Q&A with Truett Post-Docs
Chris Rappazini, PhD
Dr. Chris Rappazini served as Truett Seminary’s first post-doctoral researcher during the 2019-2020 academic year. In addition to his involvement with the “Recent Homiletical Thought” project, which he discusses below, Dr. Rappazini also worked with Truett’s first PhD in Preaching cohort, taught master’s-level preaching courses, coordinated an inaugural gathering of PhD in Preaching program directors, and more.
Q: How did you become a post-doctoral researcher here at Truett Seminary?
I currently serve as Associate Professor of Applied Theology and Church Ministries at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. After recently completing my PhD, I was approved for a sabbatical for a year. When surveying my options, I was in touch with Dr. Scott Gibson and some of the other preaching professors at Truett, and they were telling me about all of the exciting things that are going on here, particularly with the PhD in Preaching. What ultimately drew me here were these faculty members — Dr. Gibson, Dr. Gregory, Dr. Alcantara — and Truett’s commitment to biblical preaching.
Q: Tell us more about the importance of biblical preaching.
I think it’s safe to say that our world is becoming more secularized. More and more people need to be reached with the Gospel message. One of the primary ways that we reach people and churches with the Gospel is through solid, biblical, thoughtful preaching, and that is what Truett is committed to. So, if there is any small part that I can play in helping Truett educate and equip their graduates to enter into churches and ministries to preach the Word, then I want to be a part of that.
Q: What does it mean to research preaching?
People hear research, and they think science or math. People hear preaching, and they ask, “What is there to research about preaching?” I get that a lot from my mother. When you think about the core practices of the church, beginning all the way with Jesus, you have the sacraments — like baptism and the Lord’s Supper — and you also have preaching and the proclamation of God’s Word. Preaching is something that’s been going on for centuries and continues to this day. But also, it’s continually being adapted and innovated. So, while things like the sacraments have remained relatively the same, preaching methods have been adapting and changing with the culture and the location. When it comes to research, there’s a plethora to unpack and unveil.
Q: Tell us about one of the projects you’ve been working on in this role.
One specific project that I’ve been working on is called “Recent Homiletical Thought.” It’s an online database for researchers, particularly homileticians or people who are researching preaching, so that they can get quick but extensive data to make their research that much easier. We’re creating an online website that houses, ideally, everything that has ever been published on preaching, particularly books, articles, dissertations, and theses. Researchers will be able to go to the database and do a quick search for a particular subject or preacher, and then everything that has been written on that would pop up, as well as a one or two sentence annotation.
Q: And this is the first database of its kind related to preaching?
Yes! That was one of the problems I discovered while doing my own PhD research. You would have to use these mega databases where preaching isn’t a specialized topic. For instance, if you type in “Charles Spurgeon,” you might get a lot of Spurgeons out there who aren’t Charles Spurgeon the preacher and have to filter through all of that.
However, [while the online component is completely new] this is actually a project that’s been going on for nearly 100 years. It began in the 1960s when an author wanted to collect annotated bibliographies from everything that was written about preaching between the years 1935 and 1965. So that was Volume 1 of what was called “Recent Homiletical Thought.” Volume 2 was published in the early 80s and covers 1966 to 1979, but there hasn’t been any volume since. That is what this project is picking up on. We are filling in all of the gaps that were missed as well as moving forward from 1980, and then hopefully we’ll also go back and annotate everything that was written before 1935. We’re also digitizing the first two volumes to put them on the website. So, we are just starting a project that will need several years to complete, but then it will also need to be updated continually as more and more publications on preaching are being sent out.
Q: What have you learned from working on this project?
Through the data itself, I’m always learning about new works that have been written on preaching. And while I’m not able to read every article, book, and dissertation, just reading the annotations — which we’ve had help developing by our PhD students and by colleagues at other seminaries — has made me more and more interested in the various works.
I’ve also learned how to build a database and how to make it presentable and useful for researchers. I should note that this would not be possible without the help of Baylor Libraries and the folks over there. I’ve been working with them, and they’ve been doing a phenomenal job. They really deserve a ton of credit.
There have been a lot of things that have been new to me and that I haven’t done before, but being able to do this postdoc research, I’ve really been able to grow in my own ability as a good researcher and then present that research for others to use.
