GRTS Alumni Stories

John Lillis (M.Div. & M.R.E. '80)

john lillis your story

Your Story

In the summer of 1976, my wife, 2 year-old son, and I moved to Grand Rapids to attend what was then known as Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. The four years I spent studying at the seminary earning a master of religious education and a master of divinity represented the most transformative and significant educational season of the my life. 

I had only been a Christian two years when I arrived in Grand Rapids, so the seminary and its faculty were responsible for proividing the formative years of my spiritual development and establishing me in many of the patterns that I follow to this day. 

Professors like Carl Hoch, who taught New Testament, and Leon Rowland, who taught Old Testament, passed on a deep love, respect, and appreciation for the biblical text and its role in Christian ministry. Victor Matthews who taught my systematic theology class, helped me to see that theology is not just a collection of facts to be memorized, but a dynamic, living discipline that must be expressed and lived out in a Christian's personal daily walk with the Lord. Another professor, Joe Crawford, who taught church history, created a love and appreciation for the role of history in contemporary ministry that sill influences me today. As a missions major, I was greatly influenced and shaped by Paul Beals through his godly example as a teacher and friend, both in seminary as well as throughout my years of missionary ministry in Southeast Asia and later in other parts of the world. I also learned a great deal about Christian leadership by working with Warren Faber, the dean of the seminary, as well as his associate dean, Anthony Fortosis. 

The direct impact of the seminary in my life has continued well beyond my graduation in June 1980. My family and I spent most of the 1980s in Southeast Asia, establishing what has become the Asia Baptist Theological Seminary, an extension of the university and its seminary in Asia. The year I left for Asia, James Grier became the new dean of the seminary. During the next 20 years, he also was a significant influence in my life and ministry, helping to shape much of what I have come to value and understand about Christian higher education in general and theological education in particular. 

Much of the education I received at other schools was designed to make me more knowledgeable or more competent. Although Grand Rapids Theological Seminary certainly accomplished both of those in my life, it did far more. The seminary taught me how to think. It taught me to think critically as well as biblically. It also helped me to begin the process of loving and serving the Lord Jesus Christ in a vibrant and dynamic way. I suspect that I speak for most of my seminary classmates when I say that I will be forever grateful for the role that these committed and dedicated servants have made in my life.