Last month I mentioned an iTunes course I stumbled upon called Theology of Suffering, Disability, and the Church, by Dallas Theological Seminary. I’ve enjoyed watching the video clips and have been challenged and inspired by its messages….You can imagine my surprise when I happened to bump into the professor of this class, Daniel Thomson, at a conference I recently attended! Our meeting soon led to a swapping of stories and an e-mail interview of sorts that I would like to share with you—this week and next. Enjoy a sneak peek at a delightful conversation.
Jenny: Can you share a little history about how this class came about? It’s very unique.
Daniel: I practiced as a Home Health Physical Therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas -- and through that -- saw life with disability at its worst. I saw the tension on the caregiver. I saw marriages fall apart. I saw the stress and strain on those with disabilities just trying to survive. Through it all, I kept finding myself asking the question, "Where is the church?" I mean occasionally someone would bring by a casserole, but there was little organic community -- at least for an extended period.
Jenny: I find myself also asking, "Where is the church?" often when I consider people living with disabilities. Where did your experiences lead you?
Daniel: So, long story short, my questions led to my coming to DTS in 2005 as a student. And I had questions not only about where the church was, but also, where was God? When I got to seminary, I quickly found out that nothing was being taught on both topics (and only one other seminary in the world offered a class on it -- Reformed Theological Seminary online -- which I took that course to learn more). Not even one lecture at DTS on ministry to those affected by disability was being taught -- and the light bulb went on -- if the leaders don't have a vision for this and are not teaching their churches, no wonder there are so few Disability Ministries. If the shepherds don't lead, the flocks don't follow.
Jenny: Then what happened?
Daniel: So, during my first year at seminary, I started a dialogue with Joni Eareckson Tada and her team at Joni and Friends. After one trip to L.A. to meet with them, I drafted the following weekend a syllabus for a course called, "A Biblical Theology of Suffering, Disability, and the Church." I basically put in it what I would want in a course on suffering and disability -- half of the course putting forth a biblical view of suffering, the other half more of an application to those affected by disability. After a three year journey to get the course approved by various committees -- we taught the course for the first time in the Fall of 2009 -- I graduated from DTS earlier that spring. We have since offered it online every semester since, live twice.
Jenny: There’s a book that goes with this class too, right?
Daniel: The book, Why O God, came from the class. Many of the lecturers we used wrote a chapter for the book. We have since created a sister version of the class at Dallas Baptist University and will teach a doctoral version at DTS this coming summer. So, our hope is to give future pastors and Christian servant leaders a vision for ministry to and through those affected by disability with a grounded Biblical view of suffering -- this is how God works -- we just need to shed light on it and help the church (through its leaders) to get on board….
…to be continued. Next week Daniel is going to share what motivates him to minister to people with disabilities. See you then!
Want an inside look? Take a seat inside Daniel’s course singing “It is Well.”