back to it


Howdy folks. I wish I could say that I’ve been taking the new year by storm, but sadly the beginning of 2014 has been fits and starts for me. So in a effort to ease back into the blog, I’m sharing a few things that I found interesting as of late. 

The flurry of the end of year “best of’s” always unearths some previously unknown musical gems. Someone on Facebook recommended this band, and little did they know that it is right up my alley. I could do a whole list of finds (and probably will) that came about through the end of year music frenzy.


Also, the missus has been telling stories. Not stories as in lies, but real stories. Twelve of them to be exact. Yours truly plays a supporting role in some of them. Read at your peril. You might enjoy yourself.


Just to make sure I’m maintaining some cred as a theology-nerd, here’s a couple of quotes that explain precisely the attitude I hope to cultivate in my own theological endeavors…

Christian theology is to manifest a modesty of transparency, a deferral to its object, which is the divine self-communication through Scripture.


An authentic Christan theology will simply go about its task with a measure of quiet determination, working under the tutelage and for the well-being of the spiritual community of which it is part and seeking thereby to fulfill its office.

John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch

Modesty, transparency, quite determination, under the tutelage, and for the well-being, are not words or ideas that come to mind naturally when people think about the theologian’s task. More often arrogance, obscurity, know-it-all, and detached are what many would say characterize this vocation. Here’s hoping that the former attitude prevails.

Happy New Year!


I’m having a crisis of belief.

Not concerning my faith in God or Christian conviction. Those are more or less secure.

No, this crisis has to do with something a thousand times more trivial. My belief in blogging. Judging from the infrequency with which I go at it around here, I’ve been at best a nominal believer for quite some time. I suppose the problem for me is fundamentally one of who is this blog for? Is it for my close family and friends to know what I’m thinking about? If so, then maybe there are better ways of communicating that to them. Is it to cast my voice into the echoing chambers of the world wide web? Plenty of people are out doing that and doing it better than I could ever hope. Or is it a place for me to scribble down some thoughts in an effort to organize them in a semi-coherent fashion? In which case, wouldn’t I be better served to simply keep a private journal? You (whoever ‘you’ is) are probably noticing my tendency to over-think things, which is probably why I’ve landed where I have geographically, vocationally, and blogographically.

I’m hoping that this brief post will help to break the log jam and get things flowing with greater consistency on my tiny corner of the internet. Since I’m currently up to my neck in a Protestant Reformational atmosphere, I’m going to lay it out in Luther-like theses fashion. Or for those how are a little more left-leaning, consider it a blogging manifesto of sorts.

1) I will seek to connect with people I care about and those who care about what I have to say. Ultimately, this blog is for others. If it weren’t, then like I said, a journal would suit just fine. Whether it is a close friend, an interested stranger, a future descendant, this blog will be a place where you have access to me. A dis-embodied me for sure, but if nothing else the part of me that I allowed to present itself to the internet. Which leads to the next thing…

2) I will be less self-conscious about what I put other there. This is the thing that cripples my blogging. I know you would have a hard time guessing that from the the inane crap I’ve allowed to inhabit the megabytes of this forum. And yet, for whatever reason, I have a hard time pressing the ‘publish’ button. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that this is going to turn into some ‘confess all’ around here. I’m not about to pander to the voyeuristic mentality that permeates all of social media. I don’t think that being ‘authentic’ gives me liberty to blast everyone with all the garbage of my life. No, I’ll continue to make an effort to present my best self. In so doing, I’ll recognize that my best self ain’t all that great. And then I’ll resolve to be ok with my not so great best self.

3) I will not publicize every post on twitter and facebook. I know that facebook and twitter are how lots of people get to this blog. That it is precisely how many of you know anything new has gone up. But the curse of social media is that it gets broadcast to so many people. Part of being less self-conscious about the whole blogging thing for me will be a move towards not caring if one other person reads this or not. If you don’t want to miss out on one ounce of Square Pegs, you’ll need to email sign up on the right somewhere, use an RSS feed (I use Feedly), or on your own schedule go to the trouble of typing…

4) Not every post will be theology related. Believe it or not, I do have interests that fall outside the bounds of half-formed theological thoughts. Usually it has to do with my very narrowly prescribed taste in music. But…

5) It is ok for some, if not most, posts to be theological in nature. I don’t really think blogs are a fantastic place to hash out theology. But in as much as I want this to be a place where friends and interested parties gather to discuss things, I won’t want to shy away from making an effort to engage in casual theological conversations. In that sense, it will be like a dinner party. I don’t mind having the conversation, but I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on one topic or just talking to one person all evening. That would be rude. Speaking of rude…

6) I will try to be good natured. I don’t tend to like blogs (including my own) when they get overly critical and mean. As I’ve seen on many a t-shirt and bumper sticker, “mean people suck.” I should also mention that none of these bullet points are meant to be a critique of anyone else’s blog, their motives or practices. This is all about how I’m going to keep this from turning into a place I dread coming to.

