My name is Jamie Dew, I’m the new president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College. I’ve been on the job for about four and a half to five months now. And here is how I was called to ministry.
I came from a very humble and blue-collar family. I grew up in a little town called Statesville, North Carolina. We moved there when I was about two years old and my father worked in a furniture store. When I was seven years old, my parents split up. It was absolutely catastrophic and destructive to me. I got into all sorts of things in the years to come. By the time I was in middle school, I was involved in things that no kids should ever and never be involved in.
When I reached high school, drugs and alcohol were a pretty regular part of my life. I was either high or drunk most days going into school. And I was arrested twice in my junior year of high school. The first time I got arrested was for stealing eight cases of beer out of the back of a grocery store. We dropped one on the way out and the folks in the grocery store heard the noise and the ruckus then called the police. I was arrested about 20 minutes later. It was during this time, I began to realize there was something desperately wrong with me. The problem was not just the trouble or that I was in the trouble. The problem was actually something that I was beginning to realize was much deeper, that in my heart, in my soul, there was something missing. There was something wrong and I was in trouble that way.
A couple of weeks later, I was arrested again for smoking some pot in my jeep going down the road. And I had a burnt out tail light. Naturally, the officer pulled me over from my burnt out tail light and obviously discovered what we were doing. As a result, I was arrested again that night on October 9th, 1994. This is when I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to live with my father, who had moved ten years prior when I was seven after they divorced.
In October of 1994 when I went to live with my father, God just started a process, over the next eight months, of humbling me and whittling me down to nothing. I had people constantly coming into my life, sharing Christ, and inviting me to church. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with any of that, so I would reject and push away. However, God was persistent. Eventually, at the end of my junior year in high school, I met a friend who invited me to Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I went and I met my wife. The church invited me to a summer camp, and I jokingly say to people, of all the places in the world for a Christian philosopher to get saved, I was saved at a centrifuge youth camp put on by Lifeway. It had all the hype and all the things that people pick on for youth ministry, it had all of that. Yet, God used it on June 16th, 1995. Now, I had heard the gospel by this point dozens and dozens of times. However, on June 16th, 1995, I heard it fresh and new. God gave me eyes to see and ears to hear.
So, I threw myself on Jesus Christ. I knew that night two things that I was home in Christ. Everything I had ever looked for and longed for was right there in him. Secondly, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life serving him. People would ask, “so you were saved and called the same night?” Yes, that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew that I would spend the rest of my life serving Christ in some way, preaching him and proclaiming him. Again, I didn’t know what that meant. I would go on to graduate high school with a 1.6 GPA. I failed two grades growing up. I had trouble reading as a kid; so I was not a natural academic. I never envisioned anything academically or even things like being a pastor. Truly, I thought I might be an evangelist or something like that. However, when I started sharing my faith with people, ultimately, I got interested in apologetics and because of all the questions I was receiving, that took me into academics. God has done a great work there, and that’s how I ended up getting called ministry. So reflecting on the time I was called into ministry; it’s just really been amazing to think about what God has done.
Now, I’m known as a guy who is an academic. I taught at Southeastern Seminary for twelve years in philosophy and the history of ideas, which are both very intellectual disciplines. I have two PhDs and because of that, people probably think that I’m a natural academic. Actually, the opposite is true. As I said a moment ago, I failed two grades growing up and I graduated high school with a 1.6 GPA. So when God called me to ministry, I never ever would have thought of being a professor or being a president, or anything like that. It was through witnessing to people and sharing my faith, which resulted in them asking hard questions and criticisms that I couldn’t answer; that bothered me.
As a result, I began studying and discovered this discipline called apologetics, which means defending the faith. I loved it and read everything I could get my hands on. I quickly learned that apologetics spans all of the disciplines, from science to history to New Testament, Old Testament theology, philosophy, and sociology. It really spans all the disciplines. Specifically, it was the philosophical questions that bothered me the most. Questions like, does God exist? Personally, if I could wrap my head around God’s existence and find assurance there, I didn’t have any trouble. If I believed in God, I didn’t have any trouble believing that he had given us a book, the Word of God. Historically, I’ve never really struggled with those types of questions. It’s been the bigger types of questions such as is there really a God? Do we really survive our death? Those are the questions that bothered me. And as I was finishing up an M.Div., I wanted to pursue a Ph.D., mostly for my own personal benefit and gain so that I could address these questions. I pursued my first Ph.D. because I was really struggling with the question, does God really exist? I had given myself to him, but I had actually fallen into this season of doubt and struggle with my faith. I really just needed to do some work there. Again, the first Ph.D. was really about getting after that question, does God really exist? Of course, I don’t really struggle with those questions now, but there was a season where I had to really process that and give it its due space in doing the work of exploring that.
The second big season of struggle and doubt came when I was pastoring. It wasn’t a season of struggle in doubt with Christianity per se, it was just the particular components of it that began to strike me as a little odd. Namely, life after death. We all believe it. We assume it. Yet, none of us have ever experienced anything like that; we’ve never seen anybody come back from the dead. Our cognition and our conscious life is all tied to this physical body. And if we know anything about death, we know that these bodies decompose and they go away. How do you survive your death if your bodies go away? These were questions that bothered me and that actually led me into doing the second Ph.D. In the process, I came to love philosophy, and as a younger man, if I had a dream, it was just to be a philosophy professor; that’s really all I wanted to do.
Later, I was hired to teach philosophy at Southeastern, and soon after they noticed that I had some administrative abilities, so I became the associate dean and then the dean of the college at Southeastern. I was in that role for six and a half years and worked diligently to build and grow that college. Never in million years did think that I would be the president of one of our seminaries. When Dr. Kelly announced his retirement back in October, I started praying for the next president, and without any knowledge that I was actually praying for myself. In January of 2019, this year, the search committee reached out to me. Someone had given them my name and they asked if I would be willing to talk. And I was very resistant to it. There was a strong aversion to doing that. I just did not see myself as a seminary president and in many ways still don’t. However, God allowed me to see that there is a beauty to this work of training up a generation of servants. Who will now take up the towel in the basin and go out and serve in the name of Christ. When I began to see that “work” that that was actually what God has called me to do, he began to do a work in helping me see that this is what I’ve called you to.
Long story short, God just began to scream at my wife and me from every possible vantage point of life, confirming that this is what we have for you. Every day in the job, I get to see that work and it’s hard, there’s so much work to be done, it’s fatiguing and exhausting. But there is a beauty to the work and I’m honored to get to give my life back to the Lord and to Southern Baptists who have discipled and grown me into the man that I am today. So, it’s just a privilege and a joy to have this high honor of serving the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Most importantly though, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
I’m Jamie Dew. And this has been my calling story.