“I Want to Think About My Life More Thoughtfully:” An Interview with Steve Garber

Steve Garber is the director of the Master of Arts in Leadership, Theology, and Society at Regent University in Vancouver, BC, and Professor of Marketplace Theology. He came to Regent from his work as the founder and director at the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Steve is the author of The Fabric of Faithfulness, Visions of Vocation, and many essays and articles.

The Green Room: Tell us about Regents philosophy of education for the marketplace.

Regent has a 50-year history of being an institution committed to theology for everyone. It has had a sense of calling to invite people in who wanted theological insight and understanding to take back into the world. That was its earliest vision and still goes through all of its life. That history was intriguing to me.

Regent has several master’s degrees, each in their own ways a means of deepening biblical and theological insight for the sake of living one’s vocation the world; about 100 students are in the M.Div. program, but it also offers master’s level study for people who see themselves going back to business or the arts or law or education. People come from all over the world to study here: an investment banker in Hong Kong or cattle rancher in Wyoming. Over time it’s developed a robust curriculum and faculty around that idea.

TGR: How did you come to join the Regent faculty?

I have known the people at Regent for most of my life. J. I. Packer is a teacher and friend; Jim Houston has long been a great influence on my life. Maybe six years ago I was at Laity Lodge and the head of the Marketplace Institute at Regent was also there. We had breakfast, innocently talking about life and everything, and we discovered that we were working on a common project, asking the question: what does vocation have to do with the great story from creation to consummation, the grand metanarrative of Scripture?

I don’t normally speak this way, but I told him, “I think we’re on holy ground here.” We talked for more hours. Three weeks later Kate Harris, my colleague from the Washington Institute and I went out to Vancouver and talked with the Regent folks. We had the same idea, were drawing on the same theological resources, and had the same hopes. We spent the next several years creating the ReFrame curriculum. What do stories mean to us? What does this Story mean? What does vocation then mean?

As all that was unfolding, I gave a lecture for a gathering of artists on Orcas Island in the Puget Sound, speaking on vocation, the arts and the world. The president of Regent was there, and asked me to teach a summer course. The next summer I did, and the chairman of the board was in the class. The president and board chair asked me if I would be willing to do more things for Regent.

Six months later this all led to the question “Would you ever be willing to teach here?” My first response was: “I planted four trees in my yard this year!” But a month later I came for a day and talked to people about their question. A month later Jeff Greenman, Regent’s president, came to Washington for a conversation with our friends and community in Washington, D.C, explaining his vision for Regent, an over the next several months it slowly became more concrete, talking and talking, thinking and thinking, and praying and praying. Meg and I decided that it was an adventure for us, one we hadn’t planned on.

I’ve been named professor of marketplace theology, which is a long-standing role at Regent, one that for the last several decades was wonderfully filled by Paul Stevens, a pioneer in thinking through the complex questions about work and the world. And I am also the Director of the Master of Arts in Leadership, Theology, and Society.

TGR: So, what are your plans for this new program?

What makes the new program? It’s a new wineskin for what Regent has been for its whole history. Someone can spend two weeks in Vancouver in July, go back into the workplace, then come back in January for two more weeks, then back to the workplace. This pedagogical rhythm will mark the program for the two years of study, so at its heart it is for people who can’t leave what they are doing but want to think deeply about these issues of “leadership, theology and society.”

A couple of years ago in Washington I got together with a man who was an investment banker in Hong Kong, who had heard a Regent professor speak in Hong Kong, and decided to come to Vancouver for two years of study. But for many good reasons most people aren’t in that position where they can take that much time off.

In the last weeks I’ve talked to a professional dancer in New York City who doesn’t need a master’s degree in theology, but wants deeper theological insight for understanding his life and art. The same with a bank president in Texas, and a CEO in Toronto. I don’t need a master’s degree to have my life, they each said, but I want to think about my life more thoughtfully.

We imagine that those who come all want a more coherent vision of who they are, and of what they do. At the same time these are people already living their lives, but they want to become more purposeful about their lives.

Faculty will be some Regent faculty, and some people from other parts of the world—Asians, Europeans, Africans. We capped the program at 25 people for the first cohort, many who are already in the application process. We’ll keep enrolling until we get the numbers we want.

TGR: What else have you been working on?

Well, there’s a book of my essays that InterVarsity Press has requested,  asking me to put essays together with photos I’ve taken. I’m working on that right now. (Note: Steve frequently takes his own photos to accompany his writing; besides those that accompany this blog post below, you can see some other great examples here.)

Then, I have been speaking on these questions regularly, for years, and will do some of that. You saw me last when I visited Asbury, so you know the kind of work I am doing. After I spoke there I was approached by a young man who worked for a construction company in the area; I remember that he had on a flannel shirt and had a great beard. He told that he had read the book Visions of Vocation, and talked about his work as a carpenter. “I’m the kind of guy who has sawdust in his beard at the end of the day. To know that I have a vocation in that work has changed the way I see my life.” I hope so, I always hope so.

 

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