Steve Joh

Master of Divinity 2013

In December of 2012, after ten years of study, I completed my MA in Theology at Fuller. I did not plan on taking the maximum amount of time to finish. Especially in the entrepreneurial and technologically driven Silicon Valley, ten years is several lifetimes (or start-ups). However, because of a very busy life of ministry at a local church, and then a dating relationship that turned into a marriage that turned into a family with two young daughters, my time at Fuller stretched to cover most of my post-college life, the early stages of fatherhood, and becoming one of the pastors and leaders in my community. I've basically grown up as an adult at Fuller.

Fuller was instrumental in my becoming an adult in spiritual terms. I entered my 20s with a sense that there was something more to being a faithful follower of Jesus than getting people to church, being nice, and trying to believe something so that our sins were forgiven. My experience in college helped me own my faith, and allowed me to know that social justice and action were more than spiritual extra credit. But I was still a child, lacking a mature understanding of the whole story of the gospel.

Several pieces were there, but disjointed. I knew that the world was filled with pain, injustice, exploitation, hunger, and overwhelming despair and that someone should do something about it, but I did not know how that fit in a gospel concerned mostly with individualistic belief, forgiveness, and morality. I knew the story of Jesus and the cross, but I did not know how the story of Israel connected with it, aside from pithy character studies of Old Testament heroes and villains. I knew that God created the cosmos, but did not know how the material world mattered. I knew that the political world debated how to solve the big problems, but I did not know the politics of Jesus. I genuinely knew Jesus as a friend and savior, but I did not know how to follow him.

Fuller helped connect these dots, primarily through being unafraid to ask the hard questions with rigor and humility, being unafraid to confront the questions of the broader secular culture and academy, while also maintaining relational fidelity to Jesus. This process helped me reach a deeper, more faithful and less fragile reverence for the truth of the scriptures by pushing me to not be satisfied with shallow and aggressive answers to honest inquiries into the mystery and wonder of the world.

This narrative helped me see that seeking justice for the oppressed and exploited had shape, texture, and substance. No longer was it something nice to do that does not earn you salvation; it was a central piece of God's plan to bring all creation to rights, to make things new and afresh. God's love moved beyond amorphous sentimentality or philosophy and took on the shape and heft of the cross. Hope became physical and tangible, something I could eat and drink and share with those without enough to eat, or without economic systems to provide dignity, justice, and opportunity. Identification with the poor became more than an abstraction, and became the home my family lives in. Mission became more than a two-week trip, and instead became the center of my theology, my ministry, and my personal spirituality.

But this did not happen from just reading books or taking notes. I was very fortunate to move slowly through my seminary education, enrolled in classes while also working as a minister at my church. Mission, as it turns out, can't be learned in the classroom. It is not the sole possession of our minds or of our hands or of our hearts, nor is mission something that is individual. Without the mind, mission is directionless and even dangerous. Without the hands, mission never actually happens, and without the heart, it loses its soul. The mission of God happens when deep theology meets deep action and captures our hearts, and only perseveres when connected to community.

Fuller was important in helping me learn these lessons by providing me rigorous academic work, as well as assignments that encouraged me to experience the connection between word and deed and connecting that with rigorous thought and reflection. Fuller also gave me material and ideas to bring back to my community, which we could together use to help us grow and mature.

Now that I am finished, I am thankful I took so long to finish, and for the deep and patient integration of intellectual learning and real changes to my own values and lifestyle. If I had finished in less than a full decade, I'm not so sure the connection between head, hands, and heart would have been made. God taught me that while it can be painful at times, slow growth is sometimes better in that it is stronger and allows for more integration with community and action. Learning and growing have now become a lifestyle. While I'm done with my coursework, I have learned to never be done learning and living the good news of the kingdom. That is something that, at least for me, can only be learned slowly.

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