin, as vice president of student services and professor of theological studies. Upon the closing of Northland, Arnold accepted a position on faculty at Boyce College in August 2015.
“Part of what makes this faculty incredible is the fact that we are all interested in students,” Arnold said. “The faculty here is not just here to inculcate knowledge. You can get that at any college, but they are here to help you grow spiritually as well.”
Having moved nine times in their 14 years of marriage, Arnold and his wife, Lindsay, have grown to appreciate the necessity of flexibility in ministry. The couple and their four children, Nathaniel, Benjamin, Lukas, and Sadie, have not limited their ministry geographically and thus have had the opportunity for kingdom work on both sides of the Atlantic.
“I enjoy having the opportunity to help those who are preparing for ministry, whether that is vocational ministry or just living life as minister of the gospel or a follower of Christ in the secular world,” Arnold said.