In God’s Good Time: On My first class at Northeastern Seminary




The people’s champ must be everything the people can’t be…You must have missed the come up, I must be all I can be. Call me Mr. Mufasa, I had to master stampedes– Chance the Rapper

Until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him –Psalms 105:19

This week I found myself standing before the eight students who would participate in the Doctor of Ministry course at Northeastern Seminary. Someone more humble than I am might have been nervous. I wasn’t. I was excited, probably too much so. Excitement causes me to speak much too quickly; the ideas come tumbling forth rapidly.  Grant me that flaw. I have an excuse: Jesus excites me.

This particular class gave me cause to be emotional. I experienced something that had not occurred since I graduated from high school some eighteen years ago. I was in a classroom where the majority of students were African-American. Although Northeastern is quite diverse, this was out of the ordinary. We have around 150 students, 50 of whom are black. This class had eight students­–six African-Americans and two Caucasians. And it was taught by a black man (me). I couldn’t help but notice that my entire educational experience had been an inversion of the present reality. In my studies, having another black student in class was the exception rather than the rule. Through my 12 plus years of higher education, I can recall having one black professor (shout out to Dr. Roberson at Sewanee).

But this extends beyond the classroom. Pursuing a doctorate in biblical studies means that just about every conference you attend, every gathering of professionals, every trip to the pub for drinks, every casual conversation, and just about every church experience will be largely white. Why does this matter? Why focus race instead of being excited about teaching all of God’s church?

For the past 18 years, I have done I lot of teaching, and I have enjoyed every moment of it. But the section of the church with whom I share similar experiences, stories, and culture had been largely absent from that experience. My concern is not about my own comfort; it is about access. When I went to Seminary, I learned so much about God’s word that I never knew. Then I realized that most of my classmates had no interest in returning to communities like the one I grew up in to teach people like my friends and family. More than that, I realized that there were very few of us black folk at the Seminary. This meant that even if every one us returned to urban communities we would be a minor blip on the radar.

Of course, I recognize that one does not have to go to seminary to be faithful to God’s calling, but it doesn’t hurt. Furthermore, it was a matter of equality. Did God only want suburban churches to access to this material? Is Greek and Hebrew only for the rich?

I came to the conclusion that biblical scholarship was meant for the whole church and that I could contribute to spreading that scholarship to the church that by going through the long Ph.D. process with the aim of eventually teaching in a diverse seminary. Keep in mind that at the time I was attending a seminary whose black population was somewhere south of five percent. I had never seen a diverse seminary. I had not even seen a diverse classroom this millennium. But I felt that this passion for the whole church was from God, so I pursued it.

So when I stood before my beautifully diverse first class of students, how could I feel anything but joy at God’s faithfulness? There is a scriptural image that I love. It speaks about God’s restorative work on behalf of his people. It said that God would restore the years that locusts had consumed. By this, the prophet meant that everything that had been taken away from Israel because of their sins would be restored in God’s good time. The Christian believes that God’s restorative project began  with the arrival of the Messiah Jesus. He is God’s faithfulness in the flesh. I am not Israel in exile, but the image seems apt. The years during which I was far from my people, when I was forced to read and study while feeling this deep passion to tell them and everyone else that we are sons and daughters of the King who invites us into kingdom, have been redeemed in God’s good time. The suffering had a purpose. It was refining; it was preparation. Now it is time to go to work.

Published by Dr. Esau McCaulley

Esau McCaulley is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. His research and writing focuses on Pauline theology and the intersection of race, Christian identity, and the pursuit of social justice. He is also a priest in the Anglican Church in North America where he serves as Provincial Director for Leadership Development, which involves oversight of the recruitment and formation of clergy and lay leaders. He is one of the creators of Call and Response ministries, an organization committed to hosting conferences and creating resources for Black and Multi-Ethnic churches.

8 thoughts on “In God’s Good Time: On My first class at Northeastern Seminary

  1. Dr. McCaulley, I truly loved your class and all that I learned. One of the added benefits was being that lone white male in the blue shirt! Not the first time I had been in such a position, but nonetheless very intriguing, especially coming out of a community that is 95% white. I have now participated in five classes at Northeastern’s D.Min. program and believe that there have always been fewer males than females and fewer whites than blacks. That alone would have made Northeastern an good learning choice for me.


  2. All the best Esau. I hope your gifts flourish at Northeastern. Richard is a good friend and is no doubt a wonderful colleague; one among many I presume.


  3. My brother and colleague, I am very glad you are here. You bring so much to the seminary. I look forward to working with you, and experiencing your contribution to our community including students, faculty, and staff.


  4. Thank you so much for this wonderful piece. I have the same passion that you have about going back to teach those that look like me and didn’t have plentiful opportunities to go where I have been or are going. Because of the spiritual work I am called to (spiritual direction), I find myself among a totally different culture most times. I haven’t always felt comfortable in the spaces that I now have to walk in, but I realize that God is putting me here for a divine purpose. So wonderful to read an experience that shares in my own.


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