Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/4 2019

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Introduction to Urban Ministry

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is “Introduction to Urban Ministry.”

Drew Smith, Professor Urban Ministry

About Introduction to Urban Ministry

During this term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about urban ministry with the Rev. Dr. R. Drew Smith in the class “Introduction to Urban Ministry.” This is a required course for the Graduate Certificate in Urban Ministry and is also open to students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree, Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) degree, or Master of Theology (MTS) degree program.

This course . Attention is given to helping students discern their vocational call in the context of city life and Christian witness in this arena. Further, this course explores social factors and theological premises impacting and influencing ministry approaches to urban contexts, circumstances, and populations. Students also learn about analytical tools (both theological and sociological) that are helpful in critiquing ministry approaches to ever-evolving demographic, cultural, psycho-social, and sociostructural complexities of 21st century urban life.

As to required texts, student will read Urban Ministry Reconsidered: Contexts and Approaches, edited by Dr. Smith, Stephanie C. Boddie, and Ronald E. Peters. Students will also complete three two-page discussion papers plus a final paper and presentation.

About the Instructor

Both a political scientist and a clergyman, the Rev. Dr. R. Drew Smith has initiated and directed a number of projects related to religion and public life which have collected research data on political involvements, community development activities, and outreach ministries of churches, especially African-American churches. He has also conducted similar research in South Africa, including while serving in 2005 as a Fulbright professor at the University of Pretoria. His overseas involvements additionally include serving in 2009 as a Fulbright senior specialist at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Cameroon and lecturing in many international venues including as part of the U.S. State Department’s Speakers Bureau. He has served since 2010 as co-convener of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race, an initiative that convenes scholars, religious leaders, and community activists from across the transatlantic region for purposes of advancing progressive approaches to persistent racial problems in various contexts. An ordained a Baptist clergyman, Professor Smith is a graduate of Indiana University and Yale University.


10/3 2019

The “Gospel” is Bigger than What Billy Graham Bellowed

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gospel views social justice and evangelism

Recent Seminary graduate Brandon Shaw muses about how the Gospel story is one of social justice and evangelism. 

Let’s call him “Tommy.” Tommy and I sat in proximity to each other in Dr. Dan Treier’s undergraduate, systematic theology course at Wheaton College (Ill.) during the fall of 2006. Tommy was arguably the course’s most progressive theological student, while I was likely the most conservative and boldly evangelistic.

We often bantered back and forth. Tommy kept suggesting that the gospel was primarily about overarching, creation renewal, while I articulated that the gospel concerned itself primarily with individual salvation.

It never occurred to me that Tommy and I needed to morph our views together!

Fast forward almost 13 years. A recent ThM alumnus of Pittsburgh Seminary, I am currently pursuing doctoral studies in Illinois, along with a master’s in strategic communication because I “heart” contemplating how to best package the gospel for a mass audience.

The Gospel Stands Taller

 While on a visit to Chicagoland in June 2019 for doctoral studies, I came to realize that the gospel stands taller than I assessed over these last 16 years as a Christian.[1]

Merely telling someone “The Four Spiritual Laws” or the five points of Calvinism with an evangelistic impetus that summons someone to faith in Christ for even the glory of the Triune God is not the entire gospel—but merely a part of the whole  good news message.

If we are to truly impact the world for Christ, we must pursue a more holistic gospel that emphasizes not merely soteriological tidbits coupled with a “Just As I Am,” Billy-Graham-like, altar call. Instead, we need a gospel that tells the tale of a Jewish Christ as the consummating King in a world that needs his reign to overcome it via his Spirit and church for perfect renewal unto the fame of the Triune God.

The Gospel is More

The gospel is more than salvation pronouncements, such as the death and resurrection of Christ, and a summons to repent and believe in his person and work for the renown of God. Though it is all that, it is more, too.

The gospel is also a story about God restoring a fallen universe to glory through the nation of Israel, something Scot McKnight, of Northern Seminary, especially highlights, which ultimately culminates with Christ declaring that his kingdom is at hand (Mark 1:15). There is a cosmic-story component to the gospel that many neglect. The compelling and saving truths of Christ’s perfect life, propitious death, resurrection, ascension, reigning, return, and his restoration of all things are crucial points to the gospel.

