Southern Story: James Parker III

Communications Staff — November 30, 2010


Growing up in a supportive Christian home in Abilene, Texas, James Parker III, professor of worldview and culture and associate dean of worldview and culture at Southern Seminary, enrolled in Baylor University. What he encountered at Baylor caught him by surprise. For the first time, other than minimal exposure in high school, Parker encountered people who not only did not agree with his conservative Christian faith, but challenged it as well.

Parker specifically remembers a friend who, though she was raised a Methodist, simply claimed she did not believe anything. In such a conservative area of the United States, Parker had not previously experienced people who plainly reject faith of any kind.

At this point in his life, Parker found that if he was going to discuss his faith at all, he would have to defend it. This reality began an interest in dialoging with people about the validity of Christianity. In addition, Parker also made a friend who introduced him to evangelical literature. These two occurrences would shape the rest of his personal and professional life.

The evangelical literature Parker first experienced has remained formative throughout his life. The writings of Carl F. H. Henry, Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis, most notably influenced Parker, and each author continues to affect him today. In those college years of his life, Henry especially became a hero to Parker.

“He was my hero and still is my hero,” Parker said of Henry’s writings.

These authors showed Parker how he could interact well with non-Christians. This faithful interaction is something that, according to Parker, is unavoidable by any Christian.

“The thing is, everyone engages in apologetics as a Christian,” Parker said. “It’s not question of whether they’re going to [engage], it’s a question of whether they’re going to do it competently.”

His desire to competently defend his faith drove Parker to pursue studying the Bible at the graduate level. Earning graduate degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A.), Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div., Th.M.), Basel University (D.Theol.) and Johns Hopkins University (post-doctoral studies), Parker’s fields of specialization include New Testament, systematic and contemporary theology and apologetics.

“My interest runs, pretty much, the gamut, everything from philosophical arguments to historical evidences,” Parker said about the diversity of his interests within apologetics.

After graduating from Basel University, Parker briefly taught a myriad of theological courses at what is now McMurry University, before pursuing additional studies at Johns Hopkins. Parker then taught for one year at Southeastern Seminary, after which he taught two years at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, followed by stints at Dallas Baptist University and Criswell College.

And then, in 1992, Parker founded the Trinity Institute outside of Waco, Texas (thetrinityinstitute.org). The institute exists as a not-for-profit residential study and retreat center, established to defend orthodox Christianity. Parker originally used the institute to tutor individuals studying there, as well as hosting conferences and seminars exploring the integration of the Christian faith to all areas of life.

During his time operating the Trinity Institute, Parker received several offers to teach at different institutions, but he turned them down because of his work at the institute. But in 1999, Danny Akin, then senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary, asked Parker to consider teaching at SBTS.

“By that point, when Danny called me, I was interesting in getting back into a formal institutional structure,” Parker said.

So in 1999, Parker came to Southern to teach in the worldview and culture division. Currently, Parker teaches the introductory course in Christian philosophy and various apologetics courses at the master’s and doctoral levels. In addition to his duties at Southern, Parker continues to operate the Trinity Institute, spending the fall and spring in Louisville, while conducting seminars and conferences in Texas during the summer months.

In both his previous teaching experiences and his post, Parker enjoys what he reads and studies professionally on a personal level also.

“I read for fun what I teach for a living,” Parker said. “And that is a wonderful, wonderful profession to be in, where you get paid for what you enjoy doing.”

When not reading about theological issues, Parker enjoys reading fantasy. He has spent years trying to find the next J.R.R. Tolkien, but simply cannot find anyone to compare, Parker claims. And when apologetics and fantasy novels are not particularly interesting, Parker always enjoys Animal Planet. One should especially ask Parker about marine animals – Australian jellyfish specifically.

A life-long single man, Parker allegedly came close to proposing to three different women. The first two chose not to marry him, and when the third seemingly was willing, Parker did not want to marry someone who would want to marry him. Is this true?

“There is a grain of truth in that, and a nice dash of hyperbole too,” Parker said, smiling.

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