Following Their Callings to Truett
Truett Seminary is pleased to welcome two new faculty members — Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, PhD, and Daniel Hill, PhD
God is always after excellence. The excellence in ministry and excellence and faithfulness to biblical scripture, but also faithfulness and excellence in cutting-edge research.
Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, PhD
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is most important for our students and alumni to know about you?
Hopkins: I love the Bible. I love the Scriptures. And I love to do lots of different things, particularly with interdisciplinary work. I'm a native of sunny southern California, where there actually was a time, while I was growing up, when it did not rain for maybe a period of five or six years.
I’ve always had two fascinations or two loves, if you will. I’ve always had a love for Scripture and Bible reading, which came from growing up in a Baptist Sunday School. I had my Good News Bible with the pictures, and I was absolutely captivated by the stories of the Old Testament and the narratives. I could identify with the characters and the setting, and I could envision myself being part of the story. And so, I was captivated by Scripture early on, and of course that I think fueled my appetite for reading Scripture.
Then I had another love for film and television. Early on, I was a childhood actor. I acted on stage in Los Angeles, and I was an understudy for Malcolm Jamal Warner in L.A., at a theater called Intercity Cultural Center. That animated my imagination for theater and for film. I did some small film roles and some commercial roles, and I was in a Michael Jackson video growing up. I was afforded the opportunity to earn my undergraduate degree at Howard University in radio/TV/film production with a theater minor.
My film professor during my last year in film school at Howard University encouraged me to go to seminary. I didn't know what seminary was, but because he would always see me reading my Bible when I wasn't studying for class, he saw that I had an appetite for Scripture. He encouraged me to pursue further studies in Bible and theology, and I took him up on that. Being from southern California, being a student in Washington, D.C. and experiencing those cold winters, I immediately made a bee line back home to Pasadena, California, and enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary. It was there I realized that I loved languages when I took Greek and Hebrew.
I was absolutely fascinated and captivated by those languages and being able to go deeper into the study of Scripture and looking at the manuscripts. That excited me, and one of my last courses was by a visiting professor on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. This professor encouraged me to work with a school that trained in the Dead Sea Scrolls and allowed students to go to England and do doctorate work. I took him up on that offer. I think I was the only one in class when he came down to Pasadena at Fuller, and I wrote a paper that was accepted into The University of Manchester, and the rest is history. I was able to go to The University of Manchester and study the Dead Sea Scrolls with George Brooks.
Q: How do you understand your calling, and how have you followed that sense of calling in your life?
Hopkins: I've always been inquisitive. I was the type of child that would ask “Why?” No matter what the statement was, I would ask my parents, “Why, why, why, why?” I think my inquisitive mind and all of those questions were the making of one who was interested in exegesis, because in exegesis, you're asking those questions, you're asking, “Why?” You're asking, “What?” You're digging deeper and deeper and deeper. Behind a lot of my questions may have been questions on how does this world work? I think it's a deeply theological, philosophical kind of question.
How does the world work? How do we fit into it? And where's God in all of this? I just always had an innate belief in God. I think my inquisitiveness was fueled by that reality or that worldview, if you will. It just seemed natural to fall in line with the Bible being our guide and where we find God, where we find how God interacts with communities through history. I think that partly was always who I was. That's always how I understood myself, my identity. I grew up in a Christian household, but I remember going to my grandmother's house in central California. She would always have TBN on morning, noon, and night. I don't know, maybe subconsciously I would kind of look at it out of the corner of my eye.
But I remember by the time I came of age, I wanted to be saved. I can remember every time I would turn the TV on in my own home, every time the altar appeal was made, I prayed the prayer of salvation every single time. I wanted to make sure. By the time I was in junior high school, I had read the book of Revelation cover to cover. I think I must have been 10 or 11, but I had such an appetite, and I just wanted to learn more about God and about the deeper things of God—the richness of God. To me, the Bible was the closest resource, if you will, where I could find God and have that relationship with God and cultivate that and learn more and more and more of Him and of His Word. When I think of my calling, I think of it as just so intertwined with my life story that it may be hard to distinguish. It was just always my impulse. That was part of my DNA, my calling from the time I can remember asking that first “Why?” question.
