Dr. David Wilmington will be joining the YTI faculty this year as Professor of Theology and Philosophy. Since 2010, he has taught Christian Scriptures, Christian Heritage, and Intellectual Traditions (philosophy, theology, and literature) of the Ancient and Medieval worlds for the Baylor Religion Department and Great Texts Program. David is married to Molly, and they have two children, Luke and Anna Grace.
Tell us a little about yourself – childhood, family, hobbies, etc.
Before settling in northwest Houston, we moved around quite a bit when I was a kid—4 states and about 6 cities before I was 12 (including Woodstock, Illinois, where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed). As “the new kid” in so many places, I alternated from devouring books to learning how to fight bullies to reveling in hours spent with my dog tromping through the snow pretending to be in Narnia. I did my B.A. in Music Performance (saxophone) at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, with one year away in the Jazz Studies Program at Virginia Commonwealth University. I did some music teaching after college but wound up doing a Master of Theological Studies at Duke Divinity School after being captured by theology —when I decided to stay in touch with this girl I liked (Molly, my eventual wife) by reading her course texts while she was doing an M.Div. at Duke. After my Master’s, I spent 6 years as a high school and middle school teacher in Durham, N.C., where I also coached soccer at various levels for 5 years. I worked for 4 years as a producer/writer/actor for an independent film production company and did a jazz radio show for 9 years. Molly and I have been married for 20 years and have 2 kids: Luke, 13, and Anna Grace, 9.
How does your experience as a jazz musician contribute to your ministry and teaching?
When I started at Duke, I focused on ethics, but I began to see that my background in music had shaped my theological and ethical thinking in ways I never expected. During my high school and middle school teaching years, I kept reading anything I could find on music and theology (especially Jeremy Begbie and other people associated with ITIA at St. Andrews). Later at Baylor, although I could not focus primarily on music and theology while doing my Ph.D., the program was flexible enough that I was able to keep developing my thoughts and stay open to God’s guidance about this. Ultimately, it comes down to my assessment that the lives Christians are called to live—whether we be pastors, politicians, teachers, academics, or artists—are so dynamic and rich, demanding both serious proficiency and sensitive flexibility, that only a training in improvisation could form the kind of people capable of such a faithful performance in a deeply unstable and troubled world. So I try to let my training and thinking in music—jazz improvisation specifically, guide my work in the classroom—but also to help to shape YTI’s approach to theological education. [For a more thorough explanation of this, those interested can see my lecture at BYU’s Wheatley Institution here https://youtu.be/DrAJWz9xyIE ].
How do you perceive the need for theological understanding in the church today?
During my 7 years teaching at Baylor, I have worked directly with around 1,000 students. My diagnosis is that most college- and seminary-age students are quite ignorant of the sources and contexts of their own theological understanding as well as the history of Christian thought. Most cannot articulate what they believe (or reject) with anything like the precise language the Church has cultivated for millennia. This leaves the majority of young Christians, even those entering ministry, helpless to identify—much less resist or counter—lazy or even unfaithful theological assertions or arguments. The consequences of this diminished understanding and expression (written or spoken) are devastating for those committed to faithful, Spirit-filled, and scripturally-shaped Christian living and ministry in this post-Post-Christian culture. I think YTI will need to prioritize: 1) teaching a historically and theologically rich account of the Christian intellectual tradition (including thinking about practices of worship, reading Scripture, and education), 2) helping students learn how to draw from the tradition to give fresh expression to the Gospel, and 3) developing faculty and students who value and practice clear, thoughtful, and beautiful expression (written and spoken).
What do you believe an institution like YTI contributes to the church, the community, and the world?
I think YTI can be a Christian presence that is welcoming, fun, nuanced, faithful, exciting, and honest in a region where people may either have forgotten or have never experienced such characteristics from a distinctly Christian institution. My great hope for YTI is that we will fulfill the Church-invigorating and culture-engaging vision articulated by Lesslie Newbigin in Foolishness to the Greeks and The Gospel in Pluralist Culture—but do so with the flair, depth, and passion of G.K. Chesterton, who calls us to remember that: “There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy” in a Church whose life “has been one whirling adventure” of carrying the “wild truth” of Jesus Christ.
What excites you about moving to the Northern Rockies?
First and foremost, we’re all excited to live in a part of the country that’s “foreign” not only to us but to our entire families, as well (our relatives being from the Midwest and the South). I’ve always been a “mountain person”—hiking, camping, skiing—so this is a dream come true for me. Since my academic work includes a lot of work in the mystical tradition, I’m also eager to get my classes out into the mountains to teach Gregory of Nyssa’s and Bonaventure’s “mystical ascents.” My wife and kids have never lived anywhere close to a place with true winter cold and snow, so they are excited about such an immense change (especially compared to Waco, Texas). We are also looking forward to opportunities to ride horses in the mountains, and, for me at least, to see what the local jazz scene has to offer.