7) I won’t be a perfectionist. I just won’t have the time to edit every post that goes up. If poor grammar, typos, and the like, are going to be problematic, then as in the immortal words of Uncle Rico, “you can leave.” Along with this, speed will be of the essence. I’m painfully aware that this will reduce the quality of what is already substandard writing, but I guess at the end of the day I think this blog should be about connecting to normal people in a normal sort of way.

I should probably have more points here, but in the spirit of keeping things moving along, it is time to click “publish.” Feel free to add your own.

Four (New Finds) for Friday

I know that you’re surprised to see me back so soon. I mean, I only posted a week ago! I’m getting downright regular in my blogging. Today, I couldn’t (well, didn’t) come up with four songs. Instead you’re getting four things that were (mostly) new to me this week.

1) Gungor – Wandering // I have to include at least one song. Right? Gungor isn’t new to me, but they released a few songs to benefit those affected by the floods in Colorado. Of the three, this one is my least favorite musically (would prefer to ditch the auto-tune). However, lyrically it is on-point. 

2) Bennachie // Last Sunday, we stumbled across this range of hills that are about thirty minutes outside of town. We’ll undoubtedly make many return visits.

Mither Tap

3) Karl Barth on Grace // This week, I’ve been reading Barth’s lectures on Ephesians, and I came across this gem that is classic Barth.

I think that Luther’s ‘with’ expresses something very original. Grace is not poured into a person so that it becomes a possession or an attribute. Grace can only be with and accompany a person. The person continues to be what he is, a human being in all of his questionableness. How could he recognize grace as grace without continually recognizing his own God-foresakeness? What makes grace graceful is that God in his majesty is with the human being in his creatureliness. If we tried to say more, we would say less.

4) Zotero // This one isn’t new. But it is a tip for all researchers and anyone who wants to curate quotes, notes, or reflections on reading. It ain’t Barth, but it is beautiful in its own way.

Zotero   HomeAlright folks, that’s been some new stuff this week. How about you? Discover anything worth sharing?

never homeless

Photo Sep 14, 12 45 23 PM (640x462)

To my shame, I don’t have much experience with the homeless population. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my share of drive-by feedings that are promptly followed with self-congratulatory pats on the back. I’ve helped shovel truckloads of rice that will hopefully find its way into the mouths of those who most desperately need it. Every year, our family throws down a five-spot to make sure that a cooked bird ends up in the hands of people who might not have one otherwise. As you can see, my unimpressive involvement with the under/non-resourced is woefully lacking, and so it is safe to say that I don’t know much about the dynamics of homelessness. With that disclosure, the last few weeks have been a reminder for me of the question that invariably comes up as a result of my sporadic brushes with homeless people. “What happened to land a person in this situation?”

I’ve been inclined to remember their plight over the last several weeks, because it seemed that I was only a hair’s breadth away from becoming homeless myself. I realize that it never could have or would have gotten to that for us. I have credit cards for goodness sake. Worst case scenario, we would have found a hotel room and stuffed ourselves and all our belongings in it. It would have been a bit cramped, but we’re not unaccustomed to tight living quarters.

And yet, it never came to that. And the reason can be summed up in one word… community.

In fact, this entire move has been one entirely dependent on the people who make up our community. We have been lovingly sent out from the most wonderful group of family and friends who desire nothing but the very best for us, long to see us thrive in our new situation, and have sacrificed in small ways and big ways to send us here. Aside from the multitude of people who are financially supporting us, there were people helping us all along the way. People who helped us pack up our stuff, helped to sell our home (fingers-crossed), bought our cars, prayed for us, helped us sell our furniture, let us store mountains of belongings in closets and attics, threw farewell parties, and have shared numerous encouraging words along the way. While we may have traveled here alone, there is a sense in which we are accompanied by an incredibly loving community.

In the same way that we were lovingly sent, we have also been graciously welcomed by caring individuals on this side of the ocean. In our first month here, three homes were warmly opened to us for a week or longer while we found a place of our own. Of course, moving from one flat to another every week required that our bodies and mounds of luggage be shuttled around in various automobiles – none of which were mine. Meals were bought or prepared for us. Loads of helpful advice has been given. But most significantly, we are finding people that we have genuinely enjoyed being around, and who at least pretend to enjoy our company as well.

As I reflect on those who find themselves homeless, it seems to me that the primary cause is a breakdown of community. Something happens which causes these persons to become disconnected from others in such a way that they don’t have anyone who will welcome them in. Of course, I suppose the Church is meant to be that for them, but that is a blog post or dissertation of its own. This is about me. And the reason, I could never find myself destitute and homeless has nothing to do with my ability (or currently, inability) to provide for myself, and everything to do with the fact that I am part of a community.

