“The most important work in the world.” That’s how Dr. Jesse Robertson describes teaching Bible at Freed-Hardeman. His occupational focus, however, was not always so clear. A double major in Bible and pre-engineering at Freed-Hardeman, Robertson continued his engineering studies at Tennessee Technological University. Nearing graduation, he interviewed with a biomedical engineering company in Memphis. On the way back to Cookeville, he thought about the 50-60 hours a week the job would require and began to wonder, “Is that how I want to spend my life?”
Robertson opted instead for a very different career as a minister. He began preaching for a congregation in Leachville, Ark., and attending Harding Graduate School of Religion. Another career switch brought him back to the Henderson area. This time he worked as a design engineer. After about three years as an engineer and completion of a Master of Divinity, he was offered the opportunity to teach at FHU.
Since that time, he has completed a Ph.D. at Baylor University and returned to the FHU faculty. His conviction about the importance of what he does leads him to bring real rigor to his classes. “I try to tell my students that this is the most important thing on campus,” he says. “They expect to work hard in science classes,” he says, “but sometimes they don’t expect that level of difficulty in Bible classes. I try to get them to follow the medical model. I want them to see ministry as a real profession with challenging things to do.”
In addition to his work as a Bible teacher, Robertson is also a pulpit minister for the Estes Church of Christ. He has made numerous trips to Haiti and played a huge role in the church’s effort to offer humanitarian aid following the earthquake there.
This year, Robertson has taken on an additional role. In January, he was named the dean of graduate studies and outreach. As dean of the graduate program, Robertson works with graduate directors, faculty and deans to improve the university’s offerings and to increase enrollment in graduate, off-campus and non-traditional programs. He continues to teach Bible courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels and to serve as coordinator of the Master of Divinity program.
His involvement in relief work for Haiti, he says, showed him that “a person working behind the scenes in an organization has a more crucial role in that mission than many people realize.” Robertson, who had been going to Haiti for twenty years when the earthquake struck, had, in fact, just returned from a construction trip there the day before the quake. In the wake of the disaster, he became extremely busy as the chief administrator for the large amount of funds that came in for relief. “I organized relief teams, supply shipments, volunteers and personnel for months,” he said. When he finally made it back to Haiti himself, he saw that many of the folks he had helped to send on relief teams were better known by Haitians than he was. “I had the humble satisfaction of knowing I had been blessed to be in the right place at the right time with the right talents to lead behind the scenes,” he says.
“I still believe teaching the Bible is the most important job in the world,” he says, “but for that mission to succeed, many roles must be filled.” Robertson sees that not everyone involved in academics wants the responsibility, paperwork and long hours that accompany administrative roles. He also sees, however, the need for “passionate leaders” who will attend to the “quality, direction and growth of FHU’s educational program and mission in Christian education.”
“I may find that my interests and talents are not suited to my new position,” he says, “but I felt strongly that I wanted to at least give it a try and have a greater role in the discussions that determine the decisions made at FHU.”
Engineer-preacher-teacher-administrator, Robertson has filled many roles as his situation and the need have changed. “If you can see clearly what’s most important and you’re given the opportunity to do that,” he says, “it’s a foundation for real contentment.”
Family: Wife Kayla, three children: Jacob, Emily and Anna
Preaching: Pulpit minister at Estes Church of Christ, Henderson
Miscellany: Former Mid-South Youth Camp counselor
“If I have my passport, my iPad and my money,” Freed-Hardeman University Bible teacher Kirk Brothers said, “I can do about whatever I need to do in the mission field.”
Brothers has demonstrated that point while on mission trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. As a part of his work with Latin American Missions (LAM), he coordinates three future minister camps in Central or South America each year and uses his iPad at all of them.
He also takes Thompson Chain Reference Bibles for each camper to use in lesson preparation. “Our luggage is usually maxed-out with books and supplies for the camp,” Brothers said. This is where the portability of the iPad proves advantageous. “It allows us to take books and Bible programs for our own lesson preparation and to help the boys,” he said.
At one camp, Brothers used his iPad and Accordance, a Bible study program, to help a student prepare a lesson on one of Jesus’s parables. “I was able to pull up a Spanish translation and the New American Standard translation and put them side by side to highlight key features of the parable,” he said.
“The iPad is a tremendous asset for those of us who are not yet fluent in Spanish,” Brothers, who has Spanish dictionaries and translators on his device, said. “I use them all the time when someone is speaking and I do not understand a particular word. I also use them when I am trying to decide what word to use in a conversation,” he said. Using Google Translate, he types what he wants to say to campers in English and gets a Spanish translation.
