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What does your role as president of Westminster Seminary California entail?

I became president of Westminster Seminary California (WSC) on August 1, 2017, after the long and fruitful presidency of Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, someone whom Tabletalk readers know well. As a seminary, WSC exists to serve the church by preparing future pastors and leaders who seek to exalt Christ and His gospel. As its president, I have the privilege of representing the institution, leading its faculty, and overseeing the administration.

People often ask me about the role and what surprised me most about my work. This position is much more pastoral than I ever imagined. Although you are knee deep in numbers, whether in finances or enrollment, essentially the role is about pastoring—the faculty, staff, students, and friends alike. It is my privilege and honor to serve this way and it keeps me praying, often echoing the words of Jehoshaphat, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12).

What are your hopes for Westminster Seminary California?

I pray that we remain faithful. By God’s grace, WSC is a middle-aged institution, quickly approaching forty years of serving the church. It is not uncommon for Christian institutions to slowly but surely move away from their core mission and theological convictions over time, so institutional fidelity is regularly on our minds and prayers. Our sincere prayer is that we would continue to stand firm on the inerrant Word of God and Reformed theology as summarized in the church’s confessional documents.

I also pray that the Lord will use the seminary to better serve the global church. WSC is in a unique location, geographically speaking. Some might even say our area serves as a gateway to Latin America and Asia, which is reflected in the rich diversity of the student body. Moreover, WSC is abundantly blessed with a wonderful faculty who are not only excellent academics but also experienced pastors. By engaging more purposefully and strategically with global friends and partners, we hope to bless the growing churches around the world and be blessed by these churches that have much to teach us here in the States.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering attending seminary?

Talking to present and future seminarians is one of the best perks of my work. Though much can be said, perhaps I would mention these two things.

First, it takes a village to train and prepare pastors. I am more and more convinced that the best pastoral preparation involves not just one or two teachers but the whole faculty working in unison to shape and nurture the future pastor. In choosing a seminary, be sure to find a place where faculty members are willing to invest in the students, not just to inform their minds but also to shape their hearts.

Second, seminary is not the end but the beginning of education. Seminaries do not—and cannot—teach everything about the Word of God and ministry. But if done well, seminary education provides all the necessary tools for a lifetime of learning and growing. Thus, choosing a seminary should be done with much prayer, because it is an invaluable investment for a lifetime of ministry.

As people who belong to God in Christ Jesus and who stand upon His Word, Christians should place a high priority on knowing Him and knowing about Him in their lives.
What are the greatest difficulties you face as a Christian educator?

Whether in the church or in seminary, remaining faithful to the unchanging truth of God’s Word in a faithless world remains a challenge. I live and minister in California, where most people we meet are unchurched, de-churched, or anti-church. But this is not just in California. Like the first-century church, we regularly witness the hostility of the world toward Christianity and the God of the Bible where God is exchanged for mere created things, evil is often called and accepted as good, and absolute truths are rejected. We pray for faithfulness in the midst of cultural, intellectual, and legal challenges to Christianity.

Moreover, a trend in churches that gives me pause is the growing lack of commitment to the idea of an educated pastorate. I understand that seminary education seems contrarian and anachronistic. Seminaries are asking people to spend precious time and money to slowly, purposefully, and deeply study the Word of God when immediate needs are great. Yet, I believe that what this ever-changing and tumultuous time needs is not less education for our pastors but more.

How can the church support theological education?

First, pray for and support seminaries and Christian institutions. Your prayers are invaluable because theological education is not simply academic or professional but is ultimately spiritual. It is a spiritual battle. We need the prayers of all believers and churches as we lead and teach. Moreover, your investment in theological institutions is much needed. Healthy churches need good pastors, and I’ve heard that good pastors do not grow on trees. We count on your prayers and support to sustain the ministry and continue the work of training workers for the kingdom.

Second, encourage young and gifted men and women to consider ministry for their future. Our young people are often inundated with ideas about what they should do in the future. As a son and grandson of ministers, I still believe that ministry—in all its varied forms—is one of the highest and most fulfilling paths to take. As we see young people with gifts for ministry, we should encourage them toward and nurture them in a life of service in the church.

What are the greatest challenges that pastors face today? What are some ways that laypeople can pray for their pastors?

Like all who teach at WSC, I served as a pastor before I started teaching at the seminary in 2005, and I continue to find great joy in serving the local churches. Yet, this question is difficult since I am not on the front lines of pastoral ministry as many of my friends are. So, the following are things I pray for my pastors and pastor friends.

