The Rev. Dr. Kenneth J. Woo began teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 2016. Previously he was historian and archivist of Duke Divinity School. He has taught at Duke Divinity School, Redeemer Seminary, and the College of New Jersey. He has also served as a faculty member in the United Methodist Church Course of Study program for ordained ministry. Woo received his Th.D. in the history of Christianity (Reformation Studies) from Duke University in 2015. Before that he completed his M.Div. at Westminster Theological Seminary and B.A. at the College of William and Mary. Woo’s doctoral dissertation examined the complex ways in which John Calvin and his followers employed theological polemics against religious dissimulation to establish and enforce social and ecclesial boundaries in a variety of 16th-century contexts. Beyond the European reformations, Woo’s research interests span the development of the Reformed tradition, the intersection of biblical interpretation and church history, historical religious responses to persecution and mass migration, and Asian-American history and theology. His work has appeared in Church History and Religious Culture, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Reformation and Renaissance Review, and Sixteenth Century Journal. A Reformed Church in America minister, Woo has served churches in New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina, as well as several years in campus ministry. He served for six years as pastor of a multicultural congregation near Washington, D.C.
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth J. Woo is a specialist in Reformation church history whose journey into seminary teaching has included service across a variety of ministry settings, from college campuses and local congregations, to community education and theological librarianship. Thus he is sensitive to how ministry can take many forms as women and men pursue different vocations in God’s world.
Ken’s teaching and writing reflect his commitment to introducing others to the diverse historical narratives that make the story of Christianity complex, compelling, and sometimes troubling. “Encountering historical figures in their own voices can be unsettling. It can be jarring. Yet it also frequently is delightful,” Ken observes. “Students often are pleasantly surprised by how critical engagement with history has deep relevance for contemporary concerns.” In the classroom, Ken tries to foster contextual awareness of how even our most cherished ideas are historically embedded and culturally conditioned. “When we grasp how others were shaped by various influences and lived realities, we remember that our own biases and limitations form us. Doing the hard work of listening well to the past—refusing to misread, neglect, distort, or erase people and their concerns—cultivates skills for becoming better listeners in the present, especially toward those whose views we find challenging.”
Such concerns inform Ken’s current book project, which examines the creative ways in which John Calvin and his followers established and policed communal boundaries in a number of early modern contexts. “People wanted to define who was in and who was out,” Ken explains. “Often this was motivated by a sincere concern to honor God. Sometimes it was not. This hasn’t changed in our communities.” Ken hopes his research can recover conversation partners and offer diverse perspectives from the church’s traditions for theological reflection and ministry in today’s world.
An ordained Reformed Minister of Word and Sacrament with more than a decade of pastoral experience, Ken is passionate about mentoring future ministers. “My students won’t remember everything we read together, but I hope they will continue reading history for themselves and applying its insights as they serve others,” Ken says.
“The House of God in Exile: Reassessing John Calvin’s Approach to Nicodemism in Quatre Sermons (1552),” Church History and Religious Culture 95/223 (2015)
“Suffering as a Mark of the Church in Martin Luther’s Exegesis of 1 Peter,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 77/3-4 (2013)
“Luther on Beer” and “Luther’s Influence on Reformed Worship,” in Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)
“Western Christianity in 1500,” in Martin Luther in Context (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming in 2017)
“Nicodemites and Libertines,” in John Calvin in Context (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming in 2018)