A true believer, Brothers utilizes the latest in technology to teach an age-old message. “I preach all my sermons and classes and do all my Bible reading from my iPad. I don’t preach anywhere from a paper Bible any more,” he said.
Brothers received his iPad as a part of FHU’s technology initiative called iKnow. The program provides faculty members and incoming students with iPads for instructional purposes.
Having begun preaching himself as a teenager, Brothers is committed to teaching young men to preach the Gospel, whether at home or away, with or without technology. His Ph.D. dissertation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary deals with factors motivating Church of Christ ministry students to enter ministry. He has also directed future ministers’ camps in Denver, Col.; Nashville, Tenn.; Columbia, Tenn., and at various locations in Central and South America. This summer, July 28-Aug. 2, will find him in El Salvador— after he finishes co-directing Horizons at FHU.
Brothers first attended Horizons 33 years ago, the first year of its existence. It was called Future Church Leaders’ Workshop and was directed by Dr. Billy Smith, now dean of the College of Biblical Studies. Smith actually taught the speaking class Brothers attended. Now one of the directors himself, Brothers says he still has the notes from that class. “Going from camper to counselor, to teacher, to dorm director, to planning committee member, to co-director has been an interesting journey,” he said. “It has allowed me to see Horizons from many different vantage points. There are countless moving parts. There is no one person or group of people responsible for Horizons. It is God using an army of workers to train tomorrow’s leaders.”
This summer, July 7-12, marked Horizons’ 33rd year. The directors and coordinators dubbed the week, “33 My Life, His Business,” an obvious allusion to the 33 years Christ walked the earth. Designed to develop Christian leaders, the camp is a mix between church camp and youth rally, Brothers said. He and co-director Doug Burleson welcomed more than 900 campers. For additional information, visit fhu.edu/horizons.
Whether it is leading a Horizons discussion group, helping a young man in Central America prepare a lesson, teaching in a stateside future ministers’ camp, or teaching at Freed-Hardeman, Brothers is passionate about training young men to preach the Gospel.
Family: Wife Cindy and two daughters, Katy and Hannah
Preaching: Part-time missionary under the oversight of Forrest Park Church of Christ, Valdosta, Ga.
Miscellany: As “The Human Punching Bag,” sparred with several professional boxers
“I am passionate about studying the text and how it was transmitted to us,” says Dr. Doug Burleson, assistant professor of Bible. That passion is demonstrated via his activities as the occupant of the Gardner Chair for Academic Research and in his teaching. Using funds provided by John and Rosemary Brown in honor of E. Claude Gardner, Burleson has brought to campus facsimiles of two of the oldest existing manuscripts of the complete Bible. Over the last two years, facsimiles of the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus have been purchased for the graduate Bible reading room and made available to students.
Biblical language classes typically use texts neatly divided into chapters with spacing between words, he said. “When students see these manuscripts in uncial text with no verse and chapter divisions and no spacing between words, they are, first of all, shocked,” Burleson said.
He goes on to describe the sense of awe students have toward the documents. “They look like they don’t want to put them down,” he said. “Even with all the technology, there’s something about holding a book,” Burleson said.
Burleson uses the manuscripts when teaching biblical languages and critical introductions to the Old and New Testaments. “Letting them touch and experience these things introduces my students to a world I didn’t know about until graduate school,” he said.
Also as a part of the activities of the Gardner Chair, Burleson organized the school’s first Bible symposium. Last fall, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, noted Greek scholar, presented information on the significance of the Codex Sinaiticus.
The second symposium, scheduled for Oct. 25, 2013, will feature Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, a New Testament scholar from Dallas Theological Seminary. He will discuss the intertestamental period.
Although not quite so scholarly, FHU’s summer Horizons program occupies a great deal of Burleson’s attention this time of year. Hundreds of young people came to campus July 7-12 for a week studying “33 My Life, His Business.” He and fellow Bible teacher Kirk Brothers direct the week-long camp. It’s a work he values. After all, he says, “Horizons is the reason I enrolled as a student at Freed-Hardeman.”
One Horizon session was devoted to learning how to help when disaster strikes. That’s a topic Burleson knows well. He had been attending seminary in New Orleans and preaching in Baton Rouge 14 months when Katrina struck. “We had 160 people living in our church basement,” he said. He was impressed that although most of those folks were not New Testament Christians, all but a handful came to church services. “I watched those people sing with us, although they had probably never heard acappella singing at church, and I saw them dig in their pockets for coins for the contribution,” he said. “It’s incredible how God used something so bad for good.”