I remember, when I was probably in high school or so, a casting director called me a boy scout because I would not audition for roles because I could not bring myself to swear—to say certain words, to represent certain parts. Being a young African American and wanting to get into the acting field, a lot of the roles I was asked to audition for were gang members or these negative portrayals you see in culture. I had problems with that, but I would not use that language that was in scripts.
The casting director pulled me aside. He said, “You’re a boy scout. And you won’t go very far in this business if you're going to have these high morals.” But that was just part of my DNA, even when I wanted to be an actor. And in film school, I always gravitated to writing those scripts that are inspirational. We cannot have a story, we cannot have a script, we cannot have a narrative that God is not part of, because that's the world. And that's the reality that we all live in. A story without God is not reality for me. I think my film professor saw that, and he encouraged me to cultivate the theological interest and the biblical appetite that I had.
Q: You mentioned film and film school and your love of theater. Has that continued to be an important part of your life?
Hopkins: It’s always been one of the things that animate who I am. One of the courses that I’m teaching this fall is The Bible and Black Cinema. What I’m looking at in that class are films that have those biblical themes, those biblical motifs, those slices of reality, if you will, that speak to Scripture, and that Scripture even informs. And then there are some films that are very explicit with regard to bringing out these biblical themes.
I think of some James Baldwin films, “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Toni Morrison’s film, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” I think these kinds of films that have biblical themes and motifs and ideas are hermeneutical pieces in a sense, because the directors, the writers, the authors, and even the actors themselves, are doing a kind of interpretation. I guarantee students will never be able to watch a film again the same way, because I think everything is interpretation.
In my Christian Scriptures 3 course, I like to use interactive media resources. There’s this Bible Project series on YouTube that I use to give visual representation to the books that we’re looking at. These images reinforce themes and ideas as we’re talking and engaging. When we’re looking at exegesis and hermeneutics, for those who are training for ministry, these courses are going to be very pivotal.
Q: What led you to Truett, and what are you excited about doing here?
Hopkins: There are few places where you have the deep Christian commitment that also has solid cutting-edge research. To marry those two realities is very unique. You have those Research 1 institutions where there may not be a solid, traditional, biblical orthodox commitment, or you may have those biblical, traditional, orthodox commitments that don't have the solid Research 1 commitment. To have the two, that's very unique. It makes Baylor and Truett very, very unique and incredibly exciting. I think it's a blessing from God to be part of that and to be part of this new thing that God is doing.
God is always after excellence. The excellence in ministry and excellence and faithfulness to biblical Scripture, but also faithfulness and excellence in leading cutting-edge research. Not just Christian research, but research that comes from one's Christian and theological and biblical formation that serves the world and that informs the world and society around us, regardless of whatever their tradition is, that is something that Christian theological truth has to say to society. I believe that Baylor University’s Truett Seminary is one of those places that represents the best of all of those worlds.
That’s very exciting, because I did my doctoral research in England. I studied under the John Ryland Chair of Biblical Criticism. F.F. Bruce sat in that chair at The University of Manchester. I was honored and blessed to sit under the faculty member that was in that chair to do my doctoral research. F.F. Bruce and his evangelical commitment are also a part of my DNA. To serve that out at a leading institution such as Baylor’s Truett Seminary—I know that’s a God thing. I'm listening to what God is saying and sensing and leading. I'm honored and blessed to be part of that.
That kind of calling was hammering away: “you want to talk to people about God.” And that is what I want to be able to do.
- Daniel Hill, PhD
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is most important for our students and alumni to know about you?
Hill: I love music, I love the Lord, I watch chess, and I like to laugh. Historically, I was a musician before I was a Christian. I used to write and perform music. I love all different kinds of music, from punk rock, to rap, to blues, to classical, sometimes jazz. There’s just a whole kind of wide breadth of music that I love. And the capacity of music to make you feel. The way songwriters and poets can put words that capture your emotions is amazing.