I pray for faithfulness in the midst of all the temptations and challenges. I pray for humility to know and believe that all success belongs to the Lord and that the difficulties they face are in the Lord’s hands. I pray for protection over the pastor and his family because the evil one is lurking, and there is nothing more effective in undermining the faith of believers than pastors and leaders who fall and fail. I pray for grace, because it is easy for us to become religious professionals, and we daily need God’s grace to forgive, replenish, and strengthen us.

As the son of Korean immigrants, what do you want other people to know about the Korean church?

Some might be surprised to know that the largest denominations and churches in South Korea are Presbyterian and Reformed. The largest denomination is the Korean Presbyterian Church (Hapdong) with nearly 2.8 million members and more than twelve thousand churches. This conservative Presbyterian denomination is only slightly larger than the more progressive and similarly named Korean Presbyterian Church (Tonghap) with similar numbers of members but fewer churches, totaling almost nine thousand. Just as a Christian in the United States might often run into a Dutch Reformed church in the Midwest or a Southern Baptist church in the Bible Belt, it would not be difficult to find a Presbyterian church in South Korea.

What accounts for this prominence of Presbyterian churches in South Korea? Although many reasons can be given, a partial reason is history. Horace G. Underwood, a Northern Presbyterian from the United States, was one of the first to arrive in the peninsula of Korea in 1885. The growth of Christianity was so remarkable especially in the city of Pyongyang that the city was called “the Jerusalem of the East,” a model of success in missions and the center of a growing Christian church in Korea. It is worth noting that Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea, was the site of the first Presbyterian seminary in Korea, established in 1901. Though it is now associated with brutal dictatorship and human rights violations, many of us pray that one day Pyongyang will once again be known for its faith in Christ Jesus.

Whether in the church or in seminary, remaining faithful to the unchanging truth of God’s Word in a faithless world remains a challenge.
What are the challenges that the Korean­-American church faces? How can Reformed and Presbyterian churches in America learn from the Korean-American church?

My parents immigrated to the States in 1982 with five children under the age of eleven and then faithfully served a number of Korean-American churches before retiring a few years ago. As my father and many of his peers retire from active ministry, the Korean-American churches are prayerfully struggling to cope with the leadership changes and the generational transition.

Despite its imperfections and shortcomings, I remain grateful for the Korean-American churches that have taught and nurtured me over the years. First, I learned how to pray from these churches, in ever-present dependence on the Lord in all ways and in all things. Second, I learned to love the church. On Sundays, many Korean-Americans spend the whole day together at church, making the entire day (and many other days of the week) a day of worship and fellowship. Last, I learned about living as a sojourner. I am referred to as a “1.5 generation” among Koreans, shorthand for someone who was born in Korea but raised in the States and therefore proficient in English but comfortable with Korean culture and language. Though the phrase was meant as a description and a compliment—the best of both Korea and the United States—it communicated to me that I am in between and a misfit. While I appreciate my Korean heritage and am grateful for my adopted country that I love, I am neither fully Korean nor fully American. I do not belong to either but remain homeless until I reach my home that is not built by human hands. As an immigrant, I daily experience and better understand what Paul meant when he said, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

What insights does the Reformed tradition give for how to read the Bible properly?

Reformed theology teaches that the Bible is trustworthy. If these are the very words of God, then the Bible is coherent and unified in its message without possibility of error or disharmony. Reading difficult passages in the Bible in light of the more clear passages is an important interpretive principle that Reformed theology teaches.

Reformed theology insists that the Bible should be read prayerfully. If the Bible is fully divine, then who would know what the Bible teaches apart from the Holy Spirit, the very Author of these words? Reformed theology therefore forces us to begin and end with a prayer of dependence, realizing that proper understanding and application of the Word is possible only with the Spirit’s illumination and guidance.

Why should every Christian—not just academics and seminary students—study theology?

The study of theology is simply a “study about God.” As people who belong to God in Christ Jesus and who stand upon His Word, Christians should place a high priority on knowing Him and knowing about Him in their lives.

Moreover, all of us are being catechized daily by the media, culture, and schools. Every show we watch, every newspaper we read, and every interaction we have teach us something about ourselves and about the world around us, subtly nudging us to love and embrace concepts and ideas that are often foreign to our faith. This is why catechesis and theological training are so important, not only for future pastors but for every Christian. In our homes and in our churches, we must teach and catechize our children and members not only to inoculate them from the challenges and idols of the world but to love and follow the Lord with confidence and robust knowledge of the truth, standing firm in a time of great change.

When My Parents Aren’t Christians

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