Professors Are People Too: Dr. James Henderson
A California native, Dr. James Henderson is a professor in the department of Biblical Studies at Regent, who teaches theology, Christian ministry and Church history: “But what I like to say is that I teach the mysteries of life and the secrets of the universe.” He is an Air Force veteran, pastor and church-planter.
What led you to become a Bible professor?
“I think I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher, but outside my home, I didn’t get any academic encouragement. In fact, I was discouraged. My dad is Native American, and my mom is part, so I grew up a half-breed in a cowboy town. School administrators were not very academically encouraging, and I also faced a lot of bullying and homelife issues growing up. I went into the military, where the Jesus movement saved me, and after four years, I got out and just knew I wanted to be in the ministry and teaching. From there, I went to college, taught at a Bible school, was a pastor for a couple of decades and then came to Regent to get my Ph. D. where I’ve stayed ever since!”
How were you saved while in the military?
“When I got into the air force, I thought I was safe; they wouldn’t do dangerous things or swim in the ocean. Then they sent me to a school to learn Vietnamese. Can you guess where I was going? So I went to chapel and was essentially making a deal with God that if he kept me alive, I would be religious, and I met some real Christians there. I went to a gathering called Jesus Chapel and heard a high school senior preach for about thirty minutes. All I remember him saying was that if you’d never repented of your sins, you had never been saved, and the Holy Spirit just smacked me. I reeled with that information for a month, and finally said okay. I cut my Christmas leave short, traveled back to El Paso and went to a night service where you pray in the new year. I listened, and afterward, I went up to one of the elders, grabbed him by the lapel and asked ‘how do you get saved anyway?’ He walked me down the Romans Road, and then I got gloriously saved and surrendered everything, which was amazing.”
What changed the most after salvation?
“The most startling change for me was my lifestyle. I stopped being an angry person full of despair and loneliness who drank in excess. I also stopped fighting a lot and gambling. I plunged into the faith, attending five bible studies weekly. I was hungry and didn’t want to be the way I was anymore.
Since I have separated from the Air Force, I have striven to bring all the things I have learned in theology down to a level of wisdom. The theologian Origen in the third century said there was only one purpose for theology: to become Christ-like. I also think that it is so we can learn to explain Christianity to our neighbors who don’t know Christ. I’ve always wanted to bring theology to the place where I could talk to Marxists, Hells Angels or Wiccans, and that is what I have been trying to do for the last thirty-five years. I want to get myself and students to a place where we can speak the language of people of various backgrounds and spiritualities.”
How did you meet your wife?
“I met my wife at Bible college. She didn’t want to go but felt led, so she made a deal that she would give God one year to tell her why she needed to be there. We actually met on her first day. I wasn’t dating at the time, and we became friends quite quickly. I eventually bought a ring, and we’ve now been married for 43 years. We adopted our daughter, who has her own daughter now. It is amazing what a grandchild will do to the universe. The whole center of the universe just shifts to wherever that grandchild is.”
What have you been learning recently?
“I am just pressed more and more into the idea that our intellectual pursuits need to be practical, not in the sense that it has to bring you a job, but that it has to make a difference in your everyday life. I try to continue to learn that it is not the data that makes the difference; it is the meaning of that data. I am much less concerned that students get the exact formulation right as I am for them to understand that God has revealed himself in scripture and continues to do so through scripture and good Christian thinking. I want them to consider how to connect to an enormous river, drink from it, and sustain ourselves from that.”
What is your advice for Regent students?
“Give yourself to your education as though it were worship because it is! If God has called you here for an education, that is a divine calling. Don’t get too busy with friends, sports, church or whatever it may be to concentrate on what God has given you to do. In this short space, give yourself to your education as though you were a monk or a nun in a monastery. Remember that you came so that God could infuse you with wisdom so that you can master your craft unto him. It is holy, righteous and good, and He accepts it, but I also think he calls us to sacrifice a lot for it, especially in these four years.”