October 2, 2023
We think relationships are an important aspect of education. That’s why we work with mentor teams, cohorts, and partner organizations. To help you get to know the people who are part of the Kairos community, we spotlight partners, faculty, alumni, students, staff, and board members from time to time. Today we are looking at one of our faculty.
Name: Tony Blair
Location: Lancaster County, PA
Role within Kairos: Executive Partner/President of Evangelical Seminary (legacy partner) and Professor, working primarily with doctoral programs
Education: PhD in History, focusing on revivalism; Doctor of Ministry, focusing on leadership and culture; MA in History; MA in Religion; and MA in Ministry
Teaching and Research Interests: Leadership, history, spiritual formation and the spaces between them, with the goal of enlarging our imagination for what God is (and has been) doing in the world
How to connect with Tony: email@example.com
We asked Tony a few questions to learn a bit more about him. Here’s what we discovered.
Why are you engaged in the work of theological education?
To help people come alive in every meaning of the word. Back in the 2nd century, theologian and church leader Irenaeus of Lyon insisted that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” More recently, Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun have suggested that “human flourishing” is the goal of all theology, and thus of all ministry… precisely because it’s been the goal of God since the creation of humanity in Eden. The most gospely thing we can realize and declare, the thing that startles both Christians and non-Christians alike most often, is that God is for us.
God’s mission for human flourishing is centered, of course, in the work of Christ, who has restored in us the image of God, who has made us one with God and each other, and who has invited us into the journey of recovering our identities as the beloved ones of God. It is this love that transforms us, and any theology built on any other foundation than the love of God is inadequate, perhaps even injurious to this cause that Jesus proclaimed so boldly: “I have come that you might have life!” This is God’s grand plan of redemption for the world, and the work of theological education is to provoke and prepare God’s people to participate in it. I love that!
When you are teaching or working as a faculty mentor, what kinds of questions lead the way?
I have come to believe that the questions we ask and pursue matter more for our spiritual life than the answers we receive or create. Someone has recently pointed out that the Gospels record 307 questions Jesus asked and only 3 that he explicitly answered! Questions provoke us… they stimulate our thinking, yes, but also our spiritual imagination, and even the way we go about doing things. In other words, a holistic approach to questioning can and should lead to transformation in content, character, and craft, which is the holistic, integrated approach we take at Kairos toward the learning of our students (and our own learning as well).
The questions that provoke (and excite me) the most… and thus those that I inflict upon my mentees and students… are those that challenge the false dichotomies that we have been handed regarding theology, ministry, leadership, and life. One of my self-imposed rules as a leader is that I will never choose between only two options, as there are always more (and more creative) alternatives available, if we were but to take the time to imagine them. So many theological and socio-political squabbles emerge from either-or thinking, when God (who is infinitely creative) is offering us his own divine imagination to see more broadly, more beautifully than we have before.
I am trained as a spiritual director (another area in which Kairos has shown leadership), which has changed the way I teach, mentor, lead, and pastor, as it has relieved from me the self-imposed burden of having to come up with answers, or to fix people, or fix organizations; my calling, rather, is to ask questions, listen well, imagine boldly, and then nudge gently. My favorite theology of evangelism, then, is that offered by one of my own mentors, Leonard Sweet; he suggests what we get to do is pay attention, to notice what the Spirit is doing, and then nudge others to see it too, for themselves. I do a lot of nudging.
What rhythms do you like to follow?
I am an unlikely hiker… unlikely because I do not have the athletic physique of those who would cover long distances in short periods of time. But I have grown to very much appreciate the rhythm of walking, breathing, seeing, and listening that hiking involves. It slows me down enough to notice what I would not have noticed. It gets me close to nature, which is a deeper reality than the social world that we inhabit most of the time (and points to the even deeper spiritual reality of God’s presence in the world). “I Go Among Trees” by Wendell Berry is thus one of my favorite poems.
As an introvert, I also appreciate the rhythms of being with people and being alone, as both are necessary for stoking the imagination and kindling the heart. I love the rhythms of reading and writing, but have incorporated neither as fully into my life since joining Kairos as I would wish. And I love to laugh, as it both expresses and cultivates the rhythms of joy in all circumstances.
When you are not teaching, mentoring, or engaged in some other aspect of your work with Kairos, where might we find you?
In the woods. Or at my church, where I serve as a volunteer co-senior pastor (serving alongside another Kairos faculty member/mentor) in the most extraordinary community of God’s people I have ever been privileged to be part of. Or on the floor, playing with my young grandchildren, who light up my face with delight. Or listening to music, about which I am surprisingly eclectic (albeit with a fondness for the blues). Or sitting on my back deck, under tall, mature trees, reflecting (literally) at the still waters of my backyard pond, watching the fish swim for apparently no reason at all but the sheer joy of it, and hearing the birds whistle to each other about the ineffable goodness of God.