Dig Deeper – An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Jason Hiles (Dean, COT)

The College of Theology seeks to encourage spiritual development amongst our students and modern scholars. The concept of “Moving Forward” was developed with a recognition towards relying on God as one’s source of strength despite the difficult circumstances that one might face.

An interview conducted with the Dean in the College of Theology, Dr. Jason Hiles, prompted the understanding of things offered through the pursuit of this relationship. See his responses below…

Tell us a little bit about yourself (i.e. hobbies, family, education, etc.)

I grew up in a small town just northwest of St. Louis, Missouri as the second of four children. My wife, Jennifer, and I began to date in high school and married before I completed my undergraduate degree. Initially, I attended an art institute in Milwaukee where I earned a degree in sculpture. While we were in Wisconsin I became deeply involved in the life of a small church where I was given the opportunity to teach, to serve in youth ministry, and eventually, to preach my first sermon. In time, I realized that God was leading me to prepare for ministry, so we moved to Texas and then North Carolina where I attended seminary.

 A lot has happened since our days in Wisconsin and in seminary. For instance, my oldest son, Seth, and my daughter, Olivia, were born during our time in Texas. Both of them started school in North Carolina before we transitioned to Central Louisiana where I was offered my first full-time academic position as an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology. My youngest son, Aiden, was born about a year after we arrived in Louisiana. During my second year on faculty, my supervisor began to recognize that I had some capacity for administrative leadership. Before the end of my second year, I was promoted to Division Chair. A few years later I was promoted to Associate Dean and given an exciting role in launching and developing a divinity school that served pastors throughout the state of Louisiana. After five years in Louisiana, I accepted my current position at GCU and moved our family into the Phoenix Valley where we have lived ever since.  

The Dean’s role can be time consuming so I don’t have any serious hobbies. I love to read and I still enjoy teaching, mostly in the local church, and I complete small art projects from time to time. Aiden is now a sixth grader so I tend to adopt hobbies that are enjoyable for the two of us to do together. He likes art but he also likes to build things in the garage, and he often needs my help. Over the summer we built a fancy dog house for his new puppy, Nala. He also built a desk for his room, which I helped him paint, and some bookshelves that his mother would not allow in the house. At this point he is into all things automotive so we spend a lot of weekends working on oil changes, tune ups, and other simple projects in the garage.

In what way(s) do you see the College of Theology (CWA, GCTS, BPP, & Undergraduate Studies) as “Moving Forward” during this season and the ones approaching?

GCU was in a strong position when the pandemic hit and was able to make some key adjustments that have helped all colleges to weather the challenges our entire country is currently facing. This has enabled the College of Theology and Seminary to move forward with respect to the delivery of our programs on the main campus and online. Contrary to national trends, enrollment within the college has increased on the ground campus due in part to the launch of the Barnabas Pastoral Program. The Center for Worship Arts continues to flourish and the talent on display in the new Canyon Worship 2020 album is amazing, to say the least. So, I have little to complain about in spite of the many challenges that we’ve faced as an organization since the start of the pandemic.

That said, I am finding that God is at work in this moment in ways that are more difficult to discern when we are going about business as usual. For example, the pace of life seems to have both changed and slowed significantly. In many cases people are working from home and at a distance from colleagues. This means that they are now closer to family for much of the day, but it also means that work takes longer to complete and separating work life and home life is presenting some unique challenges. The fact that in-person interactions are difficult and large gatherings are impossible has created a sense of longing for time with friends and colleagues. And it has slowed down the pace of new initiatives, shared projects, group meetings (which are now virtual events), and just about every other type of endeavor.

In many ways we now feel more alone and more isolated than we did before the pandemic. Modern Christians are not accustomed to the slowed pace or the distance that has become our new reality. Earlier Christians, on the other hand, have found great comfort and peace in moments of silence, rest, and occasional isolation. Indeed, many saints of the past longed for solitude and considered time apart from worldly endeavors and alone with God to be ideal for spiritual growth and development. I will confess that I am far too modern for my own good as far as this is concerned, but I can sense that God is working through these moments to reset my thinking and refocus my life and work on campus.   