Since joining the faculty in 2010, Burleson has taught more than 20 different Bible courses on the graduate and undergraduate levels. “I’ve gotten to study a number of different things,” he said. Whether it is preaching at Scotts Hill, teaching teenagers at Horizons or mentoring graduate students in Bible, Burleson demonstrates his passion for the Word and the impact it has on lives.
Family: Wife Kristi and three children: Eden, Canaan and Jordan
Preaching: Scotts Hill Church of Christ, Scotts Hill, Tenn.
Miscellany: Once coached junior high tennis at Columbia
Dr. Justin Rogers joined the Bible faculty in 2010 when he was 28 years old as the youngest member of the faculty. He admits that his youth is “a subject of jest among several Bible faculty members” and that he occasionally participates in the humor.
Having noticed Rogers’ suit and tie, a young undergraduate student asked if he were making a presentation that day. When Rogers smiled and answered affirmatively, the student continued the conversation by asking, “In Prep and Del?” in reference to Dr. Billy Smith’s sophomore class more formally titled “Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.” Told, “No, Critical Introduction to the Old Testament,” the student looked somewhat puzzled. Rogers then explained, “I teach here.” The student hurried away without another word.
After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree at FHU, Rogers entered Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to work on a doctorate. “It had been my goal since I was 18 to complete a Ph.D. by my thirtieth birthday,” he said. “I turned thirty the day before I received my Ph.D. diploma, so I guess I didn’t make it.”
At FHU, he became a colleague of many who had taught him, a fact that has in some ways been “challenging.” “I still haven’t gotten accustomed to calling Dr. Gilmore ‘Ralph,’” he said. But, he has been reminded, he said, that all the faculty members here are regular people. “Rarely do we discuss academic issues in our free time as faculty. We are friends,” he said.
Let no one “despise” his youth, however. Rogers has already published quite an impressive array of scholarly and practical articles. Now, he has been commissioned to write two entries for “Textual History
of the Bible,” one on the “Vulgate-Psalms” and the other on “Vulgate-Proverbs.” To be published by Brill in 2014, the work will be a three-volume encyclopedia expected to be the standard reference work for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Rogers calls it “a huge project.”
Rogers is also currently working on “Origen’s Use of ‘Philo,’” an article for the “Oxford Companion of Origen,” being compiled by a team of international scholars.
Rogers does not, however, write only for a scholarly audience. He has published more than 30 articles on a variety of topics in the “Gospel Advocate.” His subject matter has ranged from “What is the Septuagint?” to “Internet Predators and Your Children.” The relationship with GA is one Rogers cherishes and “hopes to continue for a long time,” he said.
Writing attracts Rogers because “the printed page exists long after the author dies, and it reaches a much larger audience than the spoken word.” In addition, “a lot of what is written isn’t stimulating,” he said.
He is working on a 13-lesson study of Genesis aimed at a high school audience that he hopes will change that. Scheduled for publication this fall, the book is based on material he uses in his Genesis class at FHU. “I’ve toned it down some,” he said, “but it is still challenging. I believe young people can handle more difficult material than we have typically given them.”
Often viewed as a protégée of Clyde Woods, long-time teacher of Hebrew and Old Testament studies at FHU, Rogers said they do have some things in common. Both received doctoral degrees from Hebrew Union, although in different areas.
Woods, in fact, wrote the school a letter of recommendation in Rogers’ behalf. As an FHU student, Rogers worked for “Doc” Woods both in Bargain Bookfinders and in doing “things like cleaning out gutters.” And, Rogers now teaches many of the classes Woods taught in the 1970’s and 80’s. “He built the Old Testament program here,” Rogers said.
He, in fact, still helps Doc Woods in the book business whenever he is needed. “I can graduate from Freed-Hardeman and Hebrew Union, but never from Bargain Bookfinders,” he joked.
Despite his accomplishments, Rogers said he considers himself “first and foremost, a student.” When he “stumbles” upon an ancient text that has not been appreciated by scholars or hits upon a good sermon idea, he is stirred internally. “This excitement manifests itself in different ways and for different purposes in my teaching, preaching and writing,” he said.
Family: Wife Ashli and two young children, Caleb and Chelsea.
Preaching: Christian Chapel Church of Christ in Wildersville, Tenn.
Miscellany: Avid fan of Kentucky’s ‘Cats, bleeds a very deep blue.