To All My Students, Past & Present

The pre-semester faculty meetings have begun and I now enter into my 29th year of teaching American history in a Christian college. When you believe you have a specific calling from God to do something, you can do it regardless of the trials and obstacles that sometimes make you question the calling.

There was a time in the previous 28 years when I seriously considered going in a different direction, wondering if the calling had been withdrawn and God was pointing to a new path. That didn’t materialize, and here I am, still doing what I have always felt I should do to fulfill God’s purposes in my life and in the lives of those I teach.

I look back on the 28 years I’ve completed and am thankful for what has transpired. The trials fade, the obstacles have all been overcome, and what really matters is being obedient to the Lord, thereby, hopefully, helping students develop a greater understanding of history through Biblical eyes.

Nostalgia? Well, to some extent, yes. But it’s more than that. I maintain contact with hundreds of former and current students I’ve taught. Is it over the top to thank God for Facebook? I know the drawbacks of social media, but as with all technology, it depends on how one uses it. I would have lost touch with so many I’ve had the privilege to know.

I spent five years at Indiana Wesleyan University. That’s where my fulltime teaching began. It was a stretch to develop so many new courses all at once. American economic history? Me? I did it, though, and I think it went well. Political and cultural geography? How was that a history course? I made it into one, and learned a lot doing so.

To those IWU students with whom I still have ties, thank you for your eagerness to learn and the encouragement you offered when I needed it most. The Dead Historians Society will always be a fond memory, and I’ll never forget that little plaque with the quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “An ounce of truth outweighs the world.”

Periodically, I would invite students to our home for a time of fellowship and teaching, and they actually came, sometimes thirty at a time. What a blessing that was.

Then I spent seven years at Regent University, teaching at the masters’ level in the School of Government, offering the historical perspective on that subject. Again, I had to develop a lot of new courses, but it was a joy to do so. And teaching masters’ classes added depth to what I was able to offer.

My Regent students were of a different stripe, many leaving jobs to go back to school, seeking to engage the political field with their Christian faith, hoping to inject Biblical principles into an arena that often casts them aside.

My office was large enough to accommodate my advisees for weekly prayer meetings. The bond that was created with students over those seven years has never gone away, at least not in my heart. Cookouts and other gatherings at our house only helped cement that bond.

Taking students to nearby Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg was an annual treat. Those of you who accompanied me to Israel and Britain that one summer will never forget that trip (for reasons both wonderful and bizarre). Twice I took students to the Northeast, taking in as many key historic sites as time allowed.

Leaving Regent after those seven years wasn’t easy. I will never forget the good times there. For all of you who have stayed in touch, thank you.

Five years at Patrick Henry College followed. The majority of PHC students had been homeschooled and were more than ready for higher education. Seeing that kind of eagerness for learning at the undergraduate level is uncommon. I never had to wonder how to get the students’ attention in class; they were keen to point out when I might have messed up a date on my PowerPoint slides.

My Calvin and Hobbes comics were so appreciated that one year the students purchased the entire collection and presented it to me in chapel. There was the ongoing joke about men needing women to have families. If that doesn’t seem like a joke to you, just ask a PHC student for the inside story and how aliens fit into it.

I wish I could have stayed longer at PHC; my Facebook friends list is replete with PHC alumni. God bless you all.

Now I’m at Southeastern University and have been for eleven years. I’ve set a record for longevity here. Who would have guessed I could survive that long anywhere? This opportunity opened up quite surprisingly at just the right time. God always provides.

SEU students, I’m gratified to be able to teach you. Over these eleven years, I’ve again developed a number of new courses, and I’ve been given a free hand by the administration to do so. I was promoted to full professor and later awarded a sabbatical that led to the publication of my book on C. S. Lewis. I have been blessed.

My pledge to my current students is that I will continue to give you my all. I see each course I teach as part of that calling from God, and I will never give you second best. When I’m in the classroom, my passion for what I teach will be undiminished.

To all my students, past and present, I give you this pledge: I will remain faithful to the calling, to the principles found in God’s Word, and to integrity in all I do and say.

It’s not simply a quaint cliché when I say, “To God be the glory.” And may He truly be glorified through me as this new semester begins.

My Teaching Ministry–Part IV

After the Lord turned my heart around again, I sought to teach fulltime at a Christian university. During my adjunct stint at Regent—the same time the Lord spoke to me while driving the car (see last Friday’s post)—one of my students informed me that there was an opening for a history professor at the university where he had just received his undergraduate degree. Since he was impressed with my teaching, he opened the door by contacting the department chair. I applied and got the position. It was only later I learned that there had been approximately one hundred applicants. Truly, this was God providing a way back into what He had in store for me.

The institution was Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana, which was a recently transformed Bible college. My time there coincided with its first rapid expansion into a university. As the “newbie,” I got the daunting assignment of teaching World History, all in one semester. To be sure, the “world” was reduced primarily to Western Civilization. One can barely do justice to that in one semester. IWU was an open-admissions university, so this was my first experience with a roomful of students, many of whom had no idea why they were sitting there, and who also didn’t care to figure out why.