When Jesus says, “blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” I can’t help but think that part of what the poor (hopefully) discover is that the kingdom is ultimately a community of people who love and care for one another in all sorts of meaningful ways.

we are doing it wrong


Today marks a month since I landed on Scottish soil, and so it seems only right for me to spend some time reflecting on how the ‘big move’ is going. I think the title of the post sums things up accurately enough. And by it, I mean everything.

Sure, maybe you’ve seen some pretty pictures or heard rumour of fun adventures. While those are pleasant enough moments, they have only been a tiny slice of what the past month has been like for us. Let’s take stock of the journey so far – the life we have left and the one we’ve embraced.

Back in the States, I had a j–o–b. One that I found fulfilling, and one that I would occasionally feel half-way competent at. Now, I’m an under-employed full-time student. While the pastorate wasn’t a lucrative profession, I never wondered if we were going to be able to keep the lights on. We now find ourselves in a situation where despite many people’s generosity, we will have opportunity month after month to see God’s provision for us. In sum, we have traded in a measure of financial security for financial vulnerability (or perhaps more accurately, financial irresponsibility).

Speaking of irresponsible, we left a house. We haven’t sold it. We haven’t rented it. We left it. Mind you, we hope that one of those two options will work out soon, but a month has gone by and nothing yet. What have we gotten in return? After two-weeks of an ulcer-producing home search, we landed in a home that is smaller and less nice than the one we left. Oh yeah, and it costs nearly twice what our home in Arkansas might rent for… that is if it would, in fact, rent.

The list could go on and on. Schools we really liked for schools that are ok. Roads, grocery stores, and bureaucracy that we knew how to navigate for a world of unfamiliarity that takes three times the effort and time it should to get through. I don’t even want to think about the fact that I haven’t clipped into a pair of pedals in over a month.

But frankly, all of that pales in comparison to that which has been the hardest to leave which is of course people. Friends, family, church, small groups, students, teachers, biking buddies, familiar faces at restaurants and grocery stores. We’ve left a community in which we were deeply embedded. People whom we had the privilege of loving and who in turn loved us. And while we are well on way to making new friends here, there is a sense in which I think all of us feel lonely. Thank goodness that there are six of us (presently seven!) so that we are never truly alone.

The story of Abraham has often come to mind in the past month. Not that I would presume to suggest that I have anything close to the measure of faith that he had, but I would say that I have come to better appreciate his story more in a very tangible way over the last thirty days. I think I can identify with the bits of his story that are left untold in the Genesis account. The sort of thoughts and emotions that one has to read between the lines in order to pick up on.

I’ve wondered how he felt about leaving the familiar behind. Or how easily he slept at night in the Judean country-side while the burden of providing for his clan weighed heavily on his mind. What were his thoughts as he wandered through a unknown land and encountered a foreign people? Most of all, I wonder how many times Abraham second-guessed his encounter with God in which he was told to set forth into the unknown. As he led his family out of Ur, surely he look back over his shoulder more than once and thought, “this is all wrong.”

Not that I was under the illusion that it was all going to be easy. From the outside looking in, one might have made the mistake of thinking that this journey has been an easy one for us. Certainly as I tell the story that began over a year ago, there are countless stories of God’s faithfulness and his seeming to open doors that would have otherwise appeared sealed shut. And that is all true enough. But what may have gone unrecognized is that getting to the place to even test the doorknob took a fair amount of perseverance. Likewise, many have only heard the part of the story in which hurdle after hurdle was miraculously overcome. But it doesn’t convey the sense of discouragement that comes when you bump up against a door that doesn’t seem to budge.

What do you do when your house hasn’t sold? Do you take that as a ‘sign’ that this isn’t God’s will for you? Or do you push on? Similarly, when you don’t have a predictable source of ample income, is that also a sign that it is time to head for greener pastures? I’m wondering how often I’ve simply reduced godly decision-making to fiscal responsibility. Surely, I bow the knee to Christ and not just the almighty dollar.

Sorry if this in any way shatters the image of the idyllic life you thought the Chinos had found across the Atlantic. The truth of the matter is that while following a God-given dream can be exhilarating, most of the time it is just hard work. In fact, maybe the willingness to press on when it is hard is the difference between a fancy and calling. I came across an article on Steve Jobs, and the following words describing the difference between passion and obsession resonated with me…

A disconnect develops between what many of us want passionately and what few of us are willing to obsess over and sacrifice to achieve. The passionate and obsessive are often reading from similar scripts with entirely different endings.

Obsession camps out for Radiohead tickets. Passion goes to the show and sings along, but thinks the fans with their Kid A tattoos are creepy. However, only the obsessed end up with front row seats.

Obsession demands an outcome, where passion doesn’t. It can be swayed into other pursuits when it doesn’t get its way.

Passion wants to change the world, but often hasn’t put in the effort to become great at anything of value. Even worse, passion sometimes knocks over those in the trenches, the obsessed doing the hard work to push their fields forward despite the obstacles.

