Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Posts Tagged ‘David McCullough

Reflections on Seminary part 5

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There are 10 things I want to recommend and conclude with. I’ll try to be candid:

  1. Success in seminary and growth as a future pastor is directly related to your involvement in the local church during seminary. I can’t stress this enough. It is and will always be a blessing for many students to attend large churches with awesome preachers. But the average student (not every student) attends this type of church each Sunday with little or no involvement, even though their intention is to be a pastor. My suggestion is to get out, go to one of the many dying and struggling churches in your area, and just volunteer to do anything to serve that church. I’ve learned more about being a pastor from Mike Thompson’s example, a servant-leader at Kenwood, than anyone else. Though not a deacon or elder, he just serves people with the love of Christ, which flows out of his relationship with God and sincere desire to see the church grow. Pastors are forged in environments like this, watching and emulating the unsung heroes around them, and they will inevitably become better pastors in gaining solid, shepherd-like experience by serving and loving the brothers in local church settings.
  2. Seminary life is difficult and ever-changing, so be prepared for anything. For example, since I began seminary in August of 2005 I got married, became a diabetic, acted in a musical, moved from Virginia to Kentucky with no job, went through the agonizing process of finding steady income, was hired at Kenwood as Pastor of Worship, hiked through the Grand Canyon, became an uncle to two nieces and one nephew, sustained the impact of two pastors leaving Kenwood, preached and taught consistently for one year while taking classes, was rejected as senior pastor of Kenwood by a small margin (though not rejected as Pastor of Worship), found out that I had Celiac disease, was accepted at SBTS into the PhD program for OT studies, and graduated in May of 2009. Nuts! Take some time, then, to pray with your wife or loved ones about the trials and temptations you might face during seminary. If possible, encourage your home church to pray for you consistently during this time as well.
  3. On the flip side, seminary life is rewarding and life-changing. For instance, I learned a ton, had the privilege of preaching and teaching the Gospel at Kenwood, had the honor of sitting in class under some of the greatest evangelical scholars of our time, and was able to pay for tuition and books debt free. Through all of this I grew steadily as a Christian and my love for the Gospel and for the church is much greater than when I first arrived.
  4. Take as many Bible classes as possible, and intersperse practical ministry classes within them each semester. What I mean is to take Hebrew, Greek, Theology and Exegesis courses every semester while taking maybe one class like “Ministry of Leadership” or “Preaching” along side of them. This way you will be able to directly see the correlation between theology and the ministry of the local church. Also, if you have the time, sit in or audit a number of classes. As mentioned in a previous post, I audited something like 27 credit hours, which means that I got all the lectures and notes for classes and didn’t have to do the work. For me this was a engaging and fruitful academic experience. So do your best to make the most out of your time in seminary. Learn as much as you can.
  5. Take a break from reading theology to read great works of literature. Jenn and I even began reading novels together in the evening, like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and A Tale of Two Cities, and we loved it! On top of these I read a lot of Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment, The Double, The Gambler, Notes from Underground) and David McCullough (1776, John Adams, The Johnstown Flood, and currently reading Truman), both of whom are excellent and fun to read.
  6. Begin the languages early and never stop reading the Bible or you will get behind, which means that you will probably never catch up.
  7. Learn from the great ones. My favorite professors in seminary were Drs. Gentry, Garrett, Wellum, Pennington, and Fowler (from LU). Take Gentry for OT I-II and at least one exegesis class, Garrett for OT exegesis as well, Wellum for the Person of Christ and the Work of Christ, Pennington for NT I and Elementary Greek and Syntax, Fowler for anything at LU (he’s their hidden secret). These guys are Southern Seminary’s Augustine, Athanasius, and Calvin. While I learned more about pastoring/shepherding a congregation from Mike Thompon than any other person, I learned more about preaching from these classes and prof’s than any other in seminary, even though other classes were fun and helpful.
  8. Don’t forget where you came from. My family has continued to be so encouraging and loving during my time here. Both the Philpot’s and the McCarron’s have supported Jenn and I in our move to Louisville and work in the church, and are consistently helpful in all matters of relationships and spiritual health. Our gratitude to them extends beyond what we can say or write. “We give thanks to God always for you, mentioning you constantly in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:2-3).
  9. Don’t become reclusive. Make some friends and be social! We are blessed with many friends that are loving and encouraging. Noah and Brandy Lee have been so comforting and supportive during the trials at Kenwood; Randall and Bethany Breland as well. By God’s grace both families have joined Kenwood and serve so tirelessly for the work of the ministry. I have great admiration and respect for Dave Schrock, whom I met here at Southern. I want to be like him. Scott Windham has been a great friend from LU to remain in contact with, and he has always had an open ear. Scott and Angela Van Neste are true saints in the faith, who continue to pray and minister to Jenn and I through phone calls and visits. Although he has since left Kenwood for another ministry position, Michael Naaktgeboren is of the “best” kinds of friends, and over the last year or so I looked forward to our weekly meetings at BW3’s almost as much as Sunday! I’m greatly indebted to the friendship of Justin Petrochko, one of the few people that I enjoy talking with on the phone for long hours. He understands me well and has offered supportive and corrective counsel throughout seminary. He, like all of the friends here, are true brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re thankful for everyone, and pray that the Lord will continue to bless our friendship with a life-long quality.
  10. My final recommendation is simple – Love your wife. Honor her. Cherish her. Talk with her. Serve with her. Do not leave her out of the picture of your life at seminary. There is no way that I can possibly express my indebtedness, gratitude and love for my beautiful Jenn. She has been patient, enduring, hopeful, assuring, encouraging, committed, and loving, and I can’t thank her enough. We are such a bedraggled pair, cut and bruised by our own circumstances and ourselves, yet like Israel on the plains of Moab, God has so much in store for us, and as we approach year four of marriage, I can do nothing better than continue to say that I love her. I love her. I love her. Perhaps poetry might get the point across. In the words of greatest ancient poet, “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes” (Song of Songs 4:9). And you continue to captivate my heart.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 12, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Book Review: “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough

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510nve4ke9l_ss500_Perhaps no other author can lock me into a book so quickly than David McCullough. His moving biography of John Adams is a favorite of mine, as is the fast paced 1776, both of which I commend to anyone interested in the history of our nation. Of course, all of us know that a book should not be judged by its first few paragraphs, and to this I think McCullough would agree. I can think, however, of many books I’ve picked up recently where reading the first chapter is like walking through heavy mud. McCullough is not of this sort. As a historical novelist, he walks the reader into the story so that he may feel, taste, hear and see the world about which he reads. After trudging through three J-term courses this winter, I decided to read leisurely while waiting for my upcoming, and last, semester. I picked up McCullough’s first book, The Johnstown Flood, and instantly felt like a character in this incredible story.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania, located southeast of Pittsburgh, was a small but thriving factory town of about 30,000 citizens in 1889. The people were diverse, hardworking and content, typical of late 19th century American industrialism. Their town, however, sat at the fork of two rivers (the Stony Creek and Little Conemaugh) that overflow their banks every other spring when heavy rains drench the area. But since no one ever died there was never any attempt to control the waters up to that point, and the floods became commonplace. About 10-15 miles up the Little Conemaugh river was a resort for the Pittsburgh wealthy, which included a large lake upheld by a small, old dam built of stone. The dam contained a spillway which fed into the Little Conemaugh. Johnstown’s residents knew that if the dam were ever to break the flood waters would likely wipe out their town, yet they did nothing to secure the dam or assure that high water on the lake would not spill over. Numerous engineers and others suggested the dam be rebuilt or somehow stabilized, yet the Johnstown public repeatedly balked at the idea. After all, money was tight and resources costly. When the flood waters came year after year the dam continued to hold, which bolstered the confidence of Johnstown. But no one expected the the events of May 31st, for that flood wasn’t like any other. schultz

On May 30th a torrential downpour caused the lake at the dam to rise as much as one inch every ten minutes. Through the night the water at the crest of the dam rose from six feet to only two feet. The caretakers of the resort and dam knew that if the rain kept pouring Johnstown could be in for a natural disaster, so they wired to Johnstown hour after hour in an attempt to alert the citizens of a possible break at the dam. By morning of the 31st Johnstown was already partially flooded, about knee-high, which was a typical spring soaking. For them there was no reason to fear, so they went about their day as usual. After hearing the alerts about the dam, most chuckled at the prospect of a break. This concerned the caretakers of the resort, and a few even came down on horseback to alert the citizens themselves. However, only some in Johnstown fled to the hills, and most didn’t take notice. Most striking was the lack of attention given to the dam by Johnstown’s politicians, who likewise neglected to leave their own comfortable homes, let alone inform the public about an impending disaster. Yet about 2:50 P.M. the dam finally gave way and the waters rushed on, picking up trees, houses, debris, mud, rock and barbwire as it headed to Johnstown traveling 15 miles/hour. It was not a wave like those that crash into the Florida coast. Rather, it was a was a giant hill, 30-40 feet high of blackness, “a blur, an advance guard, as it were as mist, like dust that precedes a cavalry charge.” One onlooker described the wave as “a cloud of blackest smoke I ever saw.” Most impressionable was the terrible sound of the thing, and the ambivalence of those in Johnstown who neglected to leave the city. McCullough writes, “most of the people in Johnstown never saw the water coming; they only heard it; and those who lived to tell about it would for years after try to describe the sound of the thing as it rushed on them.”

The flood came upon Johnstown with great force, and McCullough describes the catastrophic event with precision and detail. In the end, 2,209 people lost their lives, many whose bodies were never found. Although thousands came to help the recovery and rescue effort, the clean-up would take months, even years. Many tried to sue the resort and caretakers of the dam for the loss of life, but the blame, writes McCullough, should be shifted. Indeed, the overarching theme of the book concerns the complacency of Johnstown’s own residents and leaders. In this light it is important to notice that the Johnstown flood is not simply a story about a natural disaster. It is a different subject than, say, the stories of the Chicago fire or the great San Francisco earthquake. It is more like hurricane Katrina. The theme of the Johnstown flood is that it is extremely risky, perhaps even perilous, to assume that because people are in positions of responsibility they are acting responsibly. The Johnstown flood, then, is a story of human irresponsibility, of shortsightedness of the clear “writing on the wall,” as it were. It is about man at his most thoughtless and naive.

Aside from the obvious downside of the flood itself, I loved this book. McCullough is a historical writer par excellence, and I highly recommended his works to anyone, young or old, for a satisfying and informing read.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 5, 2009 at 11:19 am