Tuesday, December 23, 2008

James Parker, III


James Parker did not always see the utility of a college education.

At 18 years of age, Parker, then a college freshman at Baylor University, made an appointment with his pastor during Christmas break. Parker had quitting on his mind. James Flamming, pastor of Parker's home church, First Baptist of Abilene, Texas, listened thoughtfully as his teenage parishioner expressed words of post-high school angst.

"I told my pastor, 'I'm thinking about dropping out of school and just becoming a full-time youth evangelist,'" said Parker. "He was very wise. He responded with grace and gentleness. He said, 'Now Jim, I've seen a lot of people come and go over the years and it may be good that when you preach that you have something to say. And oftentimes the way you do that is by studying.'"

It is fair to say that Parker heeded his pastor's sage counsel.

More than four decades later, the Abilene native owns a Texas-sized list of academic degrees that includes two masters degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, a doctor of theology from Basel University and post-doctoral studies at John Hopkins University.

Today, the once reluctant student serves as professor of worldview and culture and associate dean of worldview and culture in the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Parker serves as director of the Trinity Institute, which he founded in 1991, a study and retreat center in Tehuacana, Texas. It offers seminars in apologetics, spiri-tual disciplines and theology, all of which are aimed at helping believers to engage popular culture and the arts from a distinctly biblical worldview. The Trinity Insti-tute is modeled after L'Abri Fellowship which was established in 1955 by the late Francis Schaeffer.

Parker spends summers and Christmas breaks in Tehuacana helping students at the Trinity Institute develop a Christian way of attacking issues related to popular culture and the arts.

Parker is a fan of the fiction works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Epic works such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, while not explicitly Christian, can help unbe-lievers to become aquainted with foundational biblical truths such as the existence of a moral universe and the idea of an innocent man dying for the guilty, he said.

"The Christian notion of morality and values, the Christian concepts of the innocent dying for the guilty come though in Lewis's works," Parker said. "In Tolkien, it is a morally charged universe and they get acquainted with those concepts so when the Gospel is actually proclaimed those are not strange concepts to them. In this way, the medium of popular culture is very helpful as a vehicle to communicate these truths. As Christians we must learn this."

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