Reflections on Duke Divinity School and Duke University

Two years ago, I had finished my first year of graduate school.  Either because of the sheer exhaustion or extreme pride I felt, I decided to reflect on my first semester on my blog.  I absolutely intended on providing reflections for all who cared to read every semester thereafter as well.  That, obviously, didn't work out.  As of last night at 10:01pm, I turned in the final project/paper of my career at the Divinity School.  Three long, arduous years of big words I'd have to look up later, 8:30am Systematic Theology courses, Broadway Revue performances, Praise band rehearsals, and 5,000 word exegetical essays were finally over.  With any luck and kindness in grading, I'll graduate on May 12th with a Master of Divinity from Duke University.  All in all, no matter the pain, life is extremely good.

My time at the Divinity School has proven to be some of the most rewarding of my life.  I've been blessed to have cultivated quality friendships with people I fully intend on sharing close and authentic relationships with for the rest of my life. I've had my eyes opened to new ways of imagining the church, reading the Bible, and interacting as a Christian with society.  I've been invited to criticize everything (shout out to my homies on Facebook) and to pick and prod at classmates' arguments, ancient scholars, and even biblical authors and authorship.  What an incredible experience it is to take something like your faith, which is so fundamental to who you are, and begin to think about it, be forced to read and write about it, and synthesize it in new and fresh ways.

I knew Duke was considered a 'liberal' school by many when I chose to come here.  Though my recent Facebook postings that have asked society to consider treating everyone equally and asked us to stop killing each other color me of a shade of 'liberal' I don't intend on being painted, I've found Duke to be exactly what many properly suggested it was before I got here: orthodox.  Duke Divinity is a very politically and theologically split school, with varying perspectives from students and faculty alike.  This, to me, seems to be the pinnacle of learning in a post-modern society. As we learn, we ought to consider Scripture and what it has to say to us.  As we learn, we ought to consider the tradition of those before us.  As we learn, we ought to use the minds God has given us to reason with how living a life faithful to Jesus Christ should be understood.  As we learn, we ought to use our personal experience, especially in our current society, to understand how God is speaking to us today.  Imagine that!  A well rounded learning experience, indeed.

I've been overtly critical of Duke throughout my time here.  Most of my aggression has been pointed toward those within the school and university who have been overly pessimistic about The Divinity School. Most notably, they've done so within the school's press.  Those people have been Divinity Students and non-Divinity Students alike.  I maintain those views I've held, though often unpopular; it is extremely necessary for Duke University to 1) have a Divinity school, 2) use it to evangelize and transform the campus, and 3) use it to upbuild the community of the school and of the university.  Much of that is unpopular in a school ridden with secularism, but the existence of Duke Chapel shows that the originators of Duke University intended for the campus to continue "listening to the heart of God."  It's likely that the Divinity School will continue to receive criticism from those outside its walls based on the prevalent methodologies in rational secularism.  Fight the good fight, DDS.  Duke Divinity School continues to be one of the best divinity schools and seminaries in the world.

I also maintain some of the major issues I have with campus life at Duke.  What an interesting experience it has been as a divinity student feeling called into campus ministry to live on campus for the past year as a Graduate Resident and intern with Duke Wesley!   I call for more Divinity Students to partake in this level of campus involvement; it's made a huge difference in the way that I understand incarnational ministry.  The campus administration itself still holds fast to cultural issues that, I think, will prove harmful in coming years.  I continue my call for campus administration to consider their heavy-handedness, or lack thereof, regarding campus alcohol and party policy.  Blind eyes only miss so much.

Over the past three years, I've been fortunate to be involved in several different aspects of life at Duke Divinity.  Though living 30 minutes away from the school for two years, I repeatedly participated in Duke Divinity's "Broadway Revue" where I was able to join in song with other talented Divinity students in order to raise money for African orphans through Zoe ministry.  For the past two years, I led the Divinity School praise band.  I've been unbelievably pleased with the work that has occurred in that ministry and the grace that those in chapel leadership have shown to those of us who always want to try something new.  The Methodist House of Studies has always provided quality lunchtime offerings with interviews and programs from people I could never have imagined I would meet. 

There are many who attempt to get through Duke Divinity with nothing more than the required field education.  In my experience, this is not enough.  Summer field education often gives potential pastors the opportunity to experience life outside of the rigors and academics, etc. but it is simply insufficient for raising up new pastors. Students at Divinity School should, at the very least, find a church they can be actively involved in (read: more than Sunday attendance) and that can serve as a family and community.  A church community provides that which the walls of the academy cannot.  Future divinity students, do not make the mistake that many before you made.  Field education is simply not enough.

There are many outside these walls who have spoken certain truths into my life, provided needed encouragement, and assisted me financially throughout the past three years.  For them, including family and friends, I am immensely grateful.

I've been blessed to have been granted my time here.  Though this past year has often been emotionally difficult and I imagined myself dropping out of school several times over the past three years, I'm remarkably grateful for those who encouraged me to continue on this path.  Duke Divinity School is made up of a bunch of broken people continually confessing their sins before God and one another so that the grace of God might be poured on them for eternity.  Duke Divinity (faculty, staff, administration, and students) are trying their best to cultivate the best community and church possible.  They're trying, with excellent leadership going forward, to create a scriptural imagination perhaps yet unseen in the church.  This, in turn we hope will renew the church.  In the midst of a church that is beginning to recognize that it is dying (do not read United Methodist here, indeed I mean Christendom in the West in general), I am reminded of how much the church needs Duke Divinity.

Many, many thanks.

-B