Interview with Sean Lucas

Article by   April 2008


1.      Sean, welcome to the ref21 blog. We've been looking forward to having you join us and now that you have, tell us a little about yourself.

 

Thanks, Derek. I'm glad to be part of the Ref21 band of bloggers. While most of my people are from the southwest corner of Virginia, my parents were the first to move away; as a result, I've lived a pretty peripatetic life (moving to St. Louis was my 12th major move; my wife and I have lived in 8 different addresses in nearly 15 years of marriage). Born outside of Philadelphia, I spent most of my growing up years moving up and down the I-95 corridor between New York City and Washington DC.

 

After a year at Liberty University, I transferred to Bob Jones University (where they enforced the rules better than at Liberty!); while there, I met my wife, Sara, sitting next to her in chapel. I finished an undergraduate degree in pastoral studies (1993) and then, while Sara finished college, continued on and received a MA in theology/church history (1994). While at BJU, I came to the doctrines of grace (long interesting story--Free Will Baptists play a role!); I also had my first apartment near Wade Hampton High School in Greenville.

 

Sara and I got married on the first day of 1994 and I worked for Child Evangelism Fellowship while I waited to see if I got into a PhD program. We moved to Philadelphia that August to begin the PhD at Westminster Seminary; two important things happened nearly as soon as I got there--I got a job at the seminary bookstore, which helped pay for my doctoral work (I eventually managed the bookstore for a couple of years); and I came under the influence of D. G. Hart, who impacted me far more than I will ever know.

 

My wife and I were still Baptists at that point, although I had hoped to become Presbyterian at that early date (my wife had different thoughts on the matter). In God's kindness, he led us to a Reformed Baptist church, a wonderful little fellowship of people who cared for us and allowed us to grow into the Reformed faith. As we began to have children (we have four children--three boys,10, 6, and 4; and a girl, 9), questions about infant baptism began to press on me. We continued to wrestle with these questions in Louisville, Kentucky, eventually finding our way to a local PCA church.

 

I was ordained as a PCA teaching elder in January 2003 and have served on the pastoral staffs of two churches, one in Louisville and the other in St. Louis. We came to St. Louis in 2004 to join the staff at Covenant Seminary; in God's providence, I became academic dean in 2007, having previously served as an associate dean and dean of faculty. I certainly never thought that I would be a seminary administrator (I wonder if Carl would say the same!); but I am very thankful for the opportunity to facilitate the growth and flourishing of our faculty, staff, and student body in this way.

 

2.      You teach at Covenant Seminary, and like Carl Trueman, you are also the Academic Dean (or Chief Academic Officer)! What exactly does a "Dean" do?

 

When I was hired as dean of faculty in 2006, our president, Bryan Chapell, wisely said to me that the number one job of a dean is to love the faculty. And that is my main job--to care for, love, and encourage the faculty. The best way I can do this is by facilitating their own professional growth, nurturing appropriate processes that utilize institutional resources to deal with problems and challenges, assisting them in streamlining administrative processes and handling administrative details, and ensuring that our work is handled in a professional manner. That is a lot of jargon--my number one job is love the faculty.

 

Beyond that, my job as Chief Academic Officer also includes overseeing all the curricular and co-curricular aspects of what the Seminary does--and so, all degree programs; accreditation issues; academic administration (planning, assessment, services); student services; academic resources (library, AV); continuing education (distance learning and lifelong learning): all are in the CAO's bailiwick. Thankfully, God has blessed the Seminary with incredibly gifted and talented people who are called, genuinely called, to these areas; it is my privilege to work with them and to help make them as successful as possible in what God has called them to do.

 

3.     You also teach church history. Could you give us a summary of why it is you think the study of church history is important?

 

I tell my students that if I am simply there to give them names, dates, and places, then we are utterly wasting our time--that is not what history is about and that is not what I am there to do. (I always stop and say that because many of them will face ordination exams during which the only thing the examiner knows to test them on are names, dates, and places, I have to make sure they know them as well.) Rather, the reason we have church history in the theological curriculum is to help them understand issues related to Christian identity: indeed, church history is the story about how Christians are.

