The appointment of yet another White, male professor at an evangelical seminary is hardly headline worthy. Many Christian institutions of higher education are dominated by such men which leads to culturally lopsided learning. But anyone concerned about cultural awareness in the church should pay attention to Dr. Sean Michael Lucas’ tenure at RTS Jackson.
Dr. Lucas may be a new name to you, but he is not new to ministry or RTS. He is currently the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, MS and has been an adjunct professor at the seminary. Prior to that he served various roles at Covenant Theological Seminary like Chief Academic Officer and Professor of Church History. He has also authored several books including Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, On Being Presbyterian, and For a Continuing Church: The Beginnings of the Presbyterian Church in America (forthcoming).
You can read the official press release here.
Many professors have similar data on their resumes, but after taking a class from him this semester I’m convinced that Dr. Lucas will strive to escape the cultural captivity that pervades many seminary classrooms.
As an African American and a Christian with a passion for diversity in the church, I am optimistic about Dr. Lucas’ appointment for three reasons.
1) Dr. Lucas Teaches in a Core Subject Area
It’s sad to say, but there is a hierarchy in of academic disciplines in seminary. Certain subjects like Preaching, Missions, and Counseling (i.e. Practical Theology) are seen as “second tier” or less academic than others. And many of the Practical Theology classes are electives which means they’re viewed as non-essential. Courses in Systemic and Historical Theology, however, are required and they are perceived as more scholarly. Since Dr. Lucas teaches in a core discipline he will automatically get a fairer hearing when he mentions diversity.
2) Dr. Lucas Is a Member of the Majority
No one is surprised when a minority speaks up about diversity or culture. African Americans, in particular, can be dismissed as always talking about race. That’s why we need voices from the majority advocating for awareness and sensitivity. As a White male, Dr. Lucas may be able to dialogue with White students about cultural blind spots and privileges better than someone from the minority. When he brings up race, class, or culture he can speak from the perspective of someone who knows what it’s like to be in the majority.
3) Dr. Lucas Views History Through Culturally Inclusive Lenses
Look through the syllabi of most seminary courses and you won’t find many books by or about minorities. In fact, one of the most glaring deficiencies in Reformed seminary curricula is the lack of cultural diversity. I took Dr. Lucas’ History of Christianity class this past semester and I was surprised to find How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas C. Oden as one of the required readings. Not only was it required reading, but our longest writing assignment was a response to the book. Dr. Lucas also devoted a significant portion of class time to fielding questions and discussing reactions. Assignments like this one give seminary students an appreciation for the global and cross-cultural history of Christianity.
Let’s not put too much pressure on Dr. Lucas, or any single person for that matter, to broaden the cultural understanding of an entire institution. His job is to teach Church History. Yet, every professor has the opportunity to expose his or her students to racial, ethnic, cultural, and other forms of diversity. Indeed any teacher can use their platform to challenge assumptions and promote understanding between different peoples. My hope is that more Christian education institutions cultivate cross-cultural intentionality among personnel at all levels. Dr. Lucas’ appointment is a good sign that the RTS system is moving that direction.