Substitute the word obsession with calling (not that they are dissimilar) and I can get fully on board with the sentiment. I’ve ended up with a fair share of front row seats at concerts, and I would consider it tragic if my efforts resulted in knocking over someone trying to do the hard work in the trenches. I can only hope that the clarity of God’s calling in the days and months leading up to our departure will sustain in the hard work of pushing forward.

As always, I have more to say, but it is time for other pursuits.

numbered days


I leave for Scotland in one week. One week. With seven days left in the country, one would think that we’re pretty well packed up and ready to go. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is has been a while since I’ve shared anything about the BIG MOVE, so we are somewhat overdue for an update.

If you had asked me two months ago where I thought the Chinos were headed, I would have guessed that we were Edinburgh-bound. Then one morning, I received an email from my would-be supervisor that he was leaving Edinburgh to teach at a different university. As providence would have it, that different university was Aberdeen – the other university to which I had been admitted. At doctoral level studies, the most important factor for deciding where to study is who you will be studying under. The faculty at both schools is naturally first-rate, but Aberdeen was beginning to look more suited for my particular areas of interest (doctrine of Scripture / Karl Barth).

So with a new goal in sight, work towards getting ourselves there began in earnest. I won’t bore you with all the details, but trying to get a visa to study in the UK was nearly as challenging as getting admitted to either PhD program. Application forms, application fees, bank statements, academic credentials, lots of driving to and from Ft. Smith for biometics (finger prints, photographs, background checks), birth certificates, marriage license, lots of FedEx, which of course means even more money.

Then Friday morning, I received six emails from the British consulate in New York informing me that the visas were in the mail. I immediately proceeded to book the reservations that we have been sitting on for a week while we waited to get word on our visas. From beginning to end, the whole visa process took nearly two months. A small miracle in the midst of all this is that the tickets ended up costing less than half what I was expecting to have to pay. I’ve priced other similar tickets around the same time and even a few months out, and they are all twice as much. God continues to be in the details.

Meanwhile, last Sunday was bittersweet in the truest sense of the word. In the morning, I preached my last message at Fellowship North for at least three years. That evening there was a “Celebrating the Chinos” service that I can’t even type about without a little lump coming to my throat. I’ll have more to say about church and this service, but for now I’ll just say that it was all that something like that should be. Bagpipes and kilt included.

We continue to ride a wonderful wave of providential faithfulness, and there are still plenty of ways for God to show up in the next seven days. We still have a house that we would have liked to sell, but now is looking more like we’ll need to rent. My beloved Pathfinder also needs to find a new home.

And then there is the not-so-small issue of our finances. Many people have stepped forward to help with various one-time costs and monthly assistance, however we would still welcome anyone who would like to be a part of the team that is sending us. Clicking the “give” button takes you to a page where you can designate giving to us by choosing “Scotland” in the menu of choices.


The next time I get a chance to post here, I’ll be doing so from Aberdeen. One other thing, if you would like to receive our monthly newsletter while we are abroad, CLICK HERE and take a minute to fill out the form.

See you on the other side!

Chinos to Scotland


You’ve probably landed here to find out what in the world is going on with the Chinos. Likely, you have heard a crazy rumor that my family and I are hoping to take up residence in Scotland in a few short months.

Well, it’s true.

It is a very long story, but the shorter version of it (as I recently shared in church) is that I have been admitted into PhD programs at the universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Both schools have a rich history of solid Christian scholarship, and it would be a privilege to study at either place. This opportunity comes as the culmination of a long academic journey and an equally long-standing dream of making a theological contribution that benefits both the Academy and the Church. I intend to take some time in future posts to explain my research and writing, but I hope it goes without saying that I wouldn’t be undertaking such a huge endeavor if I didn’t think it was work worth doing.

edinburgh new college

However, I don’t plan on spending three years of our lives there with only a degree to show for it. I’m convinced that God has other purposes beyond the academic for our time in Scotland. It is probably a little premature to say exactly how we are going to serve the people of Scotland, but it is certain that we will be actively serving the church and community there.

Fellowship North (our church for the last eleven years) has a mission to make disciples of all people, and vision to mobilize a racially-unified family of God, called out as the presence of Jesus in our world, to pursue His mission: all people reconciled to God. Honestly, as I think about what our family is called to while we are in Scotland, it would be difficult to improve on that.

Over the last year, I have become increasingly interested in the two-word phrase “make disciples.” A ministry called DownLine was recently launched in our community, and I have had the opportunity to teach some of the sessions and get to know the people involved with this organization.


DownLine exists for the purpose of equipping Christ followers to make disciples. Sound familiar? I hope that all of us realize that neither Fellowship North nor DownLine thought up this stuff on their own. Both organizations simply read Matthew 28:19-20 and come away convinced that the mission is pretty straightforward.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

I consider it a providential blessing that I was able to become familiar with DownLine over the past year, because it has given both a model and a strategy for how this work can be initiated in other communities. My hope would be to launch a similar disciple-making movement during my time in Scotland. I have a few other ideas about how to go about making disciples while we are there, but I think there is wisdom in waiting to get over there, get settled in, and then begin to explore how the church needs to be strengthened and ways the community can be impacted.