It is not entirely clear to me what God is doing in this moment but it seems obvious to me that he has sovereignly permitted a series of disruptions to impede business as usual. It is as if he has pronounced, “Be still and know that I am God,” over much of the civilized world (Psalm 46:10). I suspect that many living in our day and age have led lives like Martha who was “anxious and troubled about many things” to the point that she neglected to slow down and spend meaningful time with the Lord (Luke 10:38-42).

Perhaps this season offers some divinely ordained opportunities for busy people like myself to slow down and spend more time in Jesus’ presence and less time completing tasks. Perhaps the same is true for the larger college of which I am a part. No one can be certain about what God will accomplish during this time but wisdom suggests that we should be sensitive to his guidance, especially in uncertain times when the future is unclear. I have often found that the moving forward with the right perspective sometimes requires us to stop moving and to start listening more attentively to the Lord.

After taking a look at instructors, students, alumni and church partners, how effective do you perceive the impact of this concept?

As the College of Theology and the broader Christian community move forward together, I think it is fair to say that we are all trying to live lives that matter before God. The Bible offers excellent guidance about what matters to God but we are not always as open to biblical guidance as we should be. For example, North American culture tends value productivity in ways that may cause us to believe that the things God cares about are easily quantified and measured. But I am skeptical about this.

I suspect that moving forward, from God’s perspective, would involve things like acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with Him (Micah 6:8) even those these things are hard to measure. In other words, I think that many American Christians, including myself, find it natural to believe that we are moving forward in our walk with the Lord when we complete tasks, host events, finalize projects, or see an increase in our ministry or influence. These things are measurable but they may have less impact from a Kingdom perspective than the ways the Bible suggests we ought to be moving forward.

I also suspect that God is working within the present pandemic to move us forward in areas that are of more eternal value from his perspective. Much of the work that I am normally involved in has been inhibited in one way or another, but I now find myself engaged in moments of prayer and solitude each day in ways that were not as common prior to the arrival of COVID. In other words, I think that God may be moving us forward by refocusing us on his goals rather than our own. That should be encouraging even if it is uncomfortable. If, in His wisdom, God works in these months to conform us more completely to the image of His Son then the disordering of our lives will not have been in vain. And perhaps the larger Christian ministry will enjoy unusually sweet fellowship and renewed submission to the goals and purposes of God once this crisis has evaded.

What resources/thoughts would you provide to those who are “Moving Forward” in their own lives?

My youngest son loves Legos but he has had a hard time developing the habit of daily Bible reading. Recently, as I was getting ready to leave the house for work, I asked him if he’d read anything that morning. As usual, he had forgotten so I asked him a simple question. When you get a new set of Legos and start dumping out all of the pieces on your mom’s kitchen table, how do you know how all of the different sizes, colors, and shapes fit together? As a “master builder” he was quick to respond that he could easily sort everything out by reading the instructions that come with each Lego set. I then explained that the various pieces of our lives are impossible to sort out when we don’t bother to refer to the instructions that God has provided. After all, who else could be consider the “Master builder” as far as human beings are concerned.

I’m not sure if my illustration seemed as brilliant to Aiden as it did to me but I do try to take this way of thinking to heart in my own life. As the pandemic has persisted and frustrations have increased, I have found that a regular diet of God’s Word has helped me to continue moving forward. Theological concepts tend to come fairly easily but working through some of the emotions that arise when things are not going as planned requires the sort of wisdom that God alone can offer.

The book of Hebrews has been particularly helpful to me as I have worked through recent challenges. The author makes a helpful reference to a “great cloud of witnesses” in chapter 12 which serves as a helpful reminder that we are not the first to endure difficulty in this life. A crowd of faithful saints has already completed their race and are now watching as we complete ours. In light of their examples, we are encouraged to “lay aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely.” We are also encouraged to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). For those who may be struggling to keep the big picture of all that God is doing in mind as we pass through this unusual season, I would recommend spending time in the book of Hebrews. This epistle has a way of encouraging faith and faithfulness that may be exactly what we need in a time like this. It has certainly been helpful to me as I have looked for a set of instructions to help me put together all the pieces of a life that has been temporarily disordered.  

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