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Celebrating Harding School of Theology in Memphis

As I was finishing my undergraduate degree and considering the next step in preparation for a life of Christian ministry, I received a memorable bit of sound advice from Howard Norton (of blessed memory), whose counsel I have always valued, since my first class with him during my first semester at Oklahoma Christian University.  He said that the best thing I could do to prepare for ministry is to get a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology (HST; then, Harding University Graduate School of Religion) in Memphis.  And that’s all it took.

So I decided (with a little help from Steve McLeod) to move with my new bride to Memphis.  We were 21-years-old and ready for the challenge.  And HST was a challenge in the best way.  It is there that I received my first two B’s since my 4th grade conduct report (thanks, Oster and Bland!).  It is there that I photocopied every single article ever written on 1-2 Chronicles (thanks, Hicks!).  For three years, I sat full-time at the feet of Black, Bland, Flatt, Hicks, Huffard, Kinder, McMillion, Meredith, and Oster, some of the best in the business.  Collectively, they taught me the importance of biblical languages, meticulous exegesis, responsible application, historical perspective, healthy theology, pastoral sensitivity, critical thinking, and careful communication.  The blessing of HST has been incalculable.

Norton was right—it was the best preparation. First, for academic theology.  I was well equipped to thrive in a PhD program.  Looking back over 20 years of academic teaching and writing—including at Harding University and now HST—I can say the foundations were laid at HST.  It was the best preparation also for congregational ministry.  I have been engaged in various aspects of church work for 28 years, and HST made me a better preacher and minister. 

The HST experience I’ve described is not unique to me.  We were all taught how to research, how to think, how to communicate, how to minister, for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.  It’s no wonder that I feel kinship with other alumni who seem to share a similar vision for the church and theological education.  HST did not pursue an idiosyncratic theological agenda or use students to push the envelope.  HST was about scholarship for the church.

It’s probably not an accident that my present ministry with the Center for Christian Studies has a lot in common with the ethos of HST.  So every time I sit down to edit articles for the Journal of Christian Studies, I feel like I’m channeling the spirit of Don Meredith, whose constructive corrections in red I can still visualize on my papers.  Every time I open my Greek New Testament to prepare for my next church seminar, I know I couldn’t have done it without Oster.  Every time I open my mouth to talk about Christian worship for a video series, I’m afraid I might be plagiarizing Hicks.  At HST, I was trained and encouraged to engage in scholarship for the church.  That is our aim at CCS. 

As HST prepares to move from Memphis back to Searcy and begin a new era there, CCS joins HST in celebrating the Memphis legacy.  We are happy to announce the publication of Near the Banks of the River: Celebrating Harding School of Theology, edited by Mark E. Powell and Steve Cloer.  If you are a former student of HST or in any way associated with or grateful for this fine school, you will want a copy of this book.

From the Book:

For 66 years, from 1958 to 2024, Harding School of Theology in Memphis has had a national and global impact, training over 1,800 graduates and 4,700 students. A large percentage of influential ministers, academic thought leaders, and innovative practitioners in Churches of Christ trace their roots back to HST. As the school prepares to transition to Searcy, Arkansas, in fall 2024, this collection of original essays celebrates the influence of HST in Memphis and looks to the future of theological education and missional leadership.

Contributors include: C. Leonard Allen, Grant Azbell, Carisse Mickey Berryhill, Garrett Best, Nathan Bills, Chris W. Buxton, Erika Carr, Steve Cloer, Craig Ford, Jim Harbin, Matthew D. Love, Dorn Muscar, Jr., Mark E. Powell, Carson E. Reed, Edward J. Robinson, R. Mark Wilson.

Get your copy now at Amazon.


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