Lots is still unknown for us. Where we’ll live? Where the kids will go to school? What life will look like for us there? What friends we will make? Where we’ll go to church?

But one thing is abundantly clear. We won’t be able to do this alone. If this vision is going to become reality, then we’ll need people who would be willing to partner with us in this venture. Fellowship North has agreed to receive funds on our behalf during the next three years. We’ll need a considerable amount of funds to get established in a new city, and we’ll need monthly support as well. We would consider it an honor if you would prayerfully consider supporting us through a one-time donation and/or monthly support. For those of you who are comfortable with online-type financial transactions, the easiest way to get started is to click the following link…

Once there, you can setup an online account and establish recurring scheduled giving. Or you can use “quick give” for a one-time donation. Either way, be sure to find “Seminary Scholarship Fund” in the drop-down menu choices, in order for the funds to be designated towards our work.

You are also welcome to give on Sundays, setup your own bank’s online bill pay, or mail a check to the church. For general information about giving in these ways, visit…

As before, while the check is made out to Fellowship North, you will need to note “Seminary Scholarship Fund” on your check if would like to support us.

We consider it an honor and a privilege to be going on this journey, and we would love for you to partner with us financially and prayerfully. You can keep up to date with how to pray for us in a few different ways. You can email me at tjchino at gmail dot com, and I will include you on a monthly email update.

For much more regular updates on what is going on with us, you can go to Alison’s blog ( and become an email subscriber. By email subscribing, you’ll also get plenty of Chino recipes to boot.


For you Facebook-ers, find her at Chino House, and click “like.”

Of course, I’ll occasionally be sharing my two-cents right here at Square Pegs. How ever you choose to stay in touch with us, we are grateful that you want to join us in this journey. Your love and support mean more to us than you can ever know.

If you have any questions or would like to talk to me about any of this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Much love,

Taido (for the Chinos)

dreams revisited

University of Edinburgh

Have you ever noticed how pursuing one dream can give rise to about a half-dozen others? How reaching one summit provides the opportunity to set your sights (and those of others) on three or four more? This inherent desire for “more” rides a fine line between an unhealthy appetite fueled by malcontent and a (hopefully) more admirable passion to do as much as possible to benefit the world. I’m pretty sure I have no idea where that boundary is and your guess is as good as mine which side I’m on at any given point in time.

Case in point, it only took a couple of days for the initial surprise and excitement of being admitted into Aberdeen and Edinburgh to wear off. When it did, I pretty quickly turned to the following inner dialogue. “Ok, so now what? So you made it into two highly respected schools for theology. What’s the big deal? So you go get a fancy degree. Big whoop.”

Why do we do this to ourselves? What is it inside of us that causes us to denigrate and belittle most anything we accomplish in life? Or maybe it is just me and my own particular brand of neuroses. I could get elected president and still ask myself the question, “Is that all you’ve got?” My need for therapy is duly noted.

It won’t come as a surprise then that my one-time dream of studying at the highest level in one of the world’s finest schools already looks a bit shabby. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still planning to go. And I still think the work I hope to do is much needed for both the Academy and the Church. I truly believe that solid Christian scholarship (in any field) is one of the many ways a person can be faithful to their calling.

However, I’m coming to the realization that our purpose in going to Scotland can hardly be for the education alone. Even less so for the cross-cultural experience my family will have. Certainly not for the oft maligned haggis. No, it seems much more likely that what is waiting for us in the UK is ministry – in the fullest sense of the word. It would be difficult to imagine a life there in which my twenty-plus years of working with a wide range of people in various kinds of ministry settings didn’t somehow come into play. People are people no matter where they are, and my guess is that people in Scotland have similar spiritual needs to those in the good ole US of A.

I even have a few ideas of what I would like to see happen over there. In the last year or so, through a number of converging influences, I’ve been challenged to rethink the importance of discipleship. You wouldn’t think that this should be much of a paradigm shift for a pastor, but the truth is that despite our best efforts at ‘ministry,’ sometimes discipleship ends up being a happy by-product and not the main thing. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that the methods most churches go about ‘discipling’ people (sermons and Sunday school/small groups) are only partially effective. They are necessary and important, but it is misguided to think that simply preaching and teaching results in discipleship.

With this in mind, I have high hopes of discipling a handful of people during our time in Scotland. Sounds strange to say that. Counter-intuitive even. Normally, people like me would want to reach the masses. But what if instead of teaching and preaching to a few hundred people with marginal results, I was able to have a deep and lasting impact on 3-12 people. What if the legacy I was able to leave in Scotland was a dozen people committed to a life-time of disciple-making? Jesus had three years of public ministry. I’ll be working with a similar time-frame. He had a deep impact on a dozen. He showed what could happen when a comparatively small group of people have their lives turned upside down by him. Let’s be clear, I’m no Jesus. Not by a long shot. But that shouldn’t necessarily keep one from adopting a similar approach. Like I said, I’ve got a few ideas about what this could look like, but in many ways it is going to have to be one of those ‘wait and see’ kind of things.

