Continuing our ongoing series of profiles of Westminster Alumni, Ben Thocher graciously agreed to talk with us about his life and work since graduating from Westminster. Ben graduated with an MAR in 2010. He currently serves as Director of Sales at Crossway.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in small town Michigan and now live just west of Chicago in Wheaton, IL. I have been married for just over ten years to Angie and we have two little girls, Lillian (5) and Eleanor (2). I graduated from Westminster with an MAR in 2010. I completed coursework for a ThM but withdrew from the program in 2014 when we—in fairly rapid succession—had our first child and moved to the Wheaton area to take a new job.
What originally brought you to Westminster?
I was first exposed to Reformed theology through the writings of R. C. Sproul and John Piper. I hadn’t been a believer for more than a few years and was working at a summer camp in northern Michigan. I remember walking through the local Barnes & Noble and coming across Sproul’s What is Reformed Theology?. Around that same time, my mom and dad had just moved to Minnesota and had started attending Bethlehem Baptist Church. Of course, I had never heard of John Piper, so they sent me copies of Desiring God and Don’t Waste Your Life. Piper and Sproul’s account of God’s character along with their seriously high view of the Bible was profoundly shaping to me. I began attending a Bible college in Philadelphia and had some exposure to Westminster through its alumni and its bookstore. In part, I came to Westminster because it was local, but I also felt the need to deepen my own understanding of the Reformed tradition and its implications for life and ministry.
I felt the need to deepen my own understanding of the Reformed tradition and its implications for life and ministry.
What can you tell us about working at the bookstore while going through seminary?
Working at the bookstore was any seminarian’s dream job. I got to spend hours a day surrounded by colleagues who loved books as much as I did, who were sitting in the same classes I was, and who were wrestling with many of the same questions. The bookstore was also my first real-world exposure to the idea that a business could seek to honor the Lord in its decision-making and could ultimately serve the church. Working alongside Chun Lai, Jim Weidenaar, Mike Halpin, Jeff Shamess, and Ben Dahlvang was a huge encouragement for me and was extraordinarily formative both personally and professionally. I regard all of those men with the utmost respect, and they were incredibly patient and kind towards me and my family.
You’re now the Director of Sales for Crossway. Tell us about your work there.
The bookstore provided an opportunity for me to learn the world of book publishing and to make meaningful connections with others in the industry–we would routinely meet with representatives from various Christian publishers. I worked very closely with a small handful of publishers while at the bookstore and really came to admire the quality of work and ministry heart behind Crossway, especially as it related to the global influence of the English Standard Version.
I get to work with a great team at Crossway and my day-to-day work consists of meetings, traveling for conferences or account visits, and reading manuscripts and books. At its core, my job is talking to people about Crossway books and the ESV Bible with anyone who will listen. Getting paid to read and meet new people is a pretty great job. Being in the OPC and working at Crossway has also been a sharpening experience, and one that I’ve grown to appreciate more and more. At conferences and at work I get to interact with brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I have fundamental disagreements on matters of theology and practice, but whose love for the Lord and his church challenges and sometimes puts to shame my own. This work has made me less cynical about the broader evangelical world than I probably was as a student at Westminster.
We either do things in the power of the Spirit or in the power of the flesh, seeking either the approval of men or of God.
What opportunities for ministry have you had outside of work?
We attend Bethel OPC in Wheaton where I serve on the Christian Education Committee. My wife serves on the nursery committee and there are tons of opportunities for helping out with Sunday School, youth group, and other church events.
It can be difficult in Christian publishing to be a successful business while simultaneously ministering to the needs of the church. How do you navigate that?
There’s a Francis Schaeffer essay that presents this idea of “doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.” The gist is that we either do things in the power of the Spirit or in the power of the flesh, seeking either the approval of men or of God. Insofar as it is possible, I think Crossway has embodied the attitude that Schaeffer commends. As a publisher, we are trying to produce resources that are faithful to Scripture and honor the Savior. As a not-for-profit ministry, we are accountable to God, not to shareholders. This was an ideal that the Westminster Bookstore also embodied—continue in faithfulness and trust the Lord for the results. This doesn’t mean we are any less concerned with budgeting, account management, marketing plans, or careful editorial work, but the ultimate goal of our publishing ministry is not to establish our own name or reputation but to be good stewards of all that the Lord has entrusted to us.
