Editor’s Note: With this post we continue the series of interviews with graduates of the Westminster Seminary California MA in Historical Theology. Jonathan “Bud” Beeke received his MA (Historical Theology) from WSC in 2006. This post appeared originally in 2007 on the old HB. Bud is presently a PhD student at WTS in Phila.
I received my BA at Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), and majored in Theology and History. Because I liked both disciplines so much and I had heard of WSC’s Historical Theology program, WSC was the logical choice. I was drawn to WSC because of its solidly Reformed and confessional professors (Drs. Horton, Godfrey, Clark), and I was not disappointed. Of course, sunny southern California also factored a little in my decision.
When you were 10 what did you think you would be doing now?
From the age of 3 to 15 I wanted to become a doctor; a medical doctor that is. I distinctly remember sitting in the green chair in our living room pouring over a medical encyclopedia. Any cuts or bruises that occurred in our family – trust me, there was a lot in our 15 member family – received my immediate attention. The Lord willing I will receive my doctorate, but I don’t think it will be in medicine.
I think you’re in Spain right now. Why?
Madrid and Paris actually, and purely on vacation. I am back now and we had a wonderful time visiting all the spots, or tourist traps: Eiffel Tower, Versailles, the Louvre, etc. My favorite attraction was seeing the Code of Hammurabi. After learning so much about suzerain/vassal covenantal relationships at WSC, this first recorded set of laws came to life.
Where have you been for the last year and why?
Over the past year my wife and I taught at Logos International School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Allyson taught a variety of English classes, and I taught an introductory NT survey course to Grades 9, 10, and 11, an 11th Grade American History class, and 11th Grade Comparative Politics. Our students were a mixed lot in several respects; there were Cambodians, Nigerians, Koreans, Americans, Canadians, and Chinese, and the range of intellectual capabilities was also just as diverse, some able to fit in third-year college and others barely grasping the English language. My wife and I both love traveling (we were able to visit Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand while there), and what better way to do so than teaching abroad? You even get paid!
You wrote your MA thesis on William Ames. Why?
I guess part of my interest in Ames stems from my uncle Joel Beeke. Ever since I can remember he was encouraging me to read Puritan works. However, I zeroed in on Ames in a rather roundabout way. In class Dr. Clark mentioned that a good person/topic for study was Robert Bellarmine, the Jesuit version of the Reformed scholastics. I did write one paper on Bellarmine, but only his devotional writings are translated into English. While researching Bellarmine I encountered Ames’s Bellarminus enervatus (Bellarmine Unnerved). The title itself hooked me, and after reading Ames’s Marrow I was convinced this man and his writing was worthy of deeper study.
How did your work on Ames help you in Cambodia?
The thing Ames stressed time and again was that the doctrinal and the practical, the head and the heart, must never be separated, except for the purposes of study. All of theology, Ames said, can be divided into two parts (he was a good Ramist in method): faith and observance. Under “faith” Ames dealt with systematic matters, and under “observance” he dealt with practical matters. Teaching in Cambodia taught me, in Amesian terms, to “observe” my “faith.” Cambodia helped me to practically live out what I learned at seminary.
What are your plans?
I plan on getting my doctorate in Historical Theology. I am applying to a number of schools to start in the fall of 2008. After this I would love to teach overseas for a number of years (5-10), and then also teach at a North American university or seminary.
What are you reading now?
Right now I am reading Darryl Hart’s A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State. I am actually reading this in preparation for a four-class course on the Two Kingdom Theory that I plan on giving at our home church.
What should everyone know about Ames that they probably don’t know?
Most likely everyone who has read anything from Ames has read his Marrow. Yet, few know of his Cases of Conscience. Designed to be read alongside of the Marrow, Cases of Conscience is Puritan casuistry at its best. Anyone who claims that the Reformed scholastics were dry and arid in their theology ought to read this work. One other thing about Ames: although he wasn’t a delegate to the Synod of Dordt, the success of this synod is partly because of his work behind the scenes.
Tell us one really scary thing you did this last year.
Actually it wasn’t just one time, but every day living in Cambodia. Try driving there; it is definitely the scariest thing you will experience. There are basically no rules, no stop signs, corrupt police, which all added together creates one massive, hectic free-for-all. On one occasion I was toodling down the street on my Chinese-made 125 moped, and from behind a large SUV another moped cut perpendicularly across traffic right in front of me. I had to dump my moped and slammed into this Cambodian couple, who somehow managed to stay upright. After glancing at me they merrily went on their way (not in the direction that they were originally going!), and not five seconds later, cars were honking at me to clear the road. If anybody has a degree in city planning, I think Cambodia has a job offer.