Ok, well I’ve pretty much brought you up to speed on everything I know of the story right now. Everything that is, save one. The next step in the journey isn’t going to be a solo endeavor. It won’t even be a Chino thing. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. What has happened in my life has been the result of people showing up at just the right time and place with exactly the kind support and encouragement that was needed. If this dream is going to become reality, it will result from the community of God’s people wanting it to happen. There is a near crippling sense of embarrassment that comes from having to be so openly dependent on others.

I suppose that this is exactly as it should be. If it was a dream that I could accomplish on my own, then it would most certainly be too small a dream. My sense is that the dreams really worth accomplishing are those that can’t be done solo. My coming to this realization over the last few years has been a long and often painful process. However, I can finally and truthfully say, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

more to tell

view from CALS

A week or so ago, I shared the semi-epic journey of bringing my Master of Theology degree to completion. It was a wild ride and I am happy to have it behind me. For whatever reason, more than a few people have asked if they can read the finished product. I can’t figure out if they have a deep and abiding interest in how 1 Peter makes use of Isaiah, or if (more likely) they are battling chronic insomnia.

Either way, HAVE AT IT. This is just the intro, but I’ll send you the rest if your interest holds.

And yet, as I was bringing the tale to a close, I suggested that there was more to the story. Indeed, finishing the ThM was only the beginning. Working on the thesis revived a long-time dream of going on to pursue doctoral study in theology. This dream dates back at least fifteen years to when I was living in Seattle, and in many ways it was the catalyst for embarking on the ThM in the first place. My previous master’s degree was demanding and rewarding, but it left a gap in my academic work that the ThM was designed to fill – rigorous original research. Had I been gifted with greater foresight, I could have navigated my MDiv in such a way that would have positioned me better for a PhD, but I was young and dumb.

Now much older and only marginally wiser, I am able to recognize the tremendous value of my time at Regent. While I may have bemoaned the exceedingly high demands placed on my research and writing, their turning up the scholastic heat really did seem to pay off. At least, that was my hope six months ago.

Around the holidays, shortly after my master’s proposal was approved and I was about to throw myself into the furnace (so to speak), I asked my supervisor what she thought of my prospects for study beyond the ThM. She had been nothing but honest with me in the past, so I had no reason to think she would pull any punches. Her reply was something along the lines of “you seem well-suited for this sort of work.” Which I think means, “you’re not completely incompetent, give it a go.”

This little nudge was all I needed to begin putting together applications to four different schools. By itself, the thought my returning in full-force to the world of academia teeters on the brink of madness. The fact that all four schools are located in the United Kingdom lands us right in the dead center of crazy. There are various reasons why the UK is the preferred route for me, but most important is the duration of the program. Because they don’t require any additional course-work (research and writing only), I would theoretically be able to complete the degree in a mere three years.

Let me go ahead and cut to the chase, I’ve been admitted to PhD programs at the universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen for study in Systematic Theology. Both schools have a rich history of solid Christian scholarship and are first-rate places to pursue the sort of work I would like to do. While I haven’t quite reached a decision regarding which offer to accept, it looks as if the Chino clan may very well be packing their bags for a three-year stint “across the pond.”

I wish I had time to go into all the details of the application process and how I was providentially met every step of the way, but that could easily turn this into a thesis of its own. Instead, there may be some value in simply making a list…

  • Arriving at an initial idea for a PhD proposal
  • Jumping from an emphasis in New Testament to Systematic Theology
  • Securing two academic references
  • The exact order in which I applied to the schools
  • Highly unusual words of encouragement along the way
  • Overcoming a less than stellar academic record
  • Receiving exactly the grade I needed for admission

Each of these bullet-points has a wonderful story behind it, but we need to move along. The take-away is that a several mountains needed moving in order for me to both persevere in the lengthy application process and actually gain admittance. I’m not sure I would have charted the course for myself this way, but it has been great to look back and see that more than mere happenstance has been carrying this thing forward.

If you reading all of this and are feeling a disorienting sense of shock and disbelief, rest assured that you are not alone. It is exactly the way we feel. When we got started on this some months back, we knew it was a possibility. The way winning the lottery is a possibility. When it actually happened, we were more than a little caught by surprise.

Speaking of winning the lottery, we will likely need to win an actual lottery to make the dream become reality. But judging from the mountains that have moved so far, what is another Everest or two?

