My advisor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) was going to be Bruce Fields. I read that in a letter from the school as I was about to enroll in the first semester of my Master of Divinity in 2006. I was fresh out of Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music, engaged to my now-wife, and had felt the call to ministry. I loved studying the Bible and I wanted to serve the Church, but I wasn’t exactly sure how.
Myself and the rest of Dr. Fields’ advisees (3 or 4 more students) met for an hour each week during our first year for fellowship and accountability, as the program required. Dr. Fields and I hit it off well with our shared appreciation for action movies (e.g. Snakes on a Plane, Batman Begins) and basketball (though he was more of a fan of March Madness than the 90’s Bulls). But, of course, formation group went deeper than that. We all shared our stories, wounds and dreams. I remember one member of our group was going through a bit of a quandary, and Dr. Fields, while counseling him, in his deep, authoritative-yet-gentle voice, said to him, “you’ve gotta respect your wiring.” That’s one of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve kept from him and shared with others.
As a professor, I only had one class with him: Systematic Theology II. In this class, it was revealed that he also shared my reluctance with Calvinism, and he enjoyed reading my contextualization and illustration when writing about the Doctrine of Atonement and its relationship to violence.
As my advisor, the most important thing Dr. Fields did for me was help me choose my focus. I was ambitious and wanted to build a more musically-inclusive worship ministry in a church. (But at the time I was only thinking of integrating the Western high-arts with Western contemporary worship; Black Gospel music and ethnomusicology weren’t on my radar). Thus, I explained to him I wanted to do the research focus of the Master of Divinity and do a big thesis on the integration of theology and the arts. Dr. Fields explained to me that the research focus was for students going straight to the doctorate, and that wasn’t what I wanted to do. He instead thought, based on my passions, that I should focus in cross-cultural ministries. Those classes (e.g. world religions, social and cultural exegesis) inspired my passion to serve the Church in a new direction.
About seven years and three kids later, my family and I were excited to be moving back to Chicago area for me to serve in my first multicultural church. This was the most multicultural church I had ever seen and I wanted to tell all my friends, including Dr. Fields at TEDS, about it. He smiled and said he would visit it one day. Dr. Fields never made it to a service, but he was proud of me.
Not long after that, I was asked to apply for a professorial position in music and ministry at a college, and I needed two academic references. I reached out to Dr. Fields via email, and he told me that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, living in Colorado for treatment, and that his records of my time with him had been lost. Dr. Fields told me he was excited for this opportunity, that he’d be praying for me, and for me to keep him posted.
He was normally a man of few words on the email. And that 8-sentence email (the longest I’d ever read from him) turned out to be his last words to me.
I will definitely miss him, and I wish there were more professors of ministry like him. Dr. Fields was a good communicator and very intelligent, as graduate school professors are expected to be. But he brought uncommon perspectives and insights into the culture of ministry education. He was also very personable, wise, loving and compassionate to his students, and that leaves more of a positive mark on a student like me than any captivating lecture or best-selling book.
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