Brian Gamel, PhD
Dr. Brian Gamel is currently serving as Truett Seminary’s second post-doctoral researcher. Dr. Gamel works with Truett’s Faith & Sports Institute (FSI) in a variety of roles, including research and writing, coordinating partnerships, and assisting with the FSI Retreat.
Q: How did you become a post-doctoral researcher with the Faith & Sports Institute?
As the University works to achieve R1 research status, Baylor is offering a number of postdocs per year for three years. Most of these are going to go to STEM areas, but they said in the offering that it was open to everybody. What they really wanted was to make sure that people are applying, that professors who were applying have experience getting research dollars, that it would be interdisciplinary or at least collaborative across the University, and that there would be a plan for helping the postdocs continue their work after the postdoc ends.
It seemed like a natural fit for [the Faith & Sports Institute], and for me. I love doing the academic part of this — staying in the library like a nerd and reading all of the books and writing papers. And in John [White] we obviously have a person who has had success in getting research dollars, almost $1 million so far. I also have good connections across campus, with the Baylor Religion Department and other areas, so we can be collaborative in that way. So it seemed like a good fit. We sent in an application last fall, and a couple of months ago, they gave us the thumbs up. I’m told that we are the only humanities postdoc that was awarded out of the 20 or so, so I was excited.
Q: You had been working with the Faith & Sports Institute prior to receiving the post-doc position. Tell us about your interest in sports.
What I studied in graduate school was very academic. It was theology and New Testament in abstraction. And I love that. I love sitting around reading and exploring those areas, but I’m also interested in how those topics get translated into people’s lives. I think sports is one of the ways in which that happens. It’s a context that almost everybody is familiar with in one way or another. It’s a kind of subculture that people have a relationship with, and yet it’s also a place where most people can’t articulate very well how their faith — their spirituality — interacts with it. So, when people really do have a connection between faith and their sport, or especially between the way they read their Bible and sports, it’s often very unreflective. So, it seems like there’s a lot of opportunity to speak into that.
Q: What will you be doing in your role as a post-doc?
There are four areas to it. The first involves a book that was published in the 1960s by this guy named Victor Pfitzner titled Paul and the Agon Motif. It looks at the New Testament’s use of athletic imagery and anywhere agon — the Greek word for contest or struggle — is used. Pfitzner’s book became fairly foundational for most people’s understanding of sports in the New Testament. As the area of sports and theology has blossomed over the last 15 to 20 years, it’s become apparent that there’s a need for revisiting that work. It’s a good work. It did what it needed to do. But New Testament studies have themselves expanded and moved on. So my project will be looking at this again with new eyes and writing and publishing a book over the next three years.
That’s the main project. In addition, we also hope to create a session at the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature professional conferences that meet every year. Having a session there that [the Faith & Sports Institute] could host will help foster this conversation about New Testament or Bible and sport and theology and religion at an academic level.
I will also be helping to foster more intentional relationships between Truett and the Baylor Religion Department. We have such great resources in both of these places, and I have relationships and connections in both areas of the University. My hope is to find some way in which we can have a more intentional relationship. I think there’s already a good relationship between the two, but they may not always work in tandem as intentionally as they could.
And then the fourth area is to continue the work I’m doing now, which is to participate in the FSI youth retreat that happens every year and to help with the other areas of the Faith & Sports Institute.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for a seminary to have post-doctoral researchers?
I think it’s important for both Truett and the wider University to see that we have a role to play in research — that we are a part of the University’s ambitions, especially since the University labels itself as unambiguously Christian. Obviously, Truett has a role to play in that identity, and it’s not simply just to work on the side out of the way of what the rest of the University is doing, but to contribute as well. This is something Truett is already doing — we have professors who are publishing and giving lectures and participating in the academy — but this is just one more way in which Truett can participate in the wider mission of the University. I think it’s important for people to see that research is not just something science or technology does, but something that is done across the University.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about your new role?
This will feel like a cop-out answer, but I’m excited about all of it together. What I mean by that is that I could have a job that’s simply and only to write and research, but as much as I love that, I can’t spend 40 hours a week or more in the library. I need contact with people. I also love collaborating and setting things up, but I would miss the part of me that went to grad school that was excited about just doing research. So, I like that there are multiple parts to [the post-doc]. Parts where I’ll be in the library, parts where I’ll be in an office working with students, parts where I’ll be doing ministry with youth. The variety of it is what’s really exciting to me. I like the fact that it’s interwoven, and there are a lot of different aspects to it.