An Interview with CUA’s Dr. Chad Pecknold
“Our universities can’t be ashamed of the Gospel. It’s our salvation.”
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a professor of theology? To address issues of faith, morality, history, politics, and the various intersections thereof? I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Dr. Chad Pecknold, who has now taught at Catholic University for 10 years. I thank Dr. Pecknold for his time, and the following is the transcript of the interview.
1) When did you realize that you were called to be a theology professor, and what is your area of theological expertise?
I became a theology major in college to try an understand what it meant to be a Christian. Not everyone needs to become a theologian to understand their faith, but I probably did. So, I just kept going. I eventually wrote my Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England on Augustinian correctives to certain postmodern trends in fundamental theology. As a systematic theologian, Augustine remains a touchstone for me, especially in the areas of fundamental theology and Christian anthropology. But I am probably most associated with Augustine’s City of God, which was the plumb line for the second book (Christianity and Politics: A Brief Guide to the History), and is also the subject of the book I am currently writing.
2) If someone had never heard of Jesus, wanted to know what merit Jesus has, and asked you as a theologian to describe him in a convincing way, what would you say?
If someone had never heard of Jesus, I’d want to know if they had thought about where the world comes from. If they had thought about that, then we could speak about God as our Creator, and as the source of everything good. If we could speak about God as our Creator together, then we could speak about wanting to know and love God. And if we could get that far, we could begin to speak reverently about the hope of Israel, about the most incredible possibility that God wants us to know and love him forever. And then we could talk about God entering into flesh, small, and becoming like us in every way but sin. It’s only then that we could begin to see Jesus together in the same way.
3) What are some of the joys that you have experienced as a professor at CUA?
My greatest joys as a professor are my students. I’ve been a professor over a decade now, and to have students who still remember things I lectured on a decade later is wildly satisfying. Students who tell me their faith is stronger for having had me as a professor give me back far more than I give them. I am inspired by my students. I learn from them, too. They should know that. I am so proud of them. I know their parents are.
4) There has been some discussion recently from external forces implying that CUA should consider diminishing its Catholic identity in the interest of attracting more attention from prospective affiliates. Why is Catholic identity so important for a Catholic university to maintain?
It’s pretty absurd that anyone would expect a Catholic university to be anything less than Catholic. At least since the Enlightenment there has been a strange secularizing argument which amounts to: “It’s not Christian to be Christian.” It sometimes even has pseudo-Christian proponents. And we can see that in those who want Catholic universities to divest themselves of all those distinctly Catholic ideas that aren’t popular in certain segments of our culture. But the Catholic Church hasn’t survived for 2,000 years by following opinion polls. Neither will Catholic universities survive by opinion polls, but only by fidelity to the Church’s sacred deposit of the faith, seeking ever deeper understanding of God and the world.
5) I typically ask this of my interviewees: what is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?
My favorite passages all come from the first chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. One of the first things he tells us is not to be ashamed of the Gospel. Our universities can’t be ashamed of the Gospel either. It’s our salvation.
6) What advice do you have for college students – at CUA or otherwise – when it comes to how to bring faith into the culture after college?
Augustine was keen on pointing out how Christians face suffering in markedly different ways than the rest of the world — namely with joy and thanksgiving. When others suffer, they may blame God, or disbelieve in him. But when real Christians faced any kind of suffering, especially suffering for faith and virtue, they gave thanks to have a share in Christ’s sufferings, by which our sins our healed. This is something powerful in life. And if you go to a university that really encourages you in this Faith, then you are just going to be a witness to a light that the culture does not know. You will stand out as a beacon of hope for the world.
You can check out Dr. Pecknold’s books on Amazon here.