Q: What do you feel like God has called you to do in the world, and how have you pursued that in your life?
Hill: I think my view of calling, if I were to try and sum it up, is that I want to pass on the history of the faith so that the next generation can continue it. Not so that they'll just duplicate it in some way, but to say to them, "This is yours. This is your inheritance. Now take this baton and go forward." I’m not the future of the church. The students we have at Truett are the future of the church. And the students they have and the people they minister to are the future of the church.
Q: How does one discover that calling?
Hill: “Stumble” is a great word. I would give one of those viewer discretion warnings to say, “Please, no one else follow in my footsteps!” I’d gone to seminary in order to be a missionary, and while I was in seminary, I was working for a church and thought a lot about church planning. It was a difficult journey. I love that church. I’m very thankful for it, but it was hard. And I had some personal difficulty during that time in my own life with my father’s health. One of my professors told me that if I go to another country, every Christian there can plant churches better than I could plant churches and can preach the Gospel better than I could preach the Gospel. But what I can do is teach the history of the faith. Even while I was in seminary, I thought for a second that I’d do urban education and urban revitalization, something that’s near and dear to my heart. But that kind of calling was hammering away: “you want to talk to people about God.” And that is what I want to be able to do.
Q: Where has your calling taken you?
Hill: I worked for four years at a church in Houston. I was a young adult ministry director and preached weekly, led and trained small group leaders, led a small group, and did outreach events. It was great experience. I worked as an administrator at a classical school that I helped start in Chicago called The Field School. I was there for a year and a half. When I was in Houston, I taught in a middle school for two years, and I’ve done mission trips here and there.
Q: What are some areas you focus on in your teaching, research, and writing?
Hill: I do a lot of writing on what we refer to as theological anthropology—what is the human being in light of divine revelation or in the light of God and what God has done in Christ. I also do work in ecclesiology. The connection between the two is, what is the human being? What is the human creature? And how are we formed by and relate to the context in which we inhabit? Sometimes that will be the church, sometimes it’s social structures or other institutions. I’ve written a book on the doctrine of the church and anthropology. I’m currently writing a book on the church’s public face, or the theology of public life.
Q:What are some of the classes you’ll teach at Truett?
Hill: I was slated in the fall to teach Text and Traditions III. So 1700s onward, looking at modern theology and post-Schleiermacher and all of the other figures that pop up. I’m also teaching a section of the Constructive Theology class, where we put it all back together.
Q:If you could teach your dream class or design a new class for Truett, what would it be?
Hill: I would love to teach a class on theological anthropology—how have different people thought about issues of race, gender, personhood, and vocation? There are so many things you can tie into that—marriage, singleness, disability, disease, death. These are really important questions that tend to come up.
Q: What led you to Truett, and what are you excited about in Waco and at Truett?
Hill: I have a couple friends who recently graduated or are in the process of finishing up their PhDs, so while I was teaching in Dallas, I was always on job boards sending them jobs to apply for. A couple job openings popped up for Truett that I sent to some friends, and one of my friends said, “Hey, you should apply as well.” I’ve known some Baylor and Truett grads in passing, but they’ve had a very visible love for the church and for their students. The imprint of Truett on some of the people that I know has been very, very profound. I applied thinking this would be a lesson in intellectual humility, something to add to the rejections folder, because everyone I know is looking for a job and everyone’s applying at Truett and at Baylor. But in the interview process I was just… disarmed isn’t even strong enough, but the love of the faculty for one another is very, I can’t even think of the word. It’s something stronger than disarming. Since I’ve been hired, the number of people who have called me or reached out to me is just evidence that these people actually really care about each other and are really invested in one another’s lives. Another thing that stood out to me in the interview process was that we began our interview in prayer. I’ve interviewed at a lot of places in my history, and I can count on one hand the number of places that began in prayer. Lastly, I’m a Baptist from the North, and being able to serve in an institution that is committed to serving and seeking renewal while also having an ecumenical eye is something that matters to me quite a bit.