6 questions with alumnus Will Robinson
Rev. Dr. William Robinson (Ph.D.’15) recently published his dissertation, Metaphor, Morality and the Spirit in Romans 8:1-17. It is available through Amazon and the Society of Biblical Literature bookstore. Below is from an interview he recently gave speaking about his time at Union and why he chose the passage in Romans to study.
In addition to publishing your book, what have you been doing since graduating from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2015 with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies?
I’m in my ninth year as Pastor/Head of Staff at Salem Presbyterian Church
(SPC), and I’m especially excited about our officers retreat in March—led by Union’s Dr. Ken McFayden—that initiated a visioning process at SPC to deepen our discipleship and community engagement. I also teach regularly in the church and occasionally in the academy. I’d like to do more of the latter, and I’ve also written some and hope to publish additional reviews and articles in service to the church this year and in the future.
On the home front, my wife Kate and I devote much of our time to the academic endeavors, church ministries, and extra-curricular activities of our two children: Mary, who’ll be in eighth grade, and Eddie, who’ll be in third.
Tell us about your book, Metaphor, Morality, and the Spirit in Romans 8.1-17.
A revision of my Ph.D. dissertation, the book addresses what I argue are three essential aspects of Paul’s thought in Romans 8:1-17: metaphor, morality, and the Spirit. It began with questions I had about the role the Spirit plays in Christian conduct, and I chose Romans 8:1-17 partly because it’s considered the pinnacle of Paul’s thought on the work of the Spirit. Cognitive approaches to understanding metaphor constitute the primary lens I use to examine the Spirit’s role in Christian behavior. That lens enabled me to see that Paul portrays the Spirit as the protagonist in our ethical lives and also to delineate the crucial role that Christians play in moral conduct.
How might Christian leaders find your book useful in ministry or in academic work?
I teach our Confirmation Class, and this year—as in previous ones—the Holy Spirit was the least understood member of the Trinity. Many adults also have a hard time grasping the Spirit’s role! Moreover, our understanding is usually based on the Spirit’s work at Pentecost and in the sacraments, and we often ignore or neglect the Spirit’s ethical work. My book will help Christian leaders in the church and academy better understand and appreciate the Spirit’s moral role by identifying and explaining the cognitive metaphors Paul uses in Romans 8:1-17.
Though hopefully eye-opening for all Christians, the book is particularly relevant to Reformed Christians in light of B. B. Warfield’s remark that Calvin was “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.” The book has certainly affected and altered how I talk about the Spirit in worship, sermons, and teaching. Finally, I hope Christian leaders and scholars will appreciate the book’s answers to important and long-debated theological questions such as: Do “Spirit” and “flesh” signify an internal conflict within believers or two
conflicting ways of life?
You’re the Pastor/Head of Staff at Salem Presbyterian Church (SPC) in Salem, VA, and you also work with several ministries in the surrounding community. Tell us about Salem and your ministry there.
A city of 25,000 in the majestic Blue Ridge mountains, Salem is adjacent to Roanoke, the largest city in southwestern Virginia and a former railroad town experiencing an economic renaissance. In the past couple of years, I’ve joined other stakeholders to help develop a plan to revitalize Salem’s downtown, where SPC is located.
The church abuts Roanoke College (yes, ironically in Salem!), and some faculty, staff, and students are parishioners. Last year we started a partnership with the college to provide a tutoring ministry at SPC for K-6th grade students. Members serve as teaching mentors to Roanoke College education students who are the primary tutors. I’ve also taught and mentored students at the college, and we welcome use of the church by the college.
A few years ago, the local affiliate of Family Promise, a national homeless organization, began using a house we own as its Day Center, and I serve on the affiliate’s board, working primarily to increase participation in its programs by other churches and community groups. More recently, we partnered with the city to use church-owned land for Salem’s first community garden, which provides fresh produce to the local food pantry. Finally, I’ve enjoyed serving as a spiritual director to clients at the Roanoke Rescue Mission, the largest homeless shelter in the state.
How were you inspired to think about the intersection of faith and learning in your time at Union?
When I arrived at Union, my ultimate goal was to answer God’s call to serve the church as a pastor-scholar: a pastor serving a church with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies who makes scholarly contributions in service to the church, including teaching occasionally in the academy. Union definitely prepared me to achieve that goal! All of my professors at Union—particularly my advisers Dr. John Carroll and Dr. Frances Taylor Gench—exemplified this intersection in their teaching as well as in their guidance, input, and unfailing encouragement of my studies and dissertation. In my own teaching, I try to help students see the significance of that intersection so they’ll hopefully value it themselves (e.g., I show them how knowledge of New Testament Greek can enhance their faith and that of others).
What advice would you give to students at Union as they discern God’s call and prepare for ministry?
Regardless of where God calls you, use your time at Union to explore and address crucial questions of faith, to embody St. Anselm’s motto “faith seeking understanding,” by taking courses and professors that allow you to do that. Also, be willing to take courses and professors that’ll challenge you and your assumptions about faith. Finally, don’t forget why you’re there: to deepen your faith as you prepare to answer God’s call. So, don’t neglect your spiritual life. It may be nurtured in your coursework; however, you should also feed your spirit through a local church, chapel, choir, Bible study, etc. Chapel at Union was faith-enriching for me, and my studies were grounded by my participation in a local church. In the end, I pray you’ll know God’s presence and guidance at Union and as you discern God’s call and prepare for ministry