M.A.R. General, Philadelphia campus
Career Goal: University professor
Favorite Authors: Tolkien, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Emily Dickinson
Having survived a face-to-face encounter with a grizzly in Alaska, M.A.R. student Michael Vendsel isn’t afraid of a little graduate work in philosophy and theology!
Mike’s father was a pastor, so he grew up under the regular preaching of the Word. “Over the course of several years that took hold in my heart and led me to trust Christ,” he explains. His family ministered in various churches across the west coast, including Alaska, and then settled in Dallas, where Mike went to junior high and high school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Covenant College and a master’s in philosophy from the University of Dallas.
“I have a strong vision for the ways Christian scholarship can benefit the life of the church and the culture, and for the ways in which Christians can serve the kingdom in a university context,” he says. Convinced that “a sound basis in theology and biblical studies is essential to both of those tasks,” he realized that seminary was the next step in his career preparation.
Why Westminster? “I was always impressed with Westminster's desire, going back as far as [founder J. Gresham] Machen, to be aware of and responsibly interact with the scholarly community while remaining confessionally Reformed.” That same desire shapes his personal goals as he teaches philosophy as an adjunct professor and looks ahead to doctoral studies and a career in the university.
Mike has found that seminary is not just academically and spiritually challenging, but that the academic training is itself a spiritual exercise. “The simple act of opening an English Bible presupposes the work of linguists and text critics, the interpretation of that text involves a host of complicated hermeneutical, philosophical, and literary considerations, the comparison of that interpretation with those of the broader traditions of the church and the evaluation of both depends on the work of historians and theologians,” explains Mike. “When all of that is said and done, an awareness of how to defend those interpretations against critics, to translate them into sermons, and to apply them to the messy problems of an actual congregation each requires its own special set of gifts and talents. More than anything else, I think my time here has made me realize how utterly complex the task of rightly dividing the Word of God is, and how far beyond my competency so many aspects of that task lie. . . .I have a new appreciation for just how much theology is a community task . . . how truly the distinct members of the body need each other.”
Mike originally enrolled at Westminster’s Texas campus and completed his first few semesters there before moving to Philadelphia so his wife, Rachel, a student in the M.A.R. Counseling program, could complete the sequence of counseling courses she needed. They will graduate together in May.
But what happened to the grizzly? “[My father and I] were camped by the river and I was sitting in front of our campfire. I got up and turned around to get something from the tent behind us, and saw an enormous grizzly coming out from behind some trees . . .Thankfully he was very timid, and when we yelled at him he went away. Had I not gotten up at that moment, though, he probably would have been only a few feet away from us before we had a chance to react.”
Apparently the experience was just providential preparation for the challenges of teaching philosophy to undergrads!