This was also the pre-computer-in-the-classroom era, so my options for getting their attention were more limited than they are today. I hadn’t even plumbed the depths of the overhead projector yet, let alone computer technology. None of the professors had personal computers at that time. I wrote on the board and I talked. Yet, surprisingly perhaps, most of those courses went pretty well. I continued to hone my ability to speak directly to students, not over their heads, and to incorporate a relaxed atmosphere with healthy doses of humor.

Thankfully, I was not limited to that one general education course, but also developed a number of upper-level American history courses. The lesson of keeping notebooks of what I had learned now came to my direct aid. I had notebooks for every course I had taken in my master’s and doctoral work, and used them extensively to create these new courses. One course, though, which was outside American history, was more of a stretch for me. I was tasked with teaching Political and Cultural Geography, which meant providing students with an overview of all the nations of the world and how their cultures and governments have influenced their development. It was in this course that I began to experiment more with visual aids, showing maps and making my first transparencies.

Periodically, on Sunday evenings, I would invite students to our home for Bible study and discussion. I came up with a fancy title for those evenings: The Snyder Institute for Advanced Theological and Governmental Studies. It was fun, and I believe the students enjoyed those hours we spent together.

In my fourth year at IWU, the student body voted me Professor of the Year, an honor that touched me deeply. It seemed to vindicate what the Lord had taught me: inspire students to love learning. Even though I wasn’t doing all that much technologically, apparently the substance of what I taught and, hopefully, the spirit in which I taught it, made the difference. It reinforced my belief that the direct connection between teacher and student is the most essential ingredient in education.

At one point, I was not going to receive another contract for the coming year. The most amazing thing happened: students throughout the university rallied to my side. They formed The Dead Historians Society to try to influence the administration on behalf of my tenure there. I’m not going to spend time on this blog detailing those kinds of problems. I prefer to emphasize the positive. For me, the big positive here was how students had responded overall to the ministry the Lord had given me. It was gratifying. My contract was renewed, but then the Lord opened another door later. A new phase of life was about to begin. That will be the subject of my remembrances tomorrow.

Reflections on This Life & the Next

The last paper is graded; the semester is over. That’s a good feeling. Breaks are always welcome, but I truly do live for the teaching ministry God has given me. I love the beginning of a school year, and there’s always something special about commencements.

This is Southeastern’s commencement this year; it occurred last Friday. For the first time we had to rent a larger facility to hold everyone. I’m on the stage in the distance, but don’t bother trying to find me. I’m a speck. Kind of provides some perspective. None of us are really that big and important, yet to God we were important enough for Him to come to earth in human form and die—that we might be united with Him. Astounding, really.

Teaching the students God gives me is normally not a chore, but a blessing, an opportunity. On days like today, when I can put another semester behind me, I sometimes reflect on the past twenty-two years as a professor. There have been some very bad times along the way, but not usually with the students. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve rejoiced that I have been entrusted with some part of their education.

Fulltime teaching started in 1989 at Indiana Wesleyan University. I had just earned my doctorate and was excited to be a new Ph.D. in my first faculty assignment. It also brought me back home to the Indiana where I had spent the first twenty-two years of my life. One year I was honored by the students voting me Professor of the Year, but what meant even more to me were the evenings when 20-30 of those students would come over to the house for the Snyder Institute for Advanced Conservative and Theological Studies. Yes, it sounds a little corny, but it was great.

Five years after my initiation as a professor, I moved to Virginia to take on a new responsibility, one that was even more enticing to me since it meant teaching at the graduate level. Regent University, in Virginia Beach, was my home for the next seven years. I have to admit that showing up for work each day at the building you see in this picture was, as students are inclined to say today, “totally awesome.”

Yet it wasn’t just the physical surroundings that made this time special. Again, it was the students. They came eager to be trained to go out into the government or into the private sector to influence government policy. The fond memories of those years will never recede.

Beginning in 2001, in the same month that my book on the Clinton impeachment was published, I took on a new task, teaching American history at Patrick Henry College. Once again, solid relationships were established with students, most of whom had been homeschooled for a significant portion of their lives. They were focused; they felt called by God. I’ll always remember being called to the front after chapel one day and being presented with the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, paid for by a collection taken up by the students. I wonder why they thought I would like that? Am I really someone who likes cartoons?

I’m sixty now. I’m taking the summer off from the classroom to spend more time with my wife who is undergoing chemotherapy to attack a very threatening cancer. At sixty, that’s what I want to do. I’m reminded of just how temporary this timeline is.

But the timeline that really matters is eternal. One of the nicest things about that eternal timeline is that we will spend it in His presence, and we’ll be sharing it with others who have chosen to be in His presence also. Many of those will be my former students. What began in this life continues in the next.

As the apostle John in the book of Revelation disclosed:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. … And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

All that I’ve experienced in this life, even the teaching ministry God has given me, has been a preparation for what is to come. He is the One who infuses what I do with meaning. Without Him, nothing I do has any value. I thank God for allowing me to carry out a part of His valuable work in this world.