I wish I could tell you that this is the end of the story, but (as you guessed) there is even more to tell.



an academic fairy tale

I realize that “academic” and “fairy tale” really don’t belong together. Other possible titles could have been, “There and back again, a graduate student’s tale.” Or “How to turn a one-year degree into fourteen.” Maybe slightly more inspiring, “How big a dream can you dream? Part 1.”

For the past six months, I’ve been working on it. And now, I’m done. Really, done.

thesis conclusion

By ‘it’, I mean my thesis for a Master of Theology degree. Finishing this has been nothing short of a miracle, and the back story on getting to ‘done’ deserves recording for the sake of posterity.

Fourteen years ago – that’s right FOUR-TEEN years ago – while living in Seattle, I enrolled in a Master of Theology (ThM) program at Regent College, “an innovative graduate school of theology” in Vancouver, British Columbia. Had I known the journey that lay ahead, I’m not sure I would have ever ventured an application. But ignorance is bliss, so I applied and was admitted.

One thing I was aware of at the time of enrollment, Seattle and Vancouver are separated by a two-and-a-half hour drive (not to mention a national border), so I knew going in that I would be spending lots of time and gas (i.e. money) traveling back and forth between home and school. What seemed like a perfectly reasonable decision back then sounds like shear madness now. Who in their right mind would travel FIVE HOURS to attend a two hour class once a week? This idiot, that’s who.

At any rate, over the next few years, I faithfully covered the miles and more or less knocked out all the coursework. During those repeated trips to Regent, I fell in love with the school. Everything about it is just right. Where it is. What it is. Why it is. Who it is. All perfect. When people ask me what seminaries to consider, and I get asked pretty frequently, Regent is always at the top of the list.

Regent College

The classes and the faculty who taught them helped me become a better theologian, pastor, and person. I already had my Master of Divinity, which was its own grueling labor of love, but for whatever reason my time at Regent was both demanding and life-giving in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Despite the long hours driving in the car, sitting in the classroom, toiling over books and research papers, being there was a good thing for me.

Here’s what I didn’t know going in. Since the ThM is the highest degree offered at Regent, the school takes it very seriously. I have no idea what the expectations are for completing a ThM at any other school, but I’m painfully aware of what they are at Regent. High. Insanely so. I seem to recall one professor saying that since Regent didn’t offer a PhD, they more or less felt like it was their responsibility to hold students working towards their highest degree to doctoral research standards.

Just great. Not only did I have the challenges of family (I don’t think I mentioned that two of our four children were born during this time) and work to deal with, not to mention the ridiculously long commute, now I’ve got people expecting research and writing from me that I wasn’t even sure I was capable of.

I’m not sure how to describe the next several years as it relates to work on the thesis. “A wash” is probably most appropriate. I had an idea of what I wanted to write on – “1 Peter’s Use of the Old Testament” – but I discovered that it was far too broad a research topic. Now I realize that for most, this doesn’t appear to lack specificity, but alas it was indeed too vague.

Meanwhile, life is changing – more kids, moving across the country, new home, new work – and as you might guess, the thesis (that I didn’t really have a clear idea of how to finish) fell effortlessly to the bottom of the ‘do do’ list. Even though it didn’t command my attention, I knew it was there. Most days, weeks, and months would pass without even giving it a passing thought. At other times, its unfinished state was akin to Paul’s famous thorn in the flesh.

Then came the summer of 2008. I was due for a sabbatical and I had the brilliant idea of trying to combine writing a thesis and a once in a lifetime adventure for my family of six in the Pacific Northwest. Once again, sounds reasonable enough, right? Yeah, right.


The summer is well chronicled by my beloved, and I highly encourage you to spend some time reminiscing on the madness that we fondly called “living the dream.” But it didn’t take me long to realize that I wouldn’t be finishing that summer. Honestly, I would do good to come to the end of the sabbatical with a decent proposal. Humbled, but not deterred, I chipped away at the thesis while moving our make-shift home (a pop-up camper pulled by an aging 15-passenger van) from one place to the next, holing up in whatever library or coffee-shop I could find wherever we happened to be. And as expected, I walked away from the summer having made some progress on the thesis, but not much.

Returning home, the thesis returned back to the back burner. And to give the metaphor some sense of scale, it was on the very back burner of a friend’s house who lived across town that I didn’t see but a few times a year. I would wave at it every now and then, just often enough to remember it was still there. And the stove was off.

Once again, weeks, months, and years rolled by. Same ole, same ole.

Until something changed. And that something was a willingness to ask for help. On February 23, 2012, the day after Ash Wednesday, I awkwardly asked a group of men to pray with me during Lent concerning what the future held. There are a couple of pretty incredible stories there that I’ll have to go into at another time, but the short version is that at the end of Lent, we all regrouped and they affirmed that I should do whatever it took to finish the thesis. And their words of encouragement and prayers were exactly what I needed to face the challenges that lay ahead.