What I think publishers value most is authors who can take the old and important things, dust them off, and communicate them in a fresh ways so that the church might be strengthened.
How did your time at Westminster prepare you for your work and ministry in Christian publishing?
Craig Troxel’s class on Reformed Ecclesiology helped me to see the centrality of the church to God’s redemptive work. Chun Lai helped me to be a careful student of business and to value excellence. Scott Oliphint’s lectures on apologetics taught me to think critically and shaped the way I evaluate ideas. I sometimes feel like most of what I learned at Westminster has remained latent in the deep recesses of my mind and from time to time I’ll revisit notes or books and be reminded of a thought or an idea that suddenly makes sense. My first class at Westminster was Dick Gaffin’s Prolegomena. Almost none of that class made sense at the time, but four or five years later I started to understand all that he was unpacking for us. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake!
Who were the professors who had the biggest influence on you at Westminster?
Doug Green and Vern Poythress both helped me to see the importance of reading the Bible as unified story about God’s revelation of himself in Christ. Both in different ways helped me to see the practical import of exegesis for real life—how do we interact with and love others? Why do these observations about the text matter to a teenager and how do we pass on our own zeal and passion for the Bible and theology to others? I remember Dr. Poythress cautioning us to be careful that what we learned in hermeneutics class didn’t become a bludgeon with which we made others in the church feel inadequate to read their Bibles. That has always stuck with me. I continue to see Doug Green and Brandon Crowe at the annual ETS/SBL meetings and I appreciate that they continue ask about my family and what I am up to in work and ministry. It is pretty fun to feel connected to Westminster through my work at Crossway as we publish works by Iain Duguid, R. Kent Hughes, and Chad Van Dixhoorn, among others.
I think that had a big impact on me—a desire to see the Westminster tradition articulated and presented in a winsome and attractive way.
How can seminaries like Westminster have a positive influence in Christian publishing?
At least two things come to mind here. First, continuing to produce men and women who love God’s word and who see the value of books for the life of the mind and the spiritual growth and discipleship of Christians. It is important that we pass on and engender a love of reading. Secondly, most publishers are not looking for authors who say new and creative things; what I think publishers value most is authors who can take the old and important things, dust them off, and communicate them in a fresh ways so that the church might be strengthened and that those who aren’t familiar with the riches of Reformed theology might encounter it and understand.
What about your time at Westminster has left the biggest impact on you?
I was raised Catholic and upon matriculating at Westminster was attending a non-denominational church in the area. Carl Trueman helped me to appreciate the importance of church history and the value of the historic and Reformational creeds and confessions. He has forever etched in my mind the valuable distinction between reformed and Reformed. I am forever grateful to Craig Troxel’s class on Reformed Ecclesiology and my many, many conversations with Ben Dahlvang that eventually pushed me over the edge to become a full-fledged Presbyterian. All of these men modeled a pastoral warmth and winsome conviction that is sometimes lacking in our intramural conversations and interactions. I think that had a big impact on me—a desire to see the Westminster tradition articulated and presented in a winsome and attractive way.
What five books would you recommend that students should read before they go into seminary?
On a technical side, Dreyer’s English and Stephen King’s On Writing will, I think, immediately repay students wanting to improve their writing ability. Alan Jacobs’ How to Think and Oakley and Sejnowski’s Learning How to Learn provide a number of beneficial takeaways. Hoffecker’s biography of Charles Hodge is a helpful orientation to the history of Reformed theology in America and is a good example of clear, accessible writing.
How can the Westminster community pray for you, your family and your ministry in the weeks and months ahead?
Thanks for this question. I travel a lot for work which can tax my family in some unique ways, so you can pray particularly for my wife and children. For Crossway, pray that we as a company would remain faithful in all that the Lord has set before us. You can also pray for our church in the coming weeks and months as we are in the midst of a pastoral search.