Service, Love, and the Scholarly Pastorate: An Interview with Dr. Jangho Jo

May 28, 2024
Dr. Jangho Jo

Q: Tell us a little about your personal and academic backgrounds.

A: I am from South Korea. My wife, Hwasun, and I have been in the United States for 20 years. My family and I came down to Waco from Boston 14 years ago for my Ph.D. Despite that, I think I have become a Texan now. Hwasun and I became empty-nesters two years ago (except for our dog, Danji). Our daughter is beginning her time in law school at Columbia University this fall, and our son is a rising junior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin.  

Academically speaking, I am a student of St. Augustine. My doctoral dissertation was about Augustine’s defense of the Christian way to happiness in his work City of God. I have also served as the lead pastor of the Korean Church of Waco for over a decade, and my church has fundamentally shaped who I am. As a small ethnic church pastor and as a “resident alien,” I experience what it means to live as a pilgrim in this world daily. Augustine and his teachings have helped me a lot during this pilgrimage. It is my honor to join the faculty of Truett Seminary. I hope my training and experience as a scholar-pastor will be useful in equipping future church servants. 

Q: What was your theological education and journey like? Can you recall any major mentors, events, books, or advice that substantially impacted your calling or education?    

A: When I was at Gordon-Conwell studying towards my Th.M., my passion was Old Testament ethics. But, as I read for Dr. Paul Lim’s class, “Classics of the Christian Thoughts,” I realized what I really wanted to do was historical theology, not biblical studies. I very much enjoyed the dialogue covering great authors in church history, including works by Athanasius and Gustavo Gutierrez. After two years of studying historical theology, I found myself working back within the Christian traditions and lingering with the church fathers, specifically resonating with St. Augustine. The late Dr. Catherine C. Kroger helped me much on my way to this ancient tradition. Dr. Kroger offered me the use of her personal library and invited my family to stay in Cape Cod, MA, while I was learning from her. She was such a great mentor and like a grandmother to me. My doctoral supervisor, Dr. D.H. Williams, was almost the opposite. He was often referred to as “Thunder Dan” by graduate students. However, he wanted his students to become excellent scholars in their research, which I deeply appreciated. You can imagine my upbringing as a scholar between these two quite different mentors! 

Q: What about Truett made you want to pursue a teaching position here? 

A: Compared to many other institutions in the United States, Truett is an ideal place for theological education. First of all, Truett is deeply committed to serving the Church and the Gospel. Truett exists for the Church, not for itself. This has helped Truett to remain a healthy educational institution for decades. Second, I admire Truett’s theological balance. While faithful to the message of the Scriptures, Truett is not shy about engaging with and learning from other traditions. This creates a space for constructive discussions and cooperation. Lastly, Truett has cultivated a collegial environment among students, staff, and faculty. This impressed me greatly because it is evident to me that Truett has clearly been formed by the Spirit of the Gospel of Grace.    

Q: What are your areas of specialized study? What topics does your work commonly discuss? 

A: I specialize in the study of Augustine. Over the past few decades, the Bishop of Hippo has deeply influenced my heart and mind. Beyond my specialization, I am interested in other topics and areas, such as hermeneutics and the philosophy of history. Lately, I have been thinking about the meaning and purpose of studying church history. Although I have been studying church history for quite a while, it is still an unfathomable source of inspiration and joy to me.

Q: What is your favorite work that you have published, and/or what is your favorite work you have collaborated on? Who was it for? 

A: My book on Augustine is coming out in Korea this summer. I wrote it during a sabbatical my church graciously offered me two years ago. In this book, I tried to portray Augustine as a North African church pastor more than anything else. I wrote this book mainly for the Church. My pastoral experiences helped me to look at Augustine as primarily a pastor rather than just a theologian or thinker. His life and thoughts have been enormous consolations and resources for my ministry as a pastor. So, naturally, I consider my book an excellent collaboration work with my church.   

Q: Can you explain a little about your pedagogy for the classroom? 

A: My goal in teaching is to help students obtain discernment and wisdom. Learning history broadens our narrow perspective and allows us to engage constructively with others. I want to see my students become more thoughtful, humble, and gracious because of their studies in Christian traditions. I hope my classes will help my students engage with previous Christian thinkers and pastors. For over a decade, I have been in ministry, and at first, there were not many people I could talk with about what I thought. So, I started to talk with figures in church history through their writings. The more I read and conversed with them, the more I considered them my friends and colleagues, for we were all the servants of the Church and workers in the Kingdom of God! They helped me to read the Scriptures, pray to God, think critically about and love the Church well. I would like to guide my students to such communion with the saints of the past. The key is being in conversation, whether reading, writing, or thinking.   

Q: What are things in Waco that have made the city feel more like home? What have you enjoyed most about the area or community? 

A: Waco is small enough to get a sense of community and big enough to meet people with diverse backgrounds. Two of our children grew up in Waco from elementary to high school. Waco has been a great environment in which to raise our kids. Living in Waco and getting involved in community life have both been huge blessings. I led a Bible study on Tuesday night at the McLennan County Jail for two years before the COVID-19 pandemic. I was honored to study the Word of God and share thoughts and prayers with my brothers there. That experience was what I most enjoyed in Waco.   

Q: If you had to summarize the discipline of theological work into a key piece of advice, what would it be? 

A: A well-known Korean pastor once advised his associate pastors on preaching well: love your people deeply. It will make you a good preacher. In Augustine’s words, love and do whatever you can. Theological work should be initiated and carried out with love for the people you serve. For this, you need not be so concerned about your grades. While I understand grades may affect students’ scholarships, the goal of theological education should not be getting good grades but in being equipped for good work for the people of God. So, study for that with love.