You see, in order for this to happen, at least four things would need to fall into place. First, the leadership at church would need to be willing to let me take the time to do the research and writing. Second, I would need to seek and be granted an extension from Regent. Third, I would need to secure a new thesis supervisor from among the faculty at Regent (by this time, my previous supervisor had left the school). And fourth, I would need to find a way to have access to highly specialized theological books and articles, which I knew would prove difficult because Central Arkansas doesn’t boast much in the way of theological libraries.

I honestly wasn’t sure that any of these things would come to pass. The only hope I was going on was that a group of four friends were convinced that this was the course I needed to take. And so one step at a time, I walked through the process. And one by one, the mountains moved. The church made it possible for me to devote a significant amount of time each week to thesis work. Regent was gracious enough to grant the necessary program extension. Two down, two to go.

Securing a thesis supervisor was going to be a little tricky. The most likely candidate for supervising was a New Testament professor who is something of an expert in the New Testament’s use of the Old. However, he was on study leave and therefore unavailable. Enter Mariam Kamell, a recent addition to Regent’s faculty who had recently finished her PhD work in New Testament. After a round of emails and a phone call or two, she agreed to supervise my work. More on Mariam later, but for now just ‘one’ to go.

I was fully prepared to make regular trips to Regent (at no small expense), in order to have access to the library, which is one of the finest theological libraries in North America. Then Alison suggested that I at least check with our local library to see what they might be able to do for me. My acting on her suggestion (and Lord knows that I don’t always take her advice to heart) was the difference maker. I discovered a little thing called ILLIAD. I don’t know exactly what it stands for, but the words “inter-library” and “loan” are somewhere in there, and basically what it means is that any book or article on the planet can find its way into my hands within a week or two. And I mean… any book. FOR FREE! My friends, the world had just opened up to me. I don’t know how many requests I’ve made in the last six months, but I would venture to guess somewhere approaching one-hundred.

So with the obstacles (and excuses) out of the way, the only thing left keeping me from getting it done was me. Literally, everything had fallen into place and now I had to face the unfortunate truth that I am my own biggest obstacle to getting most anything done. However, having reached the proverbial point-of-no-return, stopping now was not option. It helped that there were four guys who would have taken me to task if I gave any indication at all of not moving forward. And so, I took the next step.

It is now May of 2012, I send off the proposal that I had thought was in pretty good shape to my recently acquired supervisor. At this point, I should clarify what the “proposal” stage is all about. In most peoples’ minds, a proposal is a few paragraphs – a page at best – describing what you think you would like to write about. Someone signs off on that and then you get to go write your thing. At Regent, a proposal is a carefully researched, fully annotated, highly scrutinized, twenty-five page document detailing what you plan to argue as original research. This ain’t no book report folks. It isn’t even a summary of what you’ve learned after reading a couple hundred books and articles. It is you saying something that has never been said before about the Bible. The B-I-B-L-E. Only the most studied piece of literature in the history of the planet.

Mariam has many wonderful qualities that make her an ideal supervisor, and none more important than her honesty. After having read through the proposal, her candid (yet gracious) reply was along the lines of “you’re going to have to do better than that.” This was right before summer hit, and so her reply coupled with the irregularity of summer schedule set me back over two months. When August rolled around, I knew that unless I jumped back in now, I would probably be looking at another multi-year stand still. So I took the next step. Dove back in. Did more research. Carefully considered her feedback. And began to re-work the proposal.

I barely make a deadline for turning in my proposal to an approval committee. That’s right, a committee approves whether or not your proposal has any merit. No pressure. It came back and the hard work paid off. I was given the ‘green light’ to get moving. That happens at the end of November. The agreed upon due date is March 25th. I’ve got just under four months to produce one hundred and twenty-five carefully researched, well-argued, pages of fresh research on 1 Peter’s Use of Isaiah (yes, the Old Testament was too broad, so it got narrowed down to just the Isaiah references).

And that’s when things shifted into high gear. For four months, every week, I churned out page after page. Once a chapter was done, I sent it off to my supervisor and she would take it to task. Comments regularly came back, “not sure what you’re arguing here,” “awkward sentence,” “where are you going with this.” I would revise. All the while, keeping moving forward. And slowly, chapters were finishing and an argument was coming together. I would stare at my laptop until it felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head. But finally, one day, I was done. Just like that. And not only done, but done with a piece of well-researched, carefully argued, and I think, important contribution to the field of biblical studies.


Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend convocation in Vancouver. I’ve never been one given to ceremony, fanfare, or sentimentality. However, walking across that stage brought to conclusion something that was definitely worth marking and celebrating. It was a watershed moment that I’ll always look back on to remember that sometimes the faithfulness of God takes many, many years to recognize. In our “on-demand” culture, I feel like this is a much needed reminder.

Like I said at the outset, it is nothing short of a miracle. And by and large, the miracle came in the form of people. People who gave exactly the sort of support and encouragement that I needed at exactly the right time and place. Maybe one day, I’ll learn that lesson for good.

And yet, my friends, getting to ‘done’ is not even half of the story.