 

In order to get at issues of identity, one must investigate beliefs, practices, and stories (and I talk about this in my book, On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories [2006]). Most students come into my class convinced that the only period that is truly important for their Christian identity--for the beliefs, practices, and stories which shape them Christianly--is their own moment in time (and maybe, possibly, the generation prior). The Kool-aid I sell them to drink is that their identity is tied to the beliefs and practices of people who lived thousands of years before--what Ignatius or Polycarp or Augustine or Aquinas or Calvin wrote, taught, lived, and practiced shapes their Christian identity today.

 

The image I use to get this across is the family album. Each of us has family albums with pictures of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins once removed on my mother's side. There are stories about these peoples that embed beliefs and practices and that help them make sense. Some of these stories may be suppressed, or painful, or even forgotten, but they still shape us more than we know--they represent deep-seated ways of viewing the world that have impacted us in positive or negative ways. In order to ferret some of this out, we must investigate those pictures, find out those stories, check out those beliefs and practices--and in so doing, we learn a little bit better who we are and what God has for us to do in this moment and in our places today.

 

However, it is not simply possible to do what our ancestors before us did; to drive the car that Uncle Jim drove or view the world the way Aunt Maybelle did. For one thing, the movement of history doesn't work that way; it is not possible to jump back upstream to a purer or more golden age, whether the 19th or 17th or 1st century. For another, we are in our own cultural moment or system in which our beliefs, practices, and stories are mixed up with our educational backgrounds, class differences, racial history, gender realities, geography, and much more. It is in our particular systems, in this moment, that the Word is to be enfleshed; and God has called us to do this, even with all the "limiting" factors of our particularity.

 

Sometimes there will be things that we do that contradict our glorious beliefs (one thinks here of proslavery defenses by orthodox Old School Presbyterian theologians); I call these "cultural blind spots." Part of the reason we study history is to see these cultural blind spots in others or to have historical figures shine their light on our blind spots--either way, we see ourselves a little more clearly, see our flaws and our possibilities more realistically. And the result of historical thinking--the cash value, if you will, for the student--is wisdom and insight for life and ministry.

 

Above all, we come to learn that every time and every human being is flawed, broken, sinful--except for one: Jesus is the only hero. As a result, we can look at historical figures sympathetically (because they are sinful humans like us) and critically (because they are sinful humans like us); the good they teach ultimately is a reflection of Christ himself. And we can have some measure of hope--because if Jesus can use messed-up people and churches from the past, then he can certainly use us today. To me, this is a major value for teaching church history to future ministers--to gain wisdom and insight into the present, yes; but above all, to have hope: the same God who has shown himself in mighty deeds through broken clay pots in the past can and will do it again in the present in the future.

 

4.      You have written some important things on Jonathan Edwards. Indeed, now that you and Steve Nichols are on this blog, are we to expect a lot of insights into the importance of Edwards?

 

Well, Steve is the Edwards expert; I tag along on his coat tails, although he has talked me into writing an Edwards book in the not-too-distant future. The people to whom I've dedicated the most time are Presbyterians in the American South. My first authored book was Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life (2005) and the book I'm working on right now is called For a Continuing Church: Southern Presbyterians and Fundamentalism, 1934-1974. And I'm interested in them/us for all the reasons that I just described: if you want to understand how cultural systems work, how religion functions within those systems, and how beliefs can be trumped by (and sometimes trump) politics, region, or cultural mores, then the American South provides a fascinating arena in which to work.

 

Even more, I'm interested in these people because I'm interested in us--in the Presbyterian Church in America. I'm interested in what God has called us to be and to do in this given movement in time. And the way to best see our way forward is often to look backward in a sympathetic and critical fashion. Most people think they understand "southern Presbyterianism" or the history of the PCA--but they really don't. I hope that my historical work helps to tell the stories that will assist this generation to forge a more workable and stable Presbyterian identity.

 

But as anyone who has read my own blog (http://seanmichaellucas.blogspot.com) knows--I'm a pretty unpredictable blogger. One day I'm liable to write about liberty of conscience and public worship; the next day on how historians do their work; and the following day on baseball. I even wrote stuff on aerosol cheese after Phillips and Trueman got into it on the Ref21 blog!

 

5.     Nichols and Trueman have questionable tastes in music. Do you?

 

Sadly, Trueman and I share a common appreciation for Bruce Springsteen (I've bought the last five albums the day each came out); the other day I did a talk at the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary on "My Father's House: Spiritual Yearning in the Music of Bruce Springsteen." I'm a big U2 fan as well (bought Boy when it first came out when I was 9 years old). I love country music (especially Alan Jackson) as well as bluegrass. My ringtones right now are "Song of the South" by Alabama and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynard Skynard (but maybe that is too much information!). My music tastes also tie in to my appreciation for NASCAR, but that is another story.

 

6.   If you were asked as to what you might think are the crucial issues facing the church today, how would you answer?

 

I think the number one issue facing the church today, as it is in every age, is this: will God's people genuinely delight in God in such a way that those around us will long to rejoice in God as well? Older southern Presbyterians used to say that the answer to the church's and the nation's ills was revival. While their conception of revival was probably objectionable and their focus on America's welfare was probably misplaced, their intuition was right: without renewed affections for God that cause us to delight in him and find our satisfaction in him and that will spill over in delight in God's people, creation, and calling, we can have doctrinal precision, hip and relevant churches, or profound cultural engagement--and nothing will happen. No one's lives will be changed. And so, we must be, in John Owen's words, "greedy for delight" in God. We must have the Word and Spirit, living and active in our hearts and lives, families and congregations.

 

Directly behind this in importance is this question: will younger people see Presbyterianism, not simply as a means for branding or credentialing, but as a biblical, and hence viable, identity for our postmodern world? I still cannot get over James Henley Thornwell's comment, "We shall, therefore, endeavor to do what has never yet been adequately done--bring out the energies of our Presbyterian system of government." Here we are, over 145 years after he wrote that comment, and we still have never seen the energies of Presbyterianism adequately brought to the fore. We still haven't figured out what it means to be a genuinely connectional church (which is the biblical way of affirming unity and particularity in an ecclesial fashion); how to do mission together rather than in a "hiddly-piddly" fashion; how to hold each other accountable not just for orthodoxy, but also for orthopraxy; and how to see the means of grace as God's genuine pattern for growing his church. I'd sure love to see all this stuff tried out once before the end of the world!

 

And yet, what I hope for is not Presbyterian sectarianism; rather, I hope for a real embrace of Presbyterianism that allows us to engage in meaningful ecumenical dialogue with others, born out of a real sense that we know who we are, what we believe and what God has called us to do. Being together for the Gospel is not accomplished by having "all the colors bleed into one" doctrinally or denominationally (to cop a line from Bono). Rather, meaningful conversation happens when I am deeply rooted in my own self-understanding, when you are the same, and when we can discuss meaningfully our similarities and differences with respect. And so, this gets to the third issue: how can we be Presbyterian and still seek and affirm "the one holy, catholic and apostolic church"? As Carl Trueman would tell us, there is no better place to cultivate Reformed catholicity than within the borders and boundaries of Reformed Orthodoxy. He is right, but we must make the case again and again, carefully and winsomely, persuading the rising generation that this is the case.

 

7.     And you are also a fan of the St Louis Cardinals! In my house its wall-to-wall Braves (not me, but my wife!). What is so special about baseball?

 

While some have tried to pull some sort of religious significance out of baseball (e.g. The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture, ed. by Christopher Evans and William Herzog II), and others have tried to find larger cultural significance in the game (e.g. A Great and Glorious Game: the Baseball Writings of A. Barlett Giamatti, ed. by David Halberstam and Kenneth S. Robson), I simply learned to love the game as a kid. During my sometimes stormy adolescent years, the only place I felt remotely normal and peaceful was standing on the mound, trying to strike batters out. When I was in graduate school, sitting in my Greenville, S.C., apartment and listening to the Braves on the radio kept me from feeling as lonely as I was during the long summer before Sara and I got married. And now, being in St. Louis, the best baseball town in America, following the Cardinals and listening to Mike Shannon on the radio makes the hot and hazy days here not seem so hard.

 

The best moment, though, was being at Game 5 of the 2006 World Series and going crazy when Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge to win the series for the Cards; and especially, seeing my son dance with everyone else in the stadium that night. Slightly behind that was giving Stan "the Man" Musial a "fist bump" at a local St. Louis restaurant (a great story; didn't wash my hand for a week!). And you can tell Phil Ryken (also a Cardinals fan) that one of my prized possessions in my office is a 1958 Stan Musial All-Star baseball card signed by the Man himself!

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