Israel’s story is important as well because without Israel, we have no Messiah! McKnight suggests that many stop at merely proclaiming Christ’s death, and some go on to preach his resurrection; however, few see the gospel as a narrative which begins with the creation-fall and traces itself through Israel and leads to Christ and him gloriously perfecting the cosmos to himself. And this has grand implications since we are called to participate in this redemptive tale. This is certainly good news.

Teammates of Jesus

 What’s a takeaway from a more comprehensive gospel articulation? If I merely see the gospel as a $0.50 flyer that tells me how to get to heaven, I do not have a ton of motivation to pursue much beyond this. However, if I see the gospel (which includes the traditional aforementioned evangelical components) as narrative as well as how God is restoring the fallen world through Israel, Christ, and his Spirit-led church, then this excites me to get on board! It prompts me to pray and to seek Christ’s kingdom through both word and deed. No-mere-bit-players, you and I are teammates of Jesus as we work in his Holy Spirit-empowered church to marry the whole creation to God in everlasting peace for the exaltation of God.

In sum, I think the gospel is bigger than what many have asserted. I do not deny justification by faith alone or penal substitutionary atonement or a call to repent and believe in Jesus for the glory of God. These traditional elements are essential to the gospel. There is no gospel without these truths. Personal salvation is necessary to have a church that partners with Christ in his cosmic creation renewal.

Still, I think the church as a whole does a great disservice at defining the gospel as only propositions followed by a plea to believe in Christ. Seeing and declaring the overarching story, too, and how we participate in this grand tale will undoubtedly change our puny perspectives by helping us comprehend that we are a part of the scheme of how Christ wins the world back from sin and eternal death for the everlasting praise of God. This is good news! This is the gospel!

[1] This past June, I took a course with Dr. David Fitch, a prolific Christian author and communicator. He suggested I read a fellow colleague’s work. Northern Seminary’s Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel inspired me to write this brief piece. I give credit to both Fitch and McKnight for a lot of my newer thinking, though I do not quote them verbatim but seek to explain such gospel doctrine in my own lingo.


Brandon Shaw earned his master of sacred theology degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 2019. He’s currently enrolled at Northern Seminary, where he’s pursuing a Doctor of Ministry as well as master’s in strategic communication.


5/4 2019

Rachel Held Evans and Grace

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Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans (right) and Nadia Bolz-Weber at Pittsburgh Seminary


My wife, Erin, and I first became aware of Rachel Held Evans when we were serving in Florida. As we were working with youth from a number of churches, one of the teenagers asked us to read something called A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

It struck us as an odd request – odd enough that we bought a copy and started reading.

The book was engaging, insightful, and above all else, really funny.

We began to wonder about the author who would undertake such a project, a woman named Rachel Held Evans.

Ten years later, sitting in a dining room at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, we asked a group of pastors and seminary students to dream big. The Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute 20th anniversary was coming up, and we wanted to know who they would like us to bring as a speaker.


They came up with three names. Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and, if there was money left over, Bono.


We aimed for two of the three.

In contacting Rachel, we quickly realized that she was indeed someone we wanted to bring to celebrate the anniversary of SYI, and things fell into place quickly.

When the event finally arrived we were impressed with her content and presentations, but we had expected them to be good. What surprised us was something else.

The Grace of Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held EvansLooking back on that event, there is really just one word that comes to mind regarding our dealings with Rachel. 


The memory we have of Rachel is how incredibly gracious she was. She spent time chatting with participants, signing books, sharing that same insightful humor that had first caught my attention all those years ago. (Nadia also came and was likewise wonderful to work with, but this post isn’t really about her.)

As we receive the news of Rachel’s passing today, SYI extends its sympathies and compassion to her friends and family, especially her husband and two young children. She was a blessing to our program and a delight to work with. Her legacy of insight, humor, and most of all grace has been a blessing to so many and will continue to influence people for years to come.​


The Rev. Derek Davenport ’05 is director of the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute and digital marketing analyst. Derek is also a PTS alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program and Master of Sacred Theology (ThM), between which he served at a church in Orlando, Fla., for five years. Besides working with youth pastors and young adults, he serves as a guest preacher in Western Pennsylvania, researches church symbolism on his website, and tweets at